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How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Opioids?

opioid addiction and dependence

With their potent analgesic properties, opioids have long been used to alleviate pain, but their addictive potential has sparked nothing short of a nationwide crisis. The Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics reported that overdose deaths involving opioids increased from an estimated 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021. Furthermore, only one in five U.S. adults with opioid use disorder received medications to treat it in 2021.

Of course, understanding the journey from initial exposure to addiction is crucial in addressing this pressing issue. So, how long does it take to develop opioid addiction and dependence? Let’s attempt to answer this question by providing context around opioids and their dangers.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are central nervous system depressants, meaning they create calming effects for people experiencing physical pain. Opioids act by causing the brain to release dopamine, a pleasure neurotransmitter.

Prescription opioids are used by medical professionals to treat moderate to severe pain such as the pain following injury or surgery, or pain involved in chronic health conditions. Prescription opioids include:

  • Oxycodone
  • Oxycontin
  • Suboxone and Subutex
  • Vicodin
  • Percocet
  • Morphine

Illicit opioids include heroin, opium, and fentanyl.

Among the side effects of opioid use is extreme relaxation or euphoria, and people who abuse opioids both prescription and illicit, do so to experience these effects. Abuse of opioids can be extremely dangerous. One of the reasons for their danger is that they affect the parts of the brain that control breathing, heart rate, and other automatic bodily functions.

From Dependence to Addiction

Opioid addiction typically begins with the first use of the drug. This can occur through legitimate medical prescriptions for pain management or through illicit means, such as obtaining opioids from friends or dealers. The feelings of pain relief and euphoria reinforce the drug-taking behavior.

However, with frequent substance use comes substance use disorder, also known as addiction. The transition from opioid use to opioid dependence to opioid addiction is characterized by increasingly compulsive drug-seeking behaviors.

This shift can occur gradually, as users slowly come to prioritize their opioid use over everything else: relationships, work, family, and their physical and mental health. Factors like genetic predisposition, co-occurring mental health disorders, and one’s social environment can influence the speed with which addiction develops. However, for some people, addiction can take hold quickly, within months or even weeks.

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

As with most other addictive substances, people often try to hide the evidence of their substance abuse. However, for those paying close attention, certain tell-tale signs, physical and mental, may point to a developing opioid addiction. The more common among these include:

  • Drastic mood swings
  • Sleeping at odd hours
  • Ignoring appearance and personal hygiene
  • Pulling away their friends and loved ones
  • Significant weight loss
  • Engaging in risky behaviors to obtain opioids

A person struggling with opioid addiction tends to become creative in their struggle to obtain opioids. Some of the following actions that opioid addicts engage in are:

  • Trying to borrow or steal painkillers prescribed to someone else
  • Lying to doctors to obtain a new prescription for opioids
  • Seeking the same prescription from multiple doctors (also known as “doctor shopping”)
  • Using opioids while using alcohol or other drugs
  • Taking opioids in a way not intended by the prescribing doctor, including taking more than the prescribed dose

Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

With compulsive use of the substance, the opioid user’s brain become reliant on the drug for its ability to release dopamine. However, when a frequent opioid user stops using, their brain and body will often experience withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms can be intense, leading the user to relapse. Some common signs of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Intense cravings for opioids
  • Cramps and muscle pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Tremors
  • Increased heart rate
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

How Opioid Addiction is Treated

Detox is the best first step in a winning recovery from opioid addiction. After detox, a treatment team often recommends the best course of action. It is in the new phase that clients can learn coping skills and make the behavioral changes necessary to prepare them for sobriety in their everyday lives.

Multiple factors influence the length of an opioid treatment program, including the kind of opioid the patient had been using, how long the patient had been living in addiction, and the severity of withdrawal symptoms involved.

Opioid addiction treatment can take place in any number of ways. The best way depends on the individual. The opioid addiction treatment programs of Northpoint Colorado include:

Residential Treatment

The residential treatment of Northpoint Colorado addresses substance use disorders, mental health needs, and conditions requiring medical care. Almost half of the people in our residential treatment live with a co-occurring mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression. Therefore, we take an integrated approach to addiction recovery, focusing not only on the physical challenges of addiction but also on its root causes.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP)

Our Partial Hospitalization Programs help those who have undergone detox after an intense opioid addiction. PHP involves clients attending several treatment appointments each week. Individual and group therapy sessions are also provided.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)

Representing a step down from PHP, Northpoint’s IOP programs, including our virtual IOP treatment, allow for a more flexible addiction treatment plan. IOP clients receive the support they need while at the same time attend to their work and family duties. IOP treatment sessions are multiple times a week. Therapy is also offered.

Find Out More About Opioid Addiction and Dependence with Northpoint Colorado

Want to learn more about the many possible reasons for pursuing opioid addiction recovery? The professionals at Northpoint Colorado are here for you. Every day, we help people needing treatment increase their motivation to reach their goals.

Northpoint Colorado is a premier provider of recovery services. Our customized approach supports your attempts to detox from any addictive drug. It also supports your efforts to reach a point of stable, lasting sobriety. Call us today at 888.231.1281 or complete our online form.