How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Opiates?

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Opiates come in the form of prescription painkillers. They can also come in the form of heroin. Not everyone who takes opiates will become addicted to them. However, everyone who takes them is at risk for becoming drug dependent. This is true even for those who have been prescribed opiates to treat pain by a doctor. If you abuse taking the painkillers and exceed the dosage or take them more often than instructed, you can become addicted in the same way as someone who uses heroin for recreation.

This similarity in cause and effect is due to the physiological changes that occur in the brain when you become addicted to opiates. There is no set time for how long it takes for the body to transition from drug dependence to opiate addiction, but the longer and more you use opiates, the faster addiction will occur. In fact, painkiller addiction has been a rising problem over the past several years.

Due to the highly addictive nature of opiates, those who take them to deal with chronic pain may find themselves becoming dependent on them. More frequent use causes the body to become used to having opiates in the system. Eventually the amount of opiates required to relieve the pain before no longer works because the body has built an immunity. The result is a person taking more and more of the medication to achieve the same pain relief or “high.”

Additionally, once addicted, the body will go through withdrawal symptoms that are unpleasant and in many cases, painful. These may include fever, sweating, tremors, nausea, and insomnia. Because of these uncomfortable side effects, many people who have become addicted will decline treatment. It becomes a dangerous cycle but one that can be treated with detox and rehabilitation.

How Do Opiates Work?

Opiates or opioids attach to opioid receptors in the brain. Each of the three types of receptors play a different role. The mu receptors are responsible for the “high” you feel from taking opiates as they relieve pain. They are often prescribed for patients post-surgery or for those who are in intense pain. Pill form takes longer to reach the brain and therefore, is considered safer than when injected. However, any use of prescribed painkillers should be used with precaution and an understanding of the kind of risk associated with taking them.

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How Does Addiction Occur?

Taking opiates repeatedly will lead to addiction but that’s only technically speaking. Let’s consider the reasons why a person might want to use drugs? Is it to relieve pain? Is it to self-soothe from other parts of life, like a failing relationship or problems at work? When there are other factors at play, it can make you more susceptible to becoming addicted to a drug that may affect someone else differently.

Opiates are highly addictive and due to this, the cravings are intense. When you take opiates, it gives the brain a false signal of euphoria. You feel pain-free and happy because of the drug’s effects. However, these are artificial feelings that are also short-lived. The shorter the high, the more you may consume to reach that level of joy again. This makes the brain change from wanting the drugs to needing them.

Addiction can also occur frequently among teens who are prone to peer pressure. Being invincible is not an uncommon feeling among young adults, which means they are more likely to take risks. However, using opiates even once can start problems with drug dependency. With this level of drug, it can take control of you before you even realize it’s happening.

The act of repeated use of opiates leads to addiction. But in addiction treatment, the first part involves detox (ridding the system of opiates) and the second part is learning about addiction, what leads to it, and how to prevent in the future.

The Difference Between Drug Addiction and Drug Dependence

Once you start taking opiates, your body doesn’t immediately become addicted to them. First, your body begins to build a tolerance to the drug. The amount will vary from person to person. It depends on how your body metabolizes opiates, what kind of general health you’re in, and if you are affected by a substance of any other kinds.

For example, a healthy male with a high metabolism and no history of drug use may react much differently to opiates than a male who struggles with his health and has dealt with substance abuse in the past. Regardless, after repeated use, you’ll eventually need a higher dosage to receive the same euphoric effect as before. This may cause people to self-medicate and run the risk of overdose.

Once a tolerance is built, the body becomes dependent on the drug. This is made clear through the withdrawal symptoms you’ll experience if you stop using them. Opiates are never meant to be a long-term treatment plan to alleviate pain because if you take them continuously, your body will become dependent and you’ll become addicted.

When you reach the stage where you cannot stop taking opiates, even if you want to, that’s when addiction has set in. It takes control of your mind and body to a point where you don’t have full control over it. When you reach the addiction stage, you’ll need treatment in order to reach sobriety. Many people attempt to go through the withdrawal stage on their own, only to relapse. Seeking treatment from a rehab facility can give you the medical and emotional support you need to fight your addiction. You don’t have to go through the process alone.

Speak with a opiate treatment specialist today.
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Signs of Opiate Addiction

There are apparent signs of opiate addiction. Does your body crave the drug? Do you swing between feelings of euphoria and feelings of pain or discomfort? Have you experienced symptoms like nausea, pain sensitivity, constipation, or shallow breathing? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s likely you have become addicted.

Opiate addiction can affect your relationships. It can put you in danger of being fired from your job. It can isolate you from your friends or family members. And it can get you in trouble with the law. Addiction touches every aspect of your life sooner or later. As long as it exists, it will cause a negative ripple throughout everything you’re part of and affect everyone you know. Even if you can’t yet readily see the damage that’s being done, addiction can and will ruin your life. But only if you let it. When it has consumed your life, you have the choice to seek treatment. There is help available for you. This is your chance to create a healthier path for yourself and a more positive future.

Recovering from Addiction

There are many stages to addiction recovery. It’s a process that takes time. The first stage is detoxification. You must go through a withdrawal period to rid your body of the opiates that remain. This may take a week or longer to go through. The side effects are uncomfortable and many times, painful. Although it isn’t a pleasant experience, it’s a necessary one if you want to fight your addiction.

The intense period of detox is short-lived and is necessary before you can move onto the next step of treatment. In the rehabilitation phase, you can choose to receive inpatient or outpatient care. There are benefits to both. If you are more comfortable living at home with a supportive family who encourages your sobriety, then outpatient care may be the best route for you. If you want to take a break from your current life to focus on your sobriety uninterrupted, then inpatient care is more likely the chosen path for you. Make a list of pros and cons to compare which is the best option for you. As a friend or family member of someone battling addiction, make a list of several choices that you’ve already vetted ahead of time.

During rehabilitation you’ll begin to learn more about the disease of addiction. What some may refer to as a “bad habit” is actually far worse. Addiction means your body’s makeup has changed. Your decisions and actions are not fully your own anymore. In rehab, you’ll also start to identify personal triggers and learn how to cope with them in the future. The questions you have about addiction will be answered through individual counseling, group therapy, and classes to educate you more about addiction and its power over those who are helpless to its hold.

Going through detox and treatment can seem overwhelming but you will have people who will support you every step of the way. You don’t to feel alone or lost through the process. You’ll find strength among the guidance of others and find each day gets a little bit better.

Opiate Addiction FAQs

It’s normal to have questions about addiction, the treatment process, and what happens after you go through rehabilitation. We’re here to answer those questions and make you feel as comfortable as possible to get the help you need. Here are a few frequently asked questions but keep in mind, every person’s experience with addiction treatment is different.

Once I go through rehabilitation, how do I avoid relapse?

Relapse happens quite frequently during and after rehabilitation. The solution is to seek the treatment that works for you and go at the pace that your treatment plan calls for. Take what you’ve learned with regards to preventative care, including coping skills, to identify the problem before it spirals out of control. If you experience a relapse, there is always help you need to start again.

Isn’t heroin far more dangerous than the prescription painkillers I’m taking?

If we’re looking at the way it has been presented in the public eye in the past, heroin addiction has seemed more of a danger than prescription painkillers. However, more people now are reportedly suffering from painkiller addiction than heroin addiction. Both fall into the opiate drug category that have the same addictive elements that can affect anyone who takes either on a frequent basis.

Are there alternatives I can take to opiates?

If you are concerned about taking opiates for your chronic pain or other health needs, discuss alternative options with your doctor. It may include a less intense medication or recommendations for more organic care like massage therapy or acupuncture. Explore all available remedies before deciding on opiates. Depending on your health condition, you may be surprised there is more than one path of treatment available for you.

How do I convince my friend/family member to seek treatment?

You can try to convince your loved one as many times as you wish, but it’s ultimately their choice to seek treatment. However, you can be the positive support that encourages it. You can do the research of different facilities and provide options. If you’re unsure what kind of stance you want to take, speak with an intervention specialist who can guide you through the different challenges and get an outcome you’re happy with.

How likely will I become addicted to my prescription painkillers?

Many people start their addiction by abusing their prescription medication. It’s crucial for you to follow doctor’s orders for dosage and timed amounts. If your pain doesn’t seem to subside, communicate this with your physician so they can come up with a revised treatment plan. When you begin to self-medicate with painkillers, that’s when dependency can easily become a problem.

Addiction Can Happen to Anyone

Addiction doesn’t discriminate by gender, race, age, or economic status. What once was considered an inner city drug problem has now spread out to infiltrate suburban neighborhoods, affecting more and more people nationwide. You are never immune from addiction happening to you or someone you love.

If you think addiction is affecting someone you know, give them the information they need to get help. When you support your friend or family member, it doesn’t mean you are required to support their drug addiction. Giving them options for treatment is how you can show support and help them take charge of their health. Treatment may be the logical option but it may not always be the most popular one. However, everyone who suffers from addiction deserves the chance of a more promising look at life.

Find hope. Find recovery. Begin a commitment to lifelong recovery today – for yourself, your friend, or for your loved one.
(888) 325-1995


National Center for Biotechnology Information. The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment. July 2002, Accessed March 4, 2016.

US National Library of Medicine. Opioid Addiction. Reviewed Nov. 2017, Accessed March 6, 2016.

Medline Plus. Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal. Updated Aug. 2018, Accessed March 4, 2016.

National Institute of Health Medline Plus. Opioids and Chronic Pain. Spring 2011, Accessed March 5, 2016.

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