Dangers of Maintaining an Opiate Addiction

Dangers of Maintaining an Opiate Addiction

Dangers of Maintaining an Opiate Addiction

Trying to self-manage opiate use is beyond risky. The body’s response to opiates changes over time, so it takes more and more to get the same feeling. Plus, a person who uses occasionally to get high is just one break-up, one job loss, one death of a family member away from a full-blown addiction.

Maintaining an Opiate Addiction

Online message boards are full of stories about people who keep a strict drug use schedule to avoid addiction. This so-called discipline is familiar to anyone who begins using drugs, because no one intends to become an addict. In reality, addiction happens as a surprise and the only way to prevent it is to stop taking drugs. Opiates, in particular, are addictive because of the brain’s response to them. When a person misuses a prescription pain reliever or takes another opiate to get high, he floods his brain with chemicals that produce feelings of reward and pleasure. Over time, the drug chemicals keep the body from producing natural versions of opioids (endorphins, encephalins). When the body no longer makes it own pleasure chemicals, a person needs opiates just to feel normal and prevent withdrawal symptoms.[1]

Opiate addictions are challenging because they create physical and psychological dependence. Some people addicted to opiates, such as prescription pain relievers (OxyContin, Vicodin, etc.) or heroin, experience significant withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug. To avoid withdrawal or simply keep up with a pleasurable, drug-taking lifestyle, they may decide to get high occasionally with sporadic use. The psychological side of an opiate addiction is perhaps the strongest. Opiate users may prefer the feelings of numbness and disassociation with reality to the problems of sober life, which may include sexual or physical abuse, financial ruin or depression/anxiety.[2]

Living with Opiate Use

Even when a person uses prescription pain relievers just to treat pain, he needs higher doses over time as his body develops a tolerance to the drug. For people who misuse the drugs, tolerance is even more dangerous, because they seek out larger doses without a physician’s guidance. The link between opiate use and tolerance is the single biggest reason people die from opiates. At a high enough dose, opiates slow a person’s breathing to the point he goes into a coma or dies, and the amount that causes an overdose is different for everyone, because of tolerance. Heroin users, for example, don’t know for certain the purity of drugs they buy on the street. Just one dose at a higher-than-expected purity leads to overdose. More than 28,000 people died from opiate overdoes in 2014, more than any other year on record.[3]

Even when a person believes he is managing the physical risks of opiate addiction, there are social, financial and legal consequences. Opiate use numbs a person to the things going on around him, making it difficult to do normal activities and make good decisions. The destructive consequences of long-term opiate use include the following:

  • Relationship damage
  • Financial disarray
  • Lost trust from family members, friends
  • Damaged self-esteem and self-worth
  • Lost self-control and self-discipline
  • Lack of dependability, motivation, ambition and perspective on what is important in life

People addicted to opiates do things that go against personal values. They may steal from family and friends to get money to support their habit or even commit serious crimes to get a steady supply of drugs.[4]

Behavioral Changes Caused by Long-Term Opiate Addiction

People who use opiates gradually change their behavior. At first the changes are present only when the drugs are used, but when long-term use or addiction sets in behavior is different at all times. Opiate addiction makes a person obsessed with everything related to using, such as planning when she will next use, how she will get more of the drug and worrying about how much she has on hand. As an opiate addiction progresses, the addiction consumes the user and her previous concerns, such as friends, family, work and school, fall behind in importance.

Are You Ready to Find Opiate Addiction Help?

When you’re ready to end an opiate addiction, call our toll-free helpline. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help you find the treatment and recovery services you need. Coordinators listen to concerns, provide free assessment services and discuss all your options for opiate addiction services, including insurance questions. We have all the information you need and we can help. Call today.


[1] Volkow, Nora D. (2014). America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved May 18, 2016 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse.

[2] Harvard Health Publications. (2005). Treating opiate addiction, Part I: Detoxification and maintenance. Retrieved May 18, 2016 from http://www.health.harvard.edu/addiction/treating-opiate-addiction-part-i-detoxification-and-maintenance.

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Opioid Overdose. Opioid Basics. Retrieved May 18, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/index.html.

[4] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. Retrieved May 18, 2016 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-abuse-addiction.