Suggested links

Prescription Opioid Addiction

Prescription opioids are among the most commonly prescribed pain relief medications, but they also have a high risk for abuse and addiction. Learn more about the use of opioids, what risk factors to look out for, and what to do if you or a loved one is struggling with opioid misuse.

Battling addiction and ready for treatment? Find Treatment Now

What Are Prescription Opioids?

Prescription opioids are a type of strong painkiller used to treat chronic or severe pain.  They bind to the brain’s opioid receptors to block pain signals throughout the nervous system.

Common prescription opioids include:

Prescription Opioid Abuse and Addiction

When taken as prescribed, prescription opioid medications can be a safe and effective way to treat pain.

However, abuse of and addiction to prescription opioids has become such a significant problem for Americans that opiate addiction has been declared a national epidemic.

The epidemic of opioid abuse in the United States started in the [late] 1990s when patients were given opioid pain relievers prescription at a high rate. This…led to a nationwide misuse of the prescription drugs and… hundreds of thousands of opioid overdose deaths.

—Dr. Kelechi Okoroha, a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon

Am I Addicted to Prescription Opioids?

The signs of opioid addiction may not be immediately obvious.

Someone who is addicted to opioids may exhibit some signs of opioid misuse, including:

  • Mood changes or mood swings
  • Changes to your sleeping pattern
  • Taking the drug outside of how it is prescribed (taking too much, taking it to feel high, etc.)
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Borrowing opioids from other people
  • Taking opioids even when not in pain
  • Seeking opioid prescriptions from multiple doctors
  • Putting yourself or others in danger
  • Neglecting or even abandoning your social life to take opioids

If you notice any of the above signs in someone taking opioids, it might be time to seek help.

Find Addiction Treatment
  • Specialized Treatment
  • Comprehensive Support
  • Personalized Care

Find Treatment Now

Paid advertising from Centric Behavioral Health

Side Effects of Prescription Opioids

Because the effects of opioids can vary from person to person, it’s important to keep an eye on any new or unusual side effects that arise when using them.

Long-term use of prescription opioids—or abusing them altogether—has a high chance of leading to physical dependence and addiction.

Prescription opioid abuse can cause the following short-term side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Tolerance to the drug
  • Depression
  • Itching and swelling
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting and dry mouth
  • Low testosterone levels, which can cause lower energy, sex drive, and strength
  • Increased sensitivity to pain

In addition, ongoing prescription opioid abuse can lead to these long-term side effects:

  • Restlessness
  • Muscle or bone pain
  • Cold flashes
  • Vein damage
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Organ damage
  • Psychological and neurological effects like coma
  • Hypoxia (i.e., not enough oxygen getting to the brain and other organs)
  • Immunosuppression (i.e., lowered immune system)

Older adults are at higher risk of misusing or abusing prescription opioids. They are more likely to have chronic ailments, use prescription medications in combination, and have an affected metabolism.

All these factors can cause extra risks for drug interactions, slowed metabolism, and increased side effects when taking opioid drugs for pain management.

Prescription Opioid Overdose

Overdoses from prescription opioids can be fatal due to the drug’s effect on the part of the brain responsible for regulating breathing and heart rate.

In combination with other sedatives, like alcohol or benzodiazepines, prescription opioids become even more dangerous.

Someone experiencing a prescription opioid overdose may show one or more of these symptoms:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting or making gurgling noises
  • Slow or stopped heartbeat
  • Pale face, blue tinge around lips and/or fingers
  • Unable to speak or awaken from sleep

In the event of a prescription opioid overdose, call 911 immediately. If possible, administer naloxone (NARCAN) and stay with the victim until help arrives.

Prescription Opioid Overdose Treatment

If you’re ready to overcome a prescription opioid addiction, the first step is to find a doctor or healthcare provider who can guide you.

There are many treatment options when dealing with substance use disorder, and an ideal treatment program will be tailored to your individual needs.

Here are some of the most common treatment types for dealing with an addiction to prescription opioids.

Prescription Opioid Detox

Detoxing from prescription opioids is best done under medical supervision to ensure your safety.

You can choose between an inpatient or an outpatient detox program, depending on the severity of your addiction and any other risk factors that may be present.

During inpatient medical detox, healthcare professionals will monitor your vitals as your body eliminates prescription opioids.

Inpatient detox is usually best for individuals with a high risk for relapse, severe withdrawal symptoms, or additional concerns that would make the process require 24-hour monitoring.

On the other hand, many individuals recovering from a prescription opioid addiction can go through an outpatient detox regimen. Patients may receive supplement medication during outpatient medical detox to taper off their opioid usage amount.

During either type of detox, your doctor may prescribe medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help reduce cravings, alleviate withdrawal symptoms, and help prevent relapse.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a substance abuse treatment approach that uses FDA-approved medications in conjunction with behavioral health counseling and support.

MAT prescriptions for opioid use disorder may include:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Naltrexone
  • Methadone

MAT can help people stop abusing prescription opioid drugs and stay substance-free. As mentioned, a doctor may prescribe medication to help manage withdrawal.

Unmanaged withdrawal from prescription opioids can be a frightening and difficult experience. Withdrawal can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the level of use, and can sometimes be dangerous if it happens without medical intervention.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Sleep problems
  • Agitation
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Craving for opiates
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle aches

Health professionals recommend seeking assistance when quitting opiate use to detox safely and under supervision.

Find Addiction Treatment
  • Specialized Treatment
  • Comprehensive Support
  • Personalized Care

Find Treatment Now

Paid advertising from Centric Behavioral Health

Prescription Opioid Drug Rehab Programs

Many opioid treatment programs will include various levels of medical care alongside psychiatry or behavioral therapy to assist the addict with remaining sober during and after treatment.

Some options you have when it comes to prescription opioid addiction treatment include:

Inpatient Rehab Program

Inpatient rehab programs provide 24-hour monitoring and supervision. You will live at the facility for 30 or 90 days while receiving treatment for your prescription opioid addiction.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

A PHP is a form of outpatient treatment offered to individuals who require more in-depth intervention for their opioid addiction. In a PHP, patients might live at home but visit the facility regularly to receive treatment from registered nurses, psychiatrists, counselors, and/or social workers.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

An IOP is the minimum recommended level of care for most people seeking recovery from opioid dependence. The IOP provides most of the basics for effective treatment with medication assistance that the individual may need.

Prescription Opioid Statistics

In the late 1990s, doctors prescribed opioid pain relievers at a very high rate. However, it quickly led to nationwide abuse of prescription opioids and resulted in countless opioid overdose deaths.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that roughly 50,000 people died in 2019 from an opioid-involved overdose. In 2021, opioid-related deaths increased to 75,673.

Additional research via the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reveals the following data about the current status of the opioid crisis:

  • Approximately 21-29% of people prescribed opioids for chronic pain abuse their medication
  • An estimated 8-12% of that group develop an opioid use disorder.
  • About 4-6% of those who abuse prescription opioids moved on to heroin
  • Among heroin users, roughly 80% reported having abused prescription opioids first

According to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 100,000 people died due to drug overdoses in the U.S. during the 12 months (ending April 2021). This is the highest number ever recorded by the CDC.

The CDC also reports the following statistics:

  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of all drug overdose deaths in 2017 were caused by synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl. This is a 49% increase from the previous year.
  • Approximately 21-29% of patients with chronic pain who take opioids misuse them, with an estimated 4 to 6 percent transitioning onto heroin.

Get Help for Yourself or a Loved One

The opioid recovery process can be a long road for an addict without support, but thankfully, many free resources are available to addicted individuals and their families.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a special online resource guide dedicated to providing opioid-specific addiction resources for those who need them.

Additionally, SAMHSA has a confidential, 24-hour hotline to provide treatment information and referrals for programs and specialists in your area. You can call them at 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) or visit their online program locator to find out your options.

Finally, support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous offer long-term support, accountability, and additional resources for anyone dealing with an addiction to prescription opioids.

Ready for Treatment?

Centric Behavioral Health, our paid treatment center sponsor, is available 24/7:
Learn More About Centric or For Immediate Treatment Help, Call (888) 694-1249.

FAQs About Prescription Opioid Addiction

When did the U.S. opioid epidemic start?

In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies assured healthcare practitioners that patients would not develop an addiction to their opioid pain relievers. As a result, opioids were prescribed more, leading to abuse and misuse.

In 2017, opioid abuse was declared a public health emergency.

What are the signs of opioid addiction?

Opioid addiction may not be immediately obvious.

However, some signs that someone is addicted to opioids may include:

  • Taking an opioid not as intended or taking them “just in case” even when not experiencing pain
  • Changes in mood or behavior, including poor decision-making
  • Shifts in sleep patterns
  • Borrowing medications from others
  • Getting the same prescription from multiple doctors

Can you get addicted to prescription opioids?

Yes. These types of prescription drugs are highly addictive. If you receive a prescription for opioids, it is crucial to take the medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor or healthcare provider to reduce your risk of developing a dependence or addiction to your medication.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Prescription Drug Misuse: MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  2. Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs (ASPA). (n.d.). The Prescription Drug & Heroin Overdose Epidemic.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, May 17). Infographics. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  4. Abuse, N. I. on D. (2021, January 11). Mind Matters: The Body’s Response to Opioids. NIDA for Teens.
  5. Lyden, J., & Binswanger, I. A. (2019). The United States opioid epidemic. Seminars in perinatology, 43(3), 123–131.
  6. Sharma, B., Bruner, A., Barnett, G., & Fishman, M. (2016). Opioid Use Disorders. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 25(3), 473–487.
  7. NIDA. 2021, June 1. Prescription Opioids DrugFacts.
  8. Mattson, C. L. (2021, February 11). Trends and Geographic Patterns in Drug and Synthetic . . . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  9. Baldini, A., Von Korff, M., & Lin, E. H. (2012). A Review of Potential Adverse Effects of Long-Term Opioid Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 14(3), PCC.11m01326.
  10. Opioid Overdose. (2021, August 4). World Health Organization.
  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, July 1). Opioid Overdose Crisis. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Our free email newsletter offers guidance from top addiction specialists, inspiring sobriety stories, and practical recovery tips to help you or a loved one keep coming back and staying sober.

By signing up, you’ll be able to:

  • Stay Focused on Recovery
  • Find Ways To Give Back
  • Connect with Others Like You
Sign Up For Our Newsletter
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Find Treatment Now