Opioid Addiction: The Growing Epidemic

In the midst of the COVID pandemic, a less-publicized public health crisis is sweeping the nation. Opioid addiction has impacted the lives of countless individuals and their loved ones. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognized opioid abuse as a public health emergency in 2017. However, even as health officials take steps to combat this growing epidemic, it continues to wreak havoc all across the United States.

If you or someone close to you is battling opioid abuse, it’s crucial to understand how this addictive disorder can impact the user’s life, as well as the lives of those around them. Once you’re more familiar with the nature of this drug addiction, you’ll be better equipped to seek the right kind of treatment.

Here’s everything you need to know about opioid addiction and how you can find the help and support you need.

What Are Opioids?

The term “opioids” is named for the way they interact with the human body. These substances activate when they bind to opioid receptors, which are located in the central nervous system. There are three distinct types of opioids: synthetic opioids, semi-synthetic opioids, and natural opioids. Semi-synthetic opioids are derived from natural substances, while synthetic opioids are produced solely in a laboratory setting.

There is a wide range of uses for opioids. However, the main purpose of the drug is to provide pain relief or dull the senses. In this way, it primarily functions as an anesthetic and a painkiller at the same time. Examples of widely used opioids include heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydromorphone, methadone, and hydrocodone.

Opioids cause the brain to release endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that enhance feelings of pleasure and reduce pain. This powerful sense of elation begins to fade once the dose has worn off. As a result, many opioid users continue to abuse the drug so that the pleasurable feelings return as soon as possible.

This dangerous habit is often the first step toward becoming addicted. It’s crucial to be aware of the early warning signs so that you can stop opioid abuse in its tracks before it grows more serious.

Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

The signs and symptoms of opioid addiction may not be immediately obvious to the user or their loved ones. At first, an individual may turn to opioids as a way to treat severe pain. However, as they continue to up their dosage and frequency of use, an opioid user may begin to develop a full-blown drug addiction.

As with every type of addictive disorder, symptoms can vary widely from one person to the next. That said, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the most common signs. This will better enable you to recognize a growing addiction in yourself or someone you know. Below are the key effects of opioid abuse to look for.

Short-Term Symptoms

Opioid use can lead to a host of uncomfortable symptoms, even on a short-term basis. Some of the more immediate effects include:

  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal cramps or bloating
  • Slowed breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating
  • Slurred speech

If a particularly high dose is taken, more serious complications may follow, such as unconsciousness or even a coma. This is a result of the body’s functions slowing down and working less effectively. This dangerous effect can spread to other parts of the body as well, including the circulatory or respiratory system.

Long-Term Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

With time, these initial symptoms begin to fade and have a less pronounced effect on the user. As an individual grows accustomed to the drug, their body requires an increasingly higher dose to achieve the same euphoric feelings they experienced the first time. This is known as tolerance, and it’s one of the hallmarks of drug addiction.

There are many potential long-term effects of opioid use. Common examples include:

  • Bowel obstruction
  • Increased risk of heart failure
  • Sleep-disordered breathing (e.g. sleep apnea, ataxic breathing)
  • Weakened immune system
  • Significant changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Failing to complete everyday tasks
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Isolating oneself from friends or family members

Each of these symptoms can cause a ripple effect in numerous areas of a person’s life. For example, if an opioid user loses interest in the things they used to enjoy, they might begin spending time with friends who share their new interests. Because individuals who abuse drugs tend to associate with people who do the same, this often causes an addictive disorder to become more severe.

Risk Factors of Opioid Addiction

There are a host of factors that can increase a person’s risk of opioid addiction, such as genetic makeup, environment, and underlying mental health conditions. It’s important to keep in mind that any of these influences can have an impact regardless of a person’s upbringing, personal beliefs, or background. Many of the following risk factors are therefore outside of an individual’s control.

By knowing which types of circumstances may cause an addiction to develop, you’ll be better equipped to get to the root of opioid abuse. Here are some of the most common risk factors for addiction that are worth taking into account.


A person’s genetic makeup plays a meaningful role in their risk of developing an addiction. The genes that a child receives from their parents shape their overall DNA. In addition to physical characteristics and personality traits, parents’ genes influence their children’s overall risk of developing certain diseases, such as cancer.

Addiction is known as a moderately to highly heritable condition. In other words, an individual’s risk of developing a substance use disorder is significantly influenced by their genetic makeup. For this reason, when a patient checks into a rehab facility, an addiction specialist will typically inquire about their family history regarding addiction.

Mental Health

Addiction and mental health are closely connected in a number of ways. Research has shown that individuals with mental health conditions are twice as likely to have an addictive disorder as well. It’s important to ensure that you get the help you need for your mental health disorder in addition to your substance use.

There are various types of mental health conditions that may accompany an addictive disorder. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders observed in addicts include:

  • Anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, etc.)
  • Mood disorders (bipolar disorder, major depression, etc.)
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Psychotic disorders (schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, etc.)
  • Personality disorders (antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc.)

Although these are some of the most widely recognized co-occurring mental health conditions, they don’t cover all types of disorders. It’s important to see a mental health professional if you’re concerned about your symptoms. This will allow you to receive the right type of care for your needs when you begin addiction rehab treatment.


Earlier, we established that a person’s heredity can be a large determining factor in their overall risk of addiction. However, genetics only tell part of the story. To understand the bigger picture of drug and alcohol addiction, it’s important to consider an individual’s environment as well.

There are various aspects of a person’s environment that can influence their likelihood of developing a substance use disorder. For example, the mere presence of drugs in a child’s household may encourage them to experiment with substances, which can lead to addiction later on. This risk becomes even more severe when the child’s parents themselves use substances frequently.

In addition, a school can affect a person’s chances of developing an alcohol or drug addiction. Peer pressure is a powerful force among young people, and when a child surrounds themselves with the wrong crowd, they may fall victim to this type of pressure. If a child’s friends use drugs, they might be tempted to adopt this harmful behavior in a desire to fit in and be accepted.

What to Expect From A Drug Rehab in Massachusetts

Massachusetts residents can find a custom-tailored opioid addiction treatment program through Mayflower. Our top-tier drug and alcohol treatment program help empower patients to work toward the ultimate goal of sobriety. Here’s what you can expect from the opioid treatment process.

Detoxification from Opioids in MA

Detoxification, normally the first step in addiction treatment, helps facilitate the drug withdrawal process. The withdrawal comes with a wide range of side effects that you may experience during recovery. Common detox side effects include anxiety, depression, insomnia, nausea or vomiting, hallucinations, shakiness, and sweating.

Through a medically assisted opioid detox in MA, a trained medical professional can help you manage your symptoms. The goal of detox is to reduce the risk of harmful conditions that may develop as a result of severe withdrawal symptoms. Mayflower’s detoxification program ensures that patients have a safe and comfortable environment where they can be fully dedicated to their well-being and recovery.

Addiction Treatment in MA

The next step after medically assisted detox is drug addiction treatment. During this stage, addiction specialists design a treatment plan that meets the needs of each patient. To accomplish this, they work closely with you to understand the nature of your addiction as well as other relevant factors, such as your lifestyle, genetics, and family history.

There are two main types of drug rehab treatment that are typically offered to patients: outpatient treatment and inpatient treatment. Here’s everything you need to know about each option so that you can make the right choice for yourself.

Outpatient Treatment

The first type of treatment available to recovering drug users is outpatient treatment. During outpatient treatment, you have access to specialized medical and psychological care designed to support your recovery. Patients also have the chance to take part in various treatment sessions, such as counseling, therapy, drug abuse education, and relapse prevention.

Outpatient programs tend to be less restrictive than inpatient programs. In addition, they make it possible for patients to engage in their normal everyday activities while receiving treatment. You can choose to enroll in an outpatient program as a standalone form of treatment, or you can include it in a long-term treatment plan for more intensive care.

Residential Inpatient Treatment in MA

If outpatient treatment doesn’t seem to be the right choice for you, you can opt for residential inpatient treatment in MA instead. Inpatient programs provide a safe and supportive environment for patients to reside in while being treated by top-tier medical experts.

During your time in inpatient treatment, you’ll have the chance to benefit from around-the-clock clinical, medical, and emotional care. Our highly skilled and caring specialists offer residents the tools and resources that they need to achieve sobriety.

Find the Help You Need for Opioid Addiction Today

At Mayflower Detox in MA, we’re proud to give patients access to high-quality opioid addiction treatment. To learn more about our various treatment options in Massachusetts, give us a call and find the help you need now. A world-class team of addiction treatment experts is standing by, ready to assist you right now.

More from the Blog

How to Help Someone with Alcoholism

How to Help Someone with Alcoholism

Helping someone with an alcohol addiction can be daunting, but it starts with understanding and support. In this article, you’ll learn how to recognize the signs, approach the conversation with empathy, explore treatment options, and support your loved one through...