The Master Guide to Understanding Opioid Addiction

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years old. And the lion’s share of these deaths is due to opioid addiction and abuse. Therefore, we offer an opioid addiction treatment program that can help you move forward in your life with sobriety.

In 2015 alone more than 33 thousand people lost their lives due to an opioid overdose according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

And as the CDC recently reported, the problem isn’t getting any better. Emergency visits involving the drugs jumped by a whopping 30% across the entire country in 2016 and continue to rise even still.

Although these powerful pain relievers do have a place in legitimate medicine today, prescription opioids are notorious for being highly addictive, especially prone to abuse, and particularly dangerous when misused.

Plus, becoming addicted to these drugs can often lead to abusing deadly illicit opioids like heroin.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to opioids, the very first step is understanding the problem. The more you know about this devastating disease, the better equipped you’ll be to overcome it.

And that’s what this guide is for. It covers everything from what opioids are and how an addiction begins all the way to overdoses, withdrawals, and what it takes to kick this substance use disorder for good.

Overcoming opioid addiction is possible. And when you know the ins and outs of this deadly disorder, it’s more attainable than ever.

What Are Opioids?

opioid addiction treatment program at our opioid addiction rehab centerOpioids belong to a class of drugs known as analgesics – a fancy word for pain relievers.

Doctors will typically prescribe these drugs for moderate to severe pain that’s either chronic (constant) or acute (brief but severe). Some of the most common prescription opioids are OxyContin, Codeine, Fentanyl, and Vicodin (these four drugs are also the most commonly abused prescription drugs today).


Patients who are in pain due to cancer, back problems, surgery, or other types of injuries might go on opioids to help them live more of a regular life. And when used properly, these medications can be an absolute life-saver for some.

But opioids are also classified as narcotics. That means that these drugs tend to not only blunt the senses but can also produce an elated mood and feelings of bliss at high dosages. At even greater dosages they can produce stupor, coma, and even death.

And equally importantly, opioids are also highly addictive due to the rapid onset of tolerance, the intensely pleasurable high, and the brutal withdrawals that prevent those in its grasp from being able to quit.

Opioids also encompass illicit drugs like heroin and opium.

The opioid epidemic, which is reported to kill around 116 Americans every single day, is fueled by both prescription and illicit opioids.


How Do These Drugs Work?

The body naturally produces chemicals that are similar to these opioids. These chemicals are called endorphins, and they’re meant to help regulate pain. Without endorphins, we wouldn’t be able to keep our cool or find help in times of extreme physical stress.

Endorphins are also responsible in part for experiencing pleasure. A runner’s high, the pleasure involved in eating particularly spicy food, UV light, and even childbirth have all been associated with the release of endorphins according to How Stuff Works.

Certain cells in your brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract have specialized structures known as opioid receptors. These receptors are designed to match up with the naturally occurring endorphins to block pain and produce pleasure.

Opioids fit into these same receptors and activate them without the help of endorphins. They essentially hijack your body’s natural system and produce effects like pain relief and pleasure on-demand.

Unlike natural endorphins, however, opioids can cause a host of negative side effects. Dangerous levels of respiratory depression, constipation, nausea, vomiting, and tolerance can all come about from using these drugs.

Opioids vs. Opiates: What’s The Difference?

You may have heard people use these two terms interchangeably in the past. However, there’s a distinct difference between the two.

While both of these kinds of drugs do have narcotic pain-relieving effects, opiates are naturally derived from the opium poppy. The sap of this plant organically contains these psychoactive chemicals and can actually be gathered right from the poppy itself.

The four types of naturally occurring opiates are:

  • Morphine (Arymo ER, Kadian, MorphaBond ER, MS Contin)
  • Codeine (Pyregesic-C, Tylenol w/Codeine, Brontex, Phenergan, Vanacof)
  • Thebaine
  • Papaverine

Opioids, on the other hand, are either synthetic (entirely man-made) or semi-synthetic (part man-made and part organic from the poppy).

Some of the most popular synthetic opioids are:

  • Fentanyl (Abstral, Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora)
  • Tramadol (ConZip, Ultram)
  • Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose, Diskets)
  • Meperidine (Demerol HCl)

The most common semi-synthetic opioids include:

  • Heroin
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Dilaudid-5, Exalgo)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana, Opana ER, Numorphan HCl)
  • Hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER, Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (Oxaydo, OxyContin, Oxyfast, Roxicodone, Xtampza ER

As the epidemic has continued to escalate and get more attention from the media and government agencies though, the term “opioid” is now generally used to refer to all natural, semi-synthetic, and synthetic opioids.

For the purposes of this guide and to maintain clarity throughout, the term opioid will be used this way to refer to both opioids and opiates.


Are Prescription Opioids Just As Dangerous As Illicit Ones?

The short answer here is that they certainly can be.

One of the most alluring aspects of abusing prescription opioids is the fact that these pills are actually legal, as opposed to street opioids like heroin – a Schedule I narcotic according to the DEA.

And in the mind of many people, if a drug is legal, it’s got to be safer to use and abuse than street drugs.

This notion, however, is not necessarily true.

Clinical Use of Opioids

When used properly and according to a legitimate prescription, clinical opioids can be quite safe and incredibly helpful. But when abused, they can actually become just as deadly as street drugs like heroin. And in some cases, they can even be more dangerous.

Fentanyl, for instance, is a synthetic prescription opioid that’s anywhere from 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Heroin, for comparison, is only about 2 to 5 times as strong as morphine.

In fact, when you look at the hard numbers, prescription opioids like fentanyl and drugs like Vicodin regularly kill more people than heroin.

In 2016 alone, more than 17 thousand people lost their lives due to a prescription opioid overdose. Compare that to about 15.5 overdose deaths caused by heroin. It seems, then, that just because a drug is legal doesn’t mean it’s safe.

And to make things even more complicated, prescription drug abuse regularly leads to using illicit street drugs like heroin. Around 80% of heroin addicts say that their drug habits started with abusing prescription opioids. And 94% said they made the switch because this deadly street drug was both cheaper and easier to get their hands on.

Even now as opioid prescriptions are dropping, death rates still continue to rise. And that’s because so many addicts are dropping their prescription drug addiction and turning instead to heroin..

The Opioid Epidemic: How Bad Is It?

You’ve more than likely heard about the health epidemic raging across the country today. More people are dying from drug overdoses than automobile accidents, guns, and even certain types of cancers. And at the heart of it all is the dramatic rise in opioid-related deaths.

But how bad has the problem gotten, really? Let’s take a look at some stats to help put this deadly trend into perspective.

In 2016 alone:

  • Over 42 thousand people died from an opioid overdose.
  • 2.1 million Americans were considered to be addicted to opioids.
  • 11.5 million people misused prescription opioids.
  • The opioid epidemic caused an economic burden of $504 billion in the United States

According to NIDA:

  • Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
  • An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states.
  • The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017.
  • Opioid overdoses in large cities increased by 54 percent in 16 states.

And within Colorado itself, opioid abuse has become a serious problem – especially when it comes to prescription drugs.


What’s Happening Today With The Opioid Epidemic?

In fall of 2017, the President declared the opioid epidemic to be a National Public Health Emergency under federal law. This declaration has opened up the door to new waves of funding for agencies designed to combat the problem as well as reduce certain restrictions.

However, experts tend to agree that this is only a small first step towards truly dealing with the problem and much more needs to be done.

Over the past several decades, a lot has changed in how opioids are prescribed and how addiction is being treated. For example:

To hear just some of these stories and how this devastating addiction has impacted individuals firsthand, take a look at the White House’s The Crisis Next Door. This site includes a number of personal stories from Americans whose lives have changed forever because of the opioid epidemic.

Below is just one of these heart-breaking stories from Lauri, a Wisconsin mother of two.

How Does An Opioid Addiction Begin?

According to NIDA, addiction is defined as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”

Addiction isn’t so much about being physically dependent, then. It’s more about the behaviors associated with your drug use – like whether or not they’re compulsive, persistent, and most importantly, destructive.

Contrary to popular belief, anyone can become addicted to opioids. It isn’t just people living on the streets or individuals who come from a life of crime and substance abuse. Homemakers, high-school athletes, business professionals, doctors, laborers, anyone is at risk – especially those who suffer from chronic pain.

Addiction does not discriminate.

And no matter how you become addicted, at the start of it all lies a single instance of opioid abuse.

Overdosing on Opioids

Undoubtedly one of the most terrifying outcomes of opioid abuse and addiction is the risk of an overdose.

While the high from drugs like heroin and OxyContin can be pleasantly sedating, this characteristic in particular can end up costing you your life.

That’s because opioids have a three-pronged effect on your body’s ability to breathe according to Scientific American’s interview with Bertha Madras, a professor of psychobiology at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

First, these drugs inhibit signals sent to the diaphragm, an organ that pushes air out of the lungs and lets you take in more oxygen. Second, they interfere with a person’s ability to detect the buildup of carbon dioxide (a waste product of respiration). And finally, they actually suppress activity in the brain that directly controls your breathing rate.

In the end, it impacts every system in your brain and body that prevents you from suffocating. It isn’t any wonder, then, why opioid overdoses are so incredibly deadly. And in order to ensure the best chances of recovery from an overdose, it’s vital that you’re able to first recognize the signs.

Signs of An Overdose

The first step in getting life-saving help during an overdose is spotting the symptoms.

And while you may think that surely you can tell when someone is in trouble after taking too many opioids, the fact remains that every second counts.

In many cases, overdose victims aren’t getting essential oxygen to their brain. In as little as one minute without oxygen, brain cells begin dying off. And every second without air after that increases the risk of permanent damage, coma, and death.

Being able to spot the signs immediately, then, can end up being a literal lifesaver.According to MedlinePlus, here’s what to watch for:

Airways & Lungs

  • No breathing
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow and difficult breathing

Eyes, Ears, Nose, & Throat

  • Dry mouth
  • Extremely small pupils, sometimes as small as the head of a pin (pinpoint pupils)
  • Discolored tongue

Heart & Blood

  • Low blood pressure
  • Weak pulse


  • Extremely pale face
  • Feels clammy to the touch
  • Bluish-colored nails and lips

Stomach & Intestines

  • Constipation
  • Vomiting or gurgling noises
  • Spasms of the stomach and intestines

Nervous System

  • Coma
  • Delirium
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Inability to speak
  • Uncontrolled muscle movements

What Should You Do During An Overdose?

The first and possibly most important thing to remember in the case of an overdose is that time is of the essence here. Don’t wait; don’t hesitate; and overall, don’t delay. Every second without emergency medical help is a second closer to permanent and life-threatening damage.

So, if you suspect someone is overdosing on opioids, contact medical help immediately.

There are two ways to do so. The first is obviously to call 9-1-1. Operators will likely send an ambulance equipped with life-saving tools/medicines and will transport the victim to the nearest hospital.

Do not attempt to drive the victim yourself unless told to do so by an operator. Oftentimes waiting for an ambulance will have a better outcome than trying to make it to an emergency room on your own.

The second option is calling the national Poison Help hotline at 1-800-222-1222. The difference with this hotline is that it does not have to be an emergency when you call. Operators here are available 24/7 too.

In the end, the absolute best thing you can do in the case of an overdose is to get in touch with a medical professional as soon as you can. Remember: every second counts!

How Long Do Opioids Stay In Your System?

Maybe you’re wondering whether or not you can pass a drug test after getting clean. Or perhaps you’re finally fed up with the constant struggle with addiction and want to know how long it takes to start going through withdrawals. No matter what your reasoning, knowing how long it takes to fully flush all traces of opioids out of your system is valuable info.

But even so, it’s important to remember that there aren’t any hard and fast rules for how long it takes to rid a body of a drug. And that’s because (cliché as it is) every body is different. Genetics, metabolism, body type, addiction history, addiction duration, and countless other factors all have an influence on how long your body retains a drug.

So judging how long until you’re totally clean is a bit of a toss-up. That being said, there are some general estimates of the amount of time certain opioids stay in the body. These are listed below along with how long various the tests can detect them. The half-life of each drug (how long it takes for half of the molecules to be broken down by the body) are also listed.


Oxycodone (Half-life of around 3 hours)

  • Urine: Detectable up to 3 to 4 days.
  • Blood: Detectable up to 24 hours.
  • Saliva: Detectable up to 1 to 4 days.
  • Hair: Detectable up to 90 days.


Heroin (Half-life of 2 to 6 minutes)

  • Urine: Detectable up to 1 to 4 days.
  • Blood: Detectable up to 3 minutes.
  • Saliva: Detectable up to 12 hours.
  • Hair: Detectable up to 90 days.


Morphine  (Half-life of 1.5 to 7 hours)

  • Urine: Detectable up to 72 hours.
  • Blood: Detectable up to 6 to 12 hours.
  • Hair: Detectable up to 90 days.


Hydromorphone (Half-life of 4 hours)

  • Urine: Detectable up to up to 72 hours.
  • Blood: Detectable up to 24 hours.
  • Saliva: Detectable up to 48 hours.
  • Hair: Detectable up to 90 days.


Codeine (Half-life of 3 hours)

  • Urine: Detectable up to 2 to 4 days.
  • Blood: Detectable up to 12 hours.
  • Saliva: Detectable up to 1 to 4 days.
  • Hair: Detectable up to 90 days.

How Long Is the Opioid Withdrawal Timeline?

In most cases, the body will fully break down most opioids within 7 to 10 days. For especially long-acting opioids like methadone, detox can actually end up lasting for weeks at a time. However, most other drugs in this category will usually take between one and two weeks before patients start more normal.

In general, the opioid withdrawal timeline can be broken down into three stages: acute, protracted, and PAWS.

Acute – The first stage of opioid withdrawal usually begins within the first few hours for short-acting drugs (like heroin) and within the first 30 hours for longer-acting ones (like methadone). Once symptoms begin, they’ll usually persist and become increasingly intense for the next 72 hours (can be around 10 days for methadone).

According to MedlinePlus, symptoms during this stage may include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Increased tearing
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning

Protracted – Once symptoms peak at around 3 days in for most opioids, the intensity of your symptoms will slowly begin to decrease. This marks the beginning of the protracted phase which can last anywhere from 4 to 7 days. You may also notice new symptoms appearing including:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

You Can Recover at Our Opioid Addiction Rehab Center

Opioid addiction is without a doubt the most widespread and rapidly expanding health crisis the United States has ever seen. In a single year, drugs like these regularly kill more Americans than those that died in the Vietnam War or at the height of the AIDS crisis.

And the more you know about how these dangerous drugs work and what an addiction looks like, the better able you’ll be to avoid them or overcome their pull if you’re already addicted.

You don’t have to live like a slave to your addiction. With the right professional help, you can attain sobriety. And at AspenRidge Fort Collins, we can help.

Our nationally accredited rehabilitation program offers cutting-edge treatment plans that are crafted to meet your individual needs. We offer both inpatient and intensive outpatient services so no matter what level of care you’re after, we have what you’re looking for.

Opioid Addiction Treatment Program at AspenRidge Recovery Fort Collins

Struggling with an opioid addiction can seem hopeless. The intensity of cravings, the pain of withdrawals, and the utter lack of self-control can make it feel like there’s no way out.

But with the right kind of help, you can get your life back. And at AspenRidge Fort Collins, we’d love to help.

So, contact us today at 866-957-6941 to begin your recovery.


Our opioid addiction treatment program coordinators are here to help you enter treatment right away. They’ll verify your health insurance, help set up travel arrangements, and make sure your transition into treatment is smooth and hassle-free.