Opiates (also commonly called opioids) are among the most abused drugs in the UK and across the world. It doesn’t matter whether you’re taking opiates on prescription, buying over-the-counter medications, purchasing drugs online or getting them from a dealer, all opioids carry a high risk of physical and psychological addiction. Once opiate addiction has taken a hold of you, it can be very difficult to overcome and can cause major damage to every aspect of your life. Fortunately, there is real help available and the drug addiction professionals at Sanctuary Lodge have helped many people overcome opioid addiction and start living happy, fulfilling lives again.


What are opiates?

Opiates are psychoactive drugs that bind to the neuron receptors in your brain and increase the levels of dopamine it releases. Neuron receptors are responsible for bodily processes like breathing, stress and pain. Depending on the type of opiate used, these drugs either activate or block the processes of neuron receptors to produce different effects in the body. Due to their fast-acting nature, and strong effects, opiate drugs were developed to provide fast-acting pain relief.

Opiate drugs, like morphine and heroin, are naturally occurring substances derived from opium poppies. The term opioid, though often used interchangeably with an opiate (including on this page), refers to synthetic or partially synthetic substances that mimic opiates that are naturally occurring.

What is opioid addiction?

Opioid addiction is the compulsive use of opiate drugs despite the negative consequences it causes in your life. This means that if you’re addicted to opiates, you’ll find yourself compelled to keep using them even if they’re destroying your health, causing financial problems or wrecking your relationships. It’s important to understand that opioid addiction is not a choice, it is a mental health disorder that can affect every aspect of your life and usually requires professional help to overcome.


The effects of opioid addiction

There are a number of negative physical and psychological effects of opioid addiction which can be incredibly harmful to your health. These include:

Physical effects

  • Drowsiness
  • Constricted pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Respiratory depression
  • Stupor
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itchy skin
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Risk of fatal overdose

Psychological effects

  • Poor judgement
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Low mood
  • Irritability
  • Euphoric episodes
  • Lethargy

Opiate addiction and abuse can also lead to a number of social problems, such as problems at work or school, relationship difficulties, financial issues, homelessness and legal trouble.

Why are opiates addictive?

There are various reasons why opiates are addictive. For recreational users, the “high” you experience during recreational opioid abuse is such an intense euphoria that your brain craves the experience again and again leading to repeat, frequent use.

Another reason is that opiates have a particularly fast-acting mechanism. The half-life of drugs like heroin, for example, can be as short as six minutes. Because of this, people often find themselves using opiates multiple times a day to maintain a constant level of effect.

As in most drug addictions, frequent use of opiate drugs causes tolerances of the substance to increase. Eventually, you will need more and more to maintain your desired level of effect. Tolerance to opiates normally results in a physical dependence where you will struggle to function normally without them. Eventually, this normally ends with the dependence progressing into opiate addiction.

Routes to opiate addiction

There are many different ways that people can develop an addiction to opioids.

The most common route is through prescription medication which often starts with a legitimate need for pain relief but ends in the person becoming addicted to their drugs. In recent years, the “Opioid Epidemic”, which started in the USA, has spread to the UK with the UK now having “the highest consumption rate of prescription opioids for pain management per capita in the world”. This is largely due to the over-prescription of opioid painkillers without proper education on the risks of opiate addiction.

Some people start out with an opiate prescription, become addicted and are then forced to find alternative drugs when their prescription ends. This is because the withdrawal symptoms they experience when they have no prescription opiates left to take can be extremely severe. As prescription drugs can be expensive and difficult to find on the streets, many people turn to heroin or other illegal drugs, which are often cheaper and easier to obtain.

Other people engage in recreational opioid abuse to experience their euphoric effects while some people use them to self-medicate or to help deal with mental health problems.

Whatever the route to opiate addiction, it’s important to remember that this is a serious condition that will usually require professional help to overcome.


Am I addicted to opiates?

There are a number of questions you can ask yourself which may indicate the signs of opiate addiction. These include:

  • Do I feel like I need to use opiates regularly?
  • Do I struggle to control how much or how often I use opiates?
  • Have there been negative consequences in my life as a result of using opiates (e.g. financial, relationship, health)?
  • Do I continue using opiates despite these negative consequences?
  • Have family or friends voiced concern about my opiate use?

If you answered yes to any of the above, it’s possible that you have an opiate addiction and should seek professional help. At Sanctuary Lodge, we have a team of experienced addiction counsellors who can help you to overcome your opiate use and get your life back on track.

Who is most at risk of opioid addiction?

While opioid addiction can affect anyone, there are certain risk factors which can increase your chances of developing an addiction to opioids. These include:

  • An underlying mental health condition: People who suffer from conditions such as anxiety, depression or PTSD are more likely to develop an addiction to opioids as they may self-medicate with drugs in an attempt to cope with their mental health problems.
  • A family history of addiction: If you have a parent or other close relative who has suffered from addiction, you’re more likely to develop an addiction yourself. This is because addiction can be passed down through families due to both genetic and environmental factors.
  • A history of drug or alcohol abuse: If you’ve previously abused drugs or alcohol, you’re more likely to develop an addiction to opioids. This is because people who have previously struggled with addiction are more likely to develop an addiction again.
  • Friends who use opioids: If your friends or peers are using opioids, you’re more likely to start using them yourself. This is because peer pressure can be a very powerful influence, especially during adolescence.

Different types of opiate addiction

In addition to illegal opiates, Sanctuary Lodge provides addiction treatment for several prescription opiates, including:

Codeine is a painkiller which is often prescribed for mild to moderate pain relief or coughs. It’s available over-the-counter in low doses but higher doses require a prescription. Codeine addiction often starts when people begin taking it for legitimate pain relief but quickly develop a tolerance and need to take more to get the same effects.

Morphine is a painkiller which is usually only prescribed for very severe pain because it is much stronger than most other opioids. Morphine addiction often starts in hospitals, with people becoming addicted after being prescribed it for pain relief following an injury or surgery.

Oxycodone is a powerful painkiller which is similar to morphine but is often prescribed for less severe pain. Oxycodone addiction can start in the same way as other prescription opioid addictions but is also frequently abused recreationally for its euphoric effects. Over-prescription of Oxycodone was one of the main driving factors of the opioid epidemic.

Methadone is a synthetic opioid which is often used as part of treatment for heroin addiction but can itself be incredibly addictive.

Hydrocodone, fentanyl and tramadol are all synthetic opioids which are commonly prescribed for pain relief. Addiction may start through legitimate prescription or recreational use.

Hard facts about opioid abuse and addiction in the UK

Is there a cure for opioid addiction?

While there is no “cure” for opioid addiction, it is very possible to overcome the condition if you are ready to make the change in your life. Effective opiate addiction treatment involves opiate detox, opiate rehab and aftercare to give you the best possible chance of long-term recovery.

At Sanctuary Lodge, we provide comprehensive treatment programmes incorporating all three of these stages to help you overcome both your physical dependence and psychological opiate addiction. After you leave Sanctuary Lodge, you will then have access to our aftercare programme, giving you ongoing support as you continue your journey in recovery.

If you or a loved one are struggling with opiate addiction, please get in touch today to find out more. We have helped hundreds of people overcome their addiction to opiates and we can help you too.

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Frequently asked questions

Which opioids are the most addictive?
All opioids can be equally harmful and have the same addictive potential. This is true even when taken as prescribed so if you have been given an opioid prescription, you need to be aware of the risks and make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions. Engaging in opioid abuse carries a number of serious risks including addiction, health issues and even death.
What happens if you take opioids every day?
If you take opioids every day, you will most likely develop a tolerance to them which means that you will need to take more and more to get the same effects. Tolerance can lead to addiction, so it’s important to be aware of the risks and speak to your GP if you notice your tolerance increasing to any opioid prescription you are on.
Can I die of opioid addiction?
Yes, you can die of opioid addiction. Opioids are very powerful drugs and taking too much can cause you to overdose. If you think someone has overdosed on opioids, it’s important to call emergency services immediately as they will be able to give them the treatment they need.
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