Risk Factors for Opioid Addiction

man considers taking opioids

Updated on August 10th, 2020

Opioid addiction is a growing crisis in America, resulting in thousands of overdose-related deaths every year. Whether you are directly affected by someone else’s opioid use or you are using these drugs yourself, everyone should be aware of the risk factors that can lead to addiction. This article will address the dangers and risks associated with opioid use, its effect on the U.S. population, and who is most vulnerable.

What Are Opioids?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines opioids as a class of drugs that are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. These include heroin and prescription pain relievers such as codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone, among others.

Opioids are very powerful and highly addictive drugs. Using the drug results in a “high” and feelings of pleasure, which reinforces the behavior and leads to addiction. Many people obtain prescribed opioid drugs legally from their doctor while others get them through individuals dealing them illegally.

What Are the Dangers of Opioid Abuse?

Short-term effects of opioid abuse vary, but they often include:

  • Euphoric feelings
  • Paranoia
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Pain relief
  • Lethargy

Opioid abuse has very serious long-term effects as well, including heart infections, pulmonary embolisms, liver damage and brain damage as a result of respiratory depression (a severe reduction in the number of breaths taken per minute).

Life-threatening infections such as HIV, AIDS, and viral hepatitis are also common in people addicted to opioids. These are frequently caused by dirty injection equipment.

Overdose is another huge danger associated with opioid abuse. Not only is drug overdose the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S., but according to a recent report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid addiction resulted in 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.

As with all drug abuse, opioid addiction also leads to all sorts of social problems, such as neglecting important responsibilities at home or at work, seriously damaging relationships, and putting loved ones in dangerous situations. Drug addiction can also lead to (or worsen) psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, or other mental disorders.

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    Facts and Statistics on Opioid Abuse in the U.S.

    Opioids are easy to get, frequently prescribed by doctors and extremely addictive, so it’s no surprise they are one of the most abused drugs in the United States.

    • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of deaths caused by opioid overdoses increased by 2.5 times between 1999 and 2015.
    • The American Society of Addiction Medicine reported that an estimated 23% of people who use heroin develop an opioid addiction.
    • Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that prescription and illicit opioids killed more than 33,000 people in 2015.
    • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 2.1 million people in the U.S. were suffering from substance abuse related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and an estimated 467,000 were addicted to heroin.
    • Every day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Who Is Most At Risk For Becoming Addicted?

    A variety of things play into the prevalence of opioid addiction, including socioeconomic factors, geographic location, health factors and more. Studies have found that the following factors increase the likelihood of someone becoming addicted to opioid drugs.

    1. People who consume high daily doses of prescribed opioids. Opioids are very addictive even after just a few days of consistent use. This puts anyone taking high doses of prescription painkillers at risk for developing an addiction.
    2. People who live in rural areas. Substance abuse, in general, is prevalent in rural areas due to higher rates of unemployment, poverty, and lower education levels. Limited access to treatment and addiction education also increases the risk of opioid abuse.
    3. People with mental health problems. Mental disorders are often coupled with opioid abuse because they increase a person’s vulnerability to drug use. Some individuals with mental disorders may also use drugs to self-medicate to manage symptoms of their disease, which can develop into addiction.
    4. People who suffered from prior substance abuse problems. Studies have shown evidence that early drug use is a major risk factor for substance abuse, making these individuals extremely vulnerable.
    5. People on Medicaid. Individuals on Medicaid are often prescribed opioids too frequently to treat acute and chronic pain, resulting in many of them developing an opioid misuse disorder. In fact, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported that the prevalence of opioid use disorder in Medicaid beneficiaries is 8.7 per 1,000, which is estimated to be more than 10 times higher than in populations who receive coverage from private insurance companies.
    6. People with chronic pain. In this instance, opioids can be used to self-medicate, whether an individual obtains the drugs legally with a prescription or illegally otherwise.
    7. People who are prescribed opioids for postoperative pain relief. Many people first start taking prescribed opioids from their doctor to manage pain after a surgery. But even this can lead to addiction. In fact, according to Dr. Chad Brummett, director of the division of pain research at the University of Michigan Medical School, a study he authored found that “5 to 6 percent of patients not using opioids prior to surgery continued to fill prescriptions for opioids long after what would be considered normal surgical recovery.”

    How to Reduce the Risk of Opioid Addiction

    Since the conversation about the serious opioid problem in America is growing, more people are realizing that there is a need for preventative action. While there are program initiatives underway to combat the prevalence of opioid addiction and overdoses, what does prevention look like on a personal level?

    If you are concerned that you or someone you love may develop an addiction to opioids, education is a key factor in combating it. Talk to your healthcare provider or visit a reputable online source, such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information. Additionally, if your doctor prescribes an opioid for pain management, make sure to ask if there are other options available or get a second opinion from another doctor.

    Beat Addiction With Safe Opioid Detox in Texas

    Quitting opioids cold turkey without medical assistance is very painful and difficult. However, with the assistance of trained professionals, opioid detox can be a very safe process with little discomfort.

    Once a person becomes dependent and addicted to opioid drugs, he or she will need professional help to quit. Upon quitting, the person’s body will go through detox and withdrawal, which consists of several uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms, including:

    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Flu-like symptoms
    • Sweating
    • Diarrhea
    • Abdominal cramps
    • Abdominal pain
    • Muscle aches and tension
    • Insomnia
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Dysphoria
    • Intense cravings for opioids

    While the worst opioid withdrawal symptoms typically begin to subside after about three days, some of the psychological symptoms can last for weeks or months after opioid detox is over as the brain and body adjust to sobriety.

    The severity and intensity of opioid withdrawal will vary from person to person depending on how long they abused opioids, what type of opioid drugs they abused, their underlying physical and mental health, and if they are a polydrug user.

    Medically-assisted detox for opioid addiction is often the safest and most effective course of action if a person wants to quit opioids. Medical detox provides pharmacological and psychological treatment in a safe and supportive residential setting.

    Staff monitor patients 24/7 and check their vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and respiration levels to ensure each client is safely progressing through the detox process. This close level of monitoring also ensures that nurses and doctors can keep clients as comfortable as possible by using medications and clinical therapy to treat any uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms they may experience.

    Briarwood Detox Center offers a safe medical opioid detox program in Austin and Houston in comfortable and private residential settings. We also offer an executive opioid detox program for clients who prefer more privacy, enhanced comfort, and deluxe amenities during detox.

    Due to the intensity of opioid withdrawal symptoms, a person’s risk of relapse is very high, especially in the early stages of recovery. For that reason, detox clients are typically encouraged to continue their treatment with a residential or outpatient rehab program after detox. This will promote lasting, long-term sobriety.

    Start Recovering From Opioid Addiction Today

    Opioid addiction affects people from all walks of life. At Briarwood Detox Center, we offer inpatient medical detox for opioid addiction and an executive detox program to address the specific needs of adult clients of all ages, professionals, and lifestyles. Call today to learn more about our individualized detox programs or to enroll.


    1. https://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf
    2. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6386/932bfe7d1090a30f7c845aab2c4ee220ee5a.pdf
    3. https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_164600.html
    4. http://managedhealthcareexecutive.modernmedicine.com/managed-healthcare-executive/news/top-risk-factors-opioid-use-disorder-overdose
    5. https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/topics/substance-abuse
    6. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse
    7. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/what-science-tells-us-about-opioid-abuse-addiction
    8. http://drugabuse.com/library/the-effects-of-opiate-use/
    9. https://www.medpagetoday.com/psychiatry/addictions/22039
    10. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm655051e1.htm
    11. https://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Outreach/Partnerships/Downloads/CMS-Opioid-Misuse-Strategy-2016.pdf
    12. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/opioid-prescribing/

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