What Is Opioid Use Disorder?

Opioid Use Disorder Explained

Understanding “What is Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)?” can be complicated. This is because there’s a lot of wrong information available about opioid use and the opioid crisis. Thus, it can be hard to understand exactly who suffers from OUD. To clarify these matters, we’ll provide an exact definition of OUD, and the signs that you or someone you know may have it. We’ll also suggest the best treatment options for dealing with OUD. Since anyone who has been prescribed opioid painkillers could easily get OUD, this information could help prevent this destructive disorder from gaining hold in your life.

What are Opioids?

The first area of misunderstanding comes from the drugs themselves. Before you can identify OUD, you need to know what an opioid is, and what drugs fall into the category of opioid. In a nutshell, an opioid is any drug that interacts with the opioid receptors in the brain. These drugs are called opioids because they are made from poppy plants, which are used to create opium. When viewed on a chemical level, opioids are shown to contain some of the same chemical properties of opium. This makes them very powerful pain relievers. It also causes them to create a strong sense of euphoria, or intense joy when used. It is this euphoric feeling that causes addiction and leads to OUD.

Below are a few of the most common opioid drugs. A full list of opioids – including brand names – is available from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Methadone
  • Meperidine
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxymorphone

What is Opioid Use Disorder?

Opioid Use Disorder occurs when a person cannot stop taking opioids. It often begins when someone is prescribed pain relievers from their doctor for short-term pain. Commonly, this occurs after surgery or injury. Here’s are some of the common symptoms of OUD:

  • Taking opioid prescription drugs in greater amounts than prescribed.
  • Using opioids for a longer period than prescribed.
  • Needing increasing amounts of the opioid to feel the same effects.
  • Spending large quantities of time getting, using and recovering from the effects of using opioids.
  • “Doctor shopping” or seeking out new doctors to get more opioids.
  • An inability to meet responsibilities because of opioid use.
  • Seeking out heroin or other illegal drug sources when unable to get enough opioid prescription drugs.
  • Using opioids in dangerous situations such as driving a car or operating other machinery.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the person stops using opioids.

Withdrawal from opioids can be especially dangerous. It can also be difficult to identify.

Withdrawal from Opioid Use

When going through opioid withdrawal a person will feel like they have a bad case of the flu. This is because their body has become dependent on the drug. They don’t feel normal without it. These are the most common signs of withdrawal:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Physical pain.
  • Restlessness and insomnia.
  • Tearing of the eyes and running of the nose.
  • Sweating.
  • Yawning.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Diarrhea and stomach cramps.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

These symptoms usually last for a few days. However, some can last for weeks after stopping the drug. Most often, a person will continue to feel depression and anxiety as well as physical pain for longer periods than the other symptoms. This happens because of the mental addiction. Their brain is attempting to create reasons to use more opioids.

How Common is Opioid Use Disorder

In 2018, nearly a million people reported that they had used heroin in the past year. During that same year, more than 11 million people said they used narcotic pain relievers without a prescription. That is only in the United States. Global estimates show that in 2016, nearly 27 million people were living with OUD. This leads to more than 100,000 deaths from overdose each year, worldwide. Almost half of those deaths – 47,000 – occurred in the United States.

To put these numbers in perspective, governmental data shows about 70,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses in 2019. Meaning, more than half of all drug overdoses in the United States can be tied to opioids.

Treatments for Opioid Use Disorder

One of the problems with Opioid Use Disorder is that it tends to be very difficult to treat. The cravings that come with OUD are overwhelming. This is due to the way opioids interact with the body. Because opioids create such an intense feeling of happiness, a person constantly feels depressed when they stop.

The unnatural “highs” create devastating lows. In addition, the body will create pain in order to try to get more of the drug. This makes every minute agony. This is worse if the person suffers from a chronic pain condition, where they have actual physical suffering. Quitting opioids makes these much worse. Therefore, it is necessary to have medical help in order to treat OUD. Because the person feels so terrible, and the cravings are so powerful, they frequently need medication to manage their symptoms. Here’s some of the treatments recommended for anyone with OUD:

  • Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT).
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
  • Support groups and group therapy.

These should all be used together to treat the physical and mental problems that affect OUD sufferers. Here’s how they work:

MAT for Opioid Use Disorder

One of the first steps necessary to treat OUD involves the use of prescription medication. The goal is to gradually reduce the person’s physical dependence on the opioids. Doctors often use light doses of buprenorphine and methadone to manage the symptoms of withdrawal. A mixture of buprenorphine and naloxone is also common. The buprenorphine is a painkiller that assists by reducing the pain that comes from withdrawal. Methadone is an opioid, but can be given in mild doses to help combat cravings. Naloxone is often considered an “anti-drug” that helps block opioid receptors in the brain. This prevents opioids from having any effect.

Any MAT should only be undertaken with the care and supervision of a physician.


Research has shown CBT is able to assist with pain management, as well as helping people cope with difficult emotions. By learning to deal with pain mentally, and learning to feel good without drugs, those who battle OUD can deal with many of the symptoms that lead them back to opioid use.

Support Groups and Group Therapy

In addition to treating the body and mind, complete recovery from OUD requires social support. People with OUD often feel isolated and misunderstood. Because their addiction is so painful, and relapse is so common, having people who understand is extremely valuable during recovery.

Get Help with OUD Now

Hopefully you now know “What is opioid use disorder” and some of the ways to fight it. Success depends on help. If you or someone you know is fighting OUD, reach out. We are ready and able to aid. Our staff is trained to handle all the difficult parts of opioid addiction. They begin with medication-assisted treatment, then create a personalized treatment plan for anyone that eases the pain of addiction. We used evidence-based therapies to recover the body and mind so as to prevent relapse. We can provide all of the tools necessary to get you back to your life and free from the agony of opioids.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *