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How Addictive is Opium? Understanding the Process of Addiction

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Medically reviewed: 01/05/2019
Last updated: 05/13/2019
Author: Medical Review

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Opium is derived from a juice emitted from poppies and contains several alkaloids such as morphine, codeine, thebaine, papaverine, and noscapine. It has been used for centuries as a ritual, recreational, and medicinal drug, but because of its highly addictive nature, opium and its opiate derivatives such as heroin and a majority of narcotic painkillers prescribed annually, have been placed on the Schedules for Controlled Substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration Office of Diversion Control. So, the answer to the question ‘how addictive is opium?’ is that it is very addictive, as shown by its categorization by the federal government.

Prescription painkillers are attributed to the majority of addictions and understanding the process of addiction to these drugs is critical to their use. Improved education efforts are never ending because whether they are consumed as legally prescribed or illegally, they are the most widely abused. According to the 2014 World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opiates and opioids top the list of problem drugs that cause the most burden of disease and drug-related deaths worldwide.

How Addictive is Opium

Many narcotic drugs derive from the opium plant.

Physical Effects

Opium addiction can occur quickly. The higher the dosage and the more often it is used, the greater the tolerance the user develops which requires them to consume more of the drug to produce the same effect. The physical tolerance effects can be felt in a very few days and when the usage stops, the user experiences a myriad of withdrawal symptoms which are often flu-like, consisting of nausea, tearing, yawning, chills, and sweating.

In an effort to avoid these symptoms, opium addicts will usually begin seeking the drug in compulsory ways that often result in negative behaviors. Opium addictions often cause the addict to participate in a variety of risky behaviors such as illegal purchases, theft, fraudulent prescription obtainments, “doctor shopping” to obtain excessive amounts, combining multiple drugs in an effort to intensify the euphoric effects, and intravenous use which can result in serious diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis C.

The long term effects tend to deteriorate the addict’s health in several ways and this, ultimately, increases their compulsions to use in an effort to continue daily functions. As the addiction progresses, the physical withdrawal symptoms become more severe and can be dangerous, resulting in seizures, coma, cardiac arrest, or death.

Psychological Effects

Understanding the process of addiction to opium is equally important to know the psychological symptoms that occur with these types of addictions. In addition to the continuous obsessions to obtain and use, opium addiction causes inabilities to cope, mental health and behavioral complications, and negative consequences involving relationships. Opium addicts often suffer legal and economic disruptions that effect family, friends, employers, and society, further adding to the distress of the addiction itself.

Psychologically, the opium addict experiences a lack of emotional control and cognitive functions as increased interference in normal brain functioning diminishes their ability to deal with daily life. These disruptions can lead to severe mental health issues, psychosis, and suicidal tendencies.