Opioids (Narcotics): Addiction, Withdrawal and Recovery

A List of Common Opioids in Increasing Strength

These are some of the common opioids and their generic names. They are listed in order of increasing strength.

  • Codeine
  • Vicodin, Hycodan (hydrocodone)
  • MS Contin Kadian (morphine)
  • Oxycontin, Percoset (oxycodone)
  • Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
  • Duragesic (fentanyl)

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a group of drugs that are used for treating pain. They are derived from opium which comes from the poppy plant. Opioids go by a variety of names including opiates, opioids, and narcotics. The term opiates is sometimes used for close relatives of opium such as codeine, morphine and heroin, while the term opioids is used for the entire class of drugs including synthetic opiates such as Oxycontin.

Opioids Addiction

Opioids produce a sense of wellbeing or euphoria that can be addictive to some people. Opioids are legitimately used for treating pain. When used for pain relief, many people develop tolerance, meaning they need more and more to get the same effect. Some people go on to develop an addiction to opioids. They begin to obsessively think about getting more opiates and in some cases engage in illegal activities such as double doctoring.

A high dose of opioids can cause death from cardiac or respiratory arrest. Tolerance to the euphoric effect of opioids develops faster than tolerance to the dangerous effects. Therefore people often overdose by mistake because they are trying to get a higher high and take too much.

Opioid overdose can be reversed in hospital with intravenous naltrexone. Please contact emergency services if you feel you are in danger of an overdose.

Opioid Withdrawal

Opioid withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable. The important thing to remember is that opioid withdrawal is not life threatening if you are withdrawing only from opioids and not a combination of drugs. (Withdrawal from alcohol and some drugs such as benzodiazepines is potentially dangerous)

Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Low energy, Irritability, Anxiety, Agitation, Insomnia
  • Runny nose, Teary eyes
  • Hot and cold sweats, Goose bumps
  • Yawning
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Abdominal cramping, Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhea


Opioid withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from one week to one month. Especially the emotional symptoms such as low energy, anxiety and insomnia can last for a few months after stopping high doses of opioids.

Once the early stage withdrawal symptoms are over, you will still experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms. These are less severe but last longer.

Do You Have an Opioid Addiction?

Has your use of opioids increased over time?
Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using?
Do you use more than you would like, or more than is prescribed?
Have you experienced negative consequences to your using?
Have you put off doing things because of your drug use?
Do you find yourself thinking obsessively about getting or using your drug?
Have you made unsuccessful attempts at cutting down your drug use?

If you answered yes to at least three of those questions, then you are addicted to opioids. (Reference: www.AddictionsAndRecovery.org)

A Recovery Plan

  • Break the cycle of guilt and shame. Do your recovery with other people who are going through the same thing. This is the benefit of going to 12-step meetings such as Narcotics Anonymous NA or Alcoholics Anonymous AA. (More resources.)
  • Ask for help. Have a strong support system.
  • Be honest, and practice sharing how you feel.
  • Avoid high risk situations.
  • Learn relapse prevention strategies.
  • Do your recovery one day at a time.

Medications Used to Treat Opioid Addiction

  • Suboxone, Subutex (buprenorphine)
  • Revia (naltrexone)
  • Methadone

What is Suboxone - Buprenorphine?

IMPORTANT: This is general medical information, and is not tailored to the needs of a specific individual. This material is NOT complete. It does not cover all possible precautions, side effects, or interactions. You should always consult your physician when making decisions about your health.

Suboxone is a medication used for withdrawing and detoxing from opioids. It is a combination of buprenorphine a mild opiate, and naloxone a medication that reverses the effects of opiates if taken intravenously.

Buprenorphine is unlike other opioids in that it does not lead to a greater high the more you take. It is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it produces a mild high at most. Therefore it is sometimes used to get people off more addictive drugs such as Oxycontin or heroin.

The reason for combining buprenorphine and naloxone is that it reduces the risk of intravenous use. Suboxone is supposed to be taken as a tablet and held under the tongue. But if Suboxone is dissolved and taken intravenously, the naloxone reverses the effects of the buprenorphine, which blocks the high. Therefore there is less danger of diversion.

Patients do not have to go to special clinics to get their Suboxone as they do with methadone. Physicians with proper training and certification can prescribe Suboxone in their offices, and patients can take it home.

The Effects, Side Effect and Dangers of Suboxone

  • Suboxone is potentially addictive.
  • You will probably experience withdrawal symptoms as you come off Suboxone.
  • If you take Suboxone too soon after another opioid, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.
  • Suboxone can increase the drowsiness due to other drugs or alcohol.
  • Suboxone overdose can cause slow breathing, seizures, confusion, loss of consciousness, coma, and death.

Suboxone Withdrawal

Suboxone causes withdrawal symptoms, similar to other opioid, if stopped too quickly: low energy, irritability, anxiety, hot and cold sweats, muscle aches and pains, abdominal cramping, nausea, diarrhea. Some people feel that the withdrawal from Suboxone is just as difficult as the withdrawal from methadone.

Last Modified: March 15, 2017

Learn what are opioids, opiates and narcotics. Find information on Opioid addiction, withdrawal and recovery. Understand physical opioid-opiate withdrawal symptoms and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Learn about Narcotics Anonymous NA. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome and symptoms PAWS are discussed. Learn about Suboxone buprenorphine treatment, Suboxone withdrawal and side effects, and compare Suboxone to methadone. For a more information, refer to the book, I Want to Change My Life by Dr. Steven M. Melemis.