Opiate Use: From Experimentation to Addiction

Experimentation with alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco typically begins much earlier than experimentation with opiates. Opiates include both powerful prescription painkillers, like Oxycontin, Percocet, or Opana, and their illegal street cousin, heroin.

Opiate abuse is on the rise. In some communities it has reached epidemic proportions.

Recent research indicates that the average age of first use (an important indicator for addiction) has fallen from 22.7 (2001) to 18.5 (2011). That is a significant decrease in just ten years. Young adults are experimenting with opiates earlier than ever before. But how does experimentation turn into addiction?

It takes on average one year of sporadic opiate use for someone to develop a daily habit; however, some users with a genetic predisposition might jump to daily use within just 15 days. After dependence is established, the pain of withdrawal can become greater than the pain (physical or emotional) that the user was attempting to avoid. The motivation to continue habitual use is reinforced as the emotional or physical pain relief from the drug becomes greater than the pleasure. Use that began as the pursuit of pleasure has become habitual use to prevent the excruciating pain of withdrawal. The individual’s relationship to the drug can be characterized at this point as a non-negotiable, fundamental daily need.

Once an individual has reached this level of physical and psychological dependence, addiction treatment is necessary. The good news is that addiction treatment works.


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