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Opioid use disorder is treatable.

Opioid use disorder is often a chronic, recurring disorder characterized by the three "C's":  (1) loss of control over drug use, (2) continued use despite harmful consequences, and (3) cravings/urges to use. It is treatable and can go into remission.

What is Opioid Use Disorder?

If people continue to use opioids despite negative consequences, they may have an opioid use disorder (OUD). Here are some of the signs used to diagnose an OUD:

  • Strong urges (cravings) to use opioids
  • Trouble cutting down or quitting
  • Need more opioids to get the same effect (tolerance)
  • Feeling sick (withdrawal) if trying to stop
  • Not taking care of work, school, home, or other responsibilities
  • Problems with family and friends; spending more time with others who use opioids
  • Spending lots of time getting or using opioids, or using in dangerous situations
  • Not taking care of sleep, exercise, hygiene, or diet; having physical problems

Why are drugs addictive?

Many people don't understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to. Fortunately, we know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatments that can help people recover from drug addiction and lead productive lives.

The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can alter important networks in the brain that interfere with a person’s ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. With repeated exposure, the brain also adapts to the large amounts of chemicals (neurotransmitters) released in the brain by reducing the ability of the cells in the reward circuit to respond, making it difficult to feel pleasure from anything else. This creates a tolerance to drugs. These brain changes can be persistent, which is why people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for relapse even after years of not taking the drug.

Medications lower the risk of relapse and death. They do this by impacting the amount of neurotransmitters that are able to be received in the brain. Medications like buprenorphine (e.g. Suboxone®) and methadone also help treat withdrawal symptoms and can significantly reduce cravings for opioids. Medications also help keep people in treatment and decrease illegal opioid use and property crime.

It's common for a person to relapse, but a return to use doesn't mean that treatment doesn’t work. As with other chronic health conditions, treatment should be ongoing and should be adjusted based on how the patient responds. Treatment plans need to be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.

How to Find Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

Visit the "Community Resources" section of this website to find medication for opioid use disorder providers as well as access to naloxone and safe opioid disposal locations in our HEALing Communities Study counties. 

You can also use these Step-by-Step Guides to find information on:

  • how to know if you have a substance use disorder,
  • how to find help,
  • information on medication and counseling,
  • what to look for in a treatment center,
  • how support groups fit into your treatment program,
  • cost and privacy issues, and
  • additional resources.