Display Mode:

    Main content

    Health Information

    Worried About Addiction to Opioids?

    Worried About Addiction to Opioids?

    Skip to the navigation

    Topic Overview

    In the past, opioids were used only for short periods for short-term pain or for cancer pain. Many experts now also use them for longer periods to treat chronic pain. You can take these drugs, which are sometimes called narcotics or opiates, to reduce pain and increase your functioning without becoming addicted.

    Opioids are strong medicines. They are safest when you use them exactly as your doctor prescribes. There is a small risk of addiction when you take opioids. The risk is greater for those who have a history of substance use. Some people have more problems with opioids, including teenagers, older adults, people who have depression, people who have sleep apnea, and those who take high doses of medicine.

    Your body gets used to opioids, which may lead to tolerance and physical dependence. These are not the same as addiction.

    • Tolerance means that, over time, you may need to take more of the drug to keep getting the same amount of pain relief. The danger is that tolerance greatly increases your risk of overdose, breathing emergencies, and death.
    • Physical dependence means your body has become used to having opioids, and you could have withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. Symptoms include nausea, sweating, chills, diarrhea, and shaking. But you can avoid these symptoms if you slowly stop taking the medicine as your doctor tells you to.

    What should you do if you think you may be addicted?

    If you think you may be addicted, talk to your doctor. Signs of addiction include the following:

    • Your drug use is having a bad effect on your family life, your job, or other activities.
    • You keep using the drug even though it is actually harming your body or your behavior.
    • You're taking larger amounts of the drug than was intended. Or you're taking it longer than was intended.

    When you are addicted to painkillers for a long time, withdrawal can be very difficult. But treatment is available to help you through that process.

    Related Information


    ByHealthwise Staff
    Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
    Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
    Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
    Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
    E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
    Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics

    Current as ofFebruary 7, 2017

    This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

    © 1995-2017 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.