Substance Use Disorder: Opioids

How to Seek Treatment

What is the disorder? Substance use disorder is the dependence on a substance due to how the body responds to the substance (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). It “is a complex condition, a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences” (Parekh, 2015, para. 1). Opioid use disorder would be using drugs like morphine, heroin, codeine or methadone.

Symptoms present with behavioral changes, constriction of pupils, drowsiness or coma, slurred speech and attention and memory problems (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). Some behavioral changes are impaired control of cravings, failure to complete tasks at work, home or socially, risky use and continued use despite of known problems (Parekh, 2015).

Possible causes of the disorder: Changes in the brain cause an intense craving for the substance and makes it very difficult to stop using the substance (Parekh, 2015). Brain scans of the brain of people with the disorder show changes in the areas that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory and behavior control (Parekh, 2015). After some time, more of the substance is required to feel the same effects, known as tolerance (Parekh, 2015). Other possible causes include: peer pressure, emotional distress, genes and anxiety (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014).

Treatment options: Treatment can be medication to help wean off a substance, reduce desire for the drug, and to maintain use at a controlled level (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). For example, methadone can help to maintain a gradual withdrawal from heroin (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). If depressed, sometimes anti-depressant are helpful. Antagonist drugs can be prescribed to block or change the effects of the opioid. Treatment can also be in the form of psychosocial treatments or combined with medication. For example, a therapist can teach coping skills to replace the use of opioids and to cope with stress and negative feelings with cognitive-behavioral therapy (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). For example, they can help one to be aware of stressors that lead to substance use.

Common myths or misperceptions related to your disorder and information to help overcome them: Fear and shame can be a barrier to seeking treatment (Winerman, 2014). There are those who will not seek treatment due to the myth or misconception that everyone will call them “a substance abuser” (Winerman, 2014). This is an incorrect, demeaning term, which is why there is a stigma around the disorder. Substance use disorder is a medical condition and it is treatable. We don’t say that someone with an eating disorder abuses food (Winerman, 2014).

Treatment Provider: If you decide to seek treatment, you should find a licensed Psychologist, who is specially trained in psychotherapy (APA, n.d.). They should have a Doctorate degree and must have passed certain required exams. You should feel comfortable with them. You can ask your physician or local psychological association or the APA has a locator at: or



American Psychiatry Association. (2013). Substance-related and addictive disorders. Retrieved from

American Psychiatry Association. (n.d.). How to choose a psychologist. Retrieved from

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2014). Abnormal psychology (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Parekh, R. (2015, July). What is addiction? American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved from

Winerman, L. (2014, March). Words matter. American Psychiatric Association, 45(3), 20. Retrieved from

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