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How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Opioids?

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You understand that opioids are powerful and addictive. You realize that opioid abuse can cause immense harm, including overdose and death. But why, exactly, is it so risky to use these drugs? What properties make them so dangerous? And how long does it take to get addicted to opioids?

If your or a loved one is struggling with opioid use disorder, our addiction treatment in Nashville can help. Call us now at 615-234-9071 or verify your insurance now.

Why Are Opioids So Dangerous?

Some opioids – such as prescription painkillers, morphine, and even fentanyl – can be extremely beneficial when they are used appropriately to address legitimate medical concerns. Other opioids, such as heroin and opium, are often viewed as more dangerous because they are used primarily for recreational purposes. 

However, no matter which opioid you use or why you use it, doing so can put you in danger of myriad negative outcomes. While the likelihood of harm can be minimized if you take an opioid as directed under the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider, the nature of these substances means that there is no such thing as completely risk-free use.

When you take an opioid, the drug interferes with the central nervous system’s ability to deliver pain messages from the body to the brain. It also triggers the release of additional dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with mood, motivation, and learning. 

The pleasurable effects of opioid use – and the desire to stave off increased pain and depressed mood when they wear off – can entice people to use these drugs in greater amounts or more frequently than they should. This misuse can quickly turn into addiction.

Also, opioids impact areas of the brain that are linked with vital automatic processes such as heart rate and respiration. Even a clinically appropriate dose of an opioid will slow a person’s heartbeat and breathing. Taking too large of a dose – or taking a second dose before the effects of the first have subsided – can suppress these functions to a life-threatening level.

How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Opioids?

There is no single, universally accurate answer to the question, how long does it take to get addicted to opioids?

Factors that affect the process include:

  • Which opioid a person has been using
  • How much they have been using, and how long they have been using it
  • How they have been using the drug (for example, by taking it orally as a pill, snorting it in powder form, or dissolving the drug into a solution an injecting it)
  • The individual’s age, weight, and metabolism
  • If they have also been abusing or become addicted to another substance
  • If they have been experiencing certain mental health concerns

With these caveats in mind, here are a few estimates for how long it can take to become addicted to some commonly used (and abused) opioids:

  • Faster-acting opioids such as morphine and hydrocodone (Vicodin) are eliminated from the body fairly quickly, but they are also often taken more frequently than other opioids. Addiction to these types of opioids can develop within a few weeks of ongoing use.
  • Extended-release versions of some common prescription opioids (such as OxyContin) also usually have a longer addiction development timeline. The time from first use of this type of opioid to addiction may be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few months.
  • Depending on how often a person uses heroin, and whether they snort or inject the drug, it may only take a week or two before they become addicted.
  • Experts estimate that fentanyl can be up to 50 times stronger than heroin and as much as 100 times stronger than morphine. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fentanyl addiction timeline can be extremely brief, possibly occurring within a few days. 

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Effects of Untreated Opioid Addiction

In addition to knowing how long does it take to get addicted to opioids, it is also important to understand how harmful this condition can be. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were involved in 80,411 overdose deaths in the United States in 2021. This number represents more than 75% of all overdose deaths in that year, and it works out to an average of more than 220 opioid-related deaths every day.

In addition to this elevated risk of death, people who engage in compulsive opioid abuse also expose themselves to several other dangers, including the following:

  • Diminished cognition
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Chronic constipation
  • Bowel dysfunction
  • Impaired immune system
  • Liver damage
  • HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and other bloodborne diseases
  • Physical injuries due to poor coordination or judgment
  • Being arrested, fined, and/or jailed
  • Job loss and long-term unemployment
  • Financial devastation
  • Lost relationships

The negative effects of opioid abuse and addiction don’t occur in a predictable manner. Abusing these drugs even once can be devastating. This is why it is so important to get professional help the moment you realize you have a problem.

Also, don’t believe the myth that you have to “hit rock bottom” before you can benefit from treatment. No matter how much or how little harm you may have already incurred, all you need is the courage to ask for help and the desire to end your opioid use for good. 

Find Opioid Addiction Treatment in Nashville

Nashville Treatment Solutions is a premier provider of personalized outpatient rehab for adults who have become addicted to opioids and other substances. We also serve individuals whose struggles with addiction are accompanied by anxiety, depression, and certain other co-occurring mental health concerns.

Programming options at our opioid addiction treatment center in Nashville, Tennessee, include Detox, Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), an evening IOP, and outpatient rehab. For those who need additional support, we can also connect patients trusted sober living residences in Nashville.

To learn more about how we can help you or a loved one, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.