Opium Addiction

Producers offered about 4,860 megatons of opium in 2010, down from 7,853 megatons the year before due to disease in the poppy plants in Afghanistan, the largest producer of opium. A large percentage of this opium is converted to heroin; the UNODC estimates traffickers offered 460 to 480 megatons of heroin worldwide in 2009.

Some opium remains in its raw form. People from opium-producing countries are more likely to use opium than heroin. This is especially true in Afghanistan, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

There are 4 million opium users worldwide, consuming 1.1 megaton of opium. About 80 percent of these users are in Asia, where smoking opium is a culturally acceptable, traditional practice. While heroin and prescription opioid abuse greatly outweighs opium use in the United States, anyone who uses opium regularly may develop an opium addiction.

History of Opium Addiction

Opium is one of the world's oldest pain relievers, available since before recorded history. Early caregivers, including Hippocrates, administered opium to relieve pain, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, diarrhea and more. Because of its analgesic and narcotic properties, opium use spread quickly around the globe. Alexander the Great introduced opium to Persia and India; Arab traders brought opium to China.

In the 15th century, people in Persia and India began using opium for purely recreational purposes. This made opium an attractive and lucrative commodity, especially when it came to trading with the Chinese. At this time, many countries craved Chinese silk. The biggest problem is that the Chinese did not want anything the foreign traders had to offer.

In 1601, Queen Elizabeth I instructed the captains of her ships to purchase the finest opium in India and bring it back to England. In 1637, opium became the main commodity between England and China. The Dutch started smoking opium in a pipe and this practice really took off among Chinese consumers. The Chinese government reacted in 1729 by outlawing the smoking of opium and restricted domestic consumption to licensed medical use only.

Meanwhile, Britain's opium trade grew. At its height, the British East India Company imported about 140 tons of opium each year into China. The company assumed a monopoly over the opium trade, banning all opium growers in India from selling opium to competing companies. As with all bans, this verdict caused opium to become a popular form of contraband. Silver was smuggled out of China in return for smuggling opium in. Emptied of its silver reserves and desperate to resolve its mass opium addiction, China bans opium completely in 1799, making it illegal to grow or trade opium poppies.

Because it is impossible to cure addiction without proper rehabilitation, making opium illegal did not cure the problem of opium addiction. Opium continued to seep into China through the black market.

China's problem with opium addiction had a severely negative impact on the people of that country. In the earliest days, opium was expensive so opium addiction affected a small percentage of people, mostly the affluent. This changed as Britain gained the monopoly over opium production and actively campaigned to sell this product to China. China's opium imports increased tenfold in the twenty-year period between 1820 and 1840. In 1830, about 3 million Chinese people were addicted to opium. By the early 1838, some estimate nine out of ten villagers in some Chinese provinces were addicted.

The Chinese government tried to curb opium imports again in 1839 by requiring all foreign traders to surrender their opium. The British government responded by sending warships to the coast of China, effectively beginning the first opium war. Opium has a low shipping weight and high profit margin, and the British Empire was in need of money.

The British defeated the Chinese in the first opium war. Along with paying a high indemnity, Britain forces China to give up Hong Kong. The opium wars flared again in 1856 and, once again, China loses. China must pay more indemnity and must agree to open the opium trade routes permanently. By 1880, China imported about 6,500 tons of opium per year.

Opium is highly addictive, requiring a daily dose to avoid withdrawal symptoms. An opium addict of the time frequently sold all his possessions to afford his habit. China was not the only country to struggle with a growing opium addiction problem - recreational users and addicts were springing up all over England and the United States.

There were no restrictions on opium use in the United States until the late 1800s, when it levied a tax on opium and its derivative, morphine. In 1925, the U.S Treasury bans the sales of all legal narcotics, sparking an active illicit opium trade in New York City's China town by 1925.

Throughout the decades, pharmacologists have learned how to create stronger medications from the alkaloids found opium, such as heroin and oxycodone. In the middle of the 20th century, heroin and cocaine addiction became more commonplace than opium addiction, although illicit drug abusers still enjoy using opium for recreational purposes. Today, opium addiction lurks in the shadows of addiction to prescription drugs but it is still there.

The Definition of Addiction

The American Society of Addiction Medicine, or ASAM, offers a detailed and complete, if not complicated, definition of addiction. "Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors."

In simple terms, this means opium addiction is a disease that affects the brain's reward circuits, resulting in cravings, drug-seeking and other behaviors. Opium addiction is a long-term disease that arises on its own and not as the result of another illness.

ASAM goes on to say "Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one's behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death."

This means an addicted person has trouble saying "no" to opium. Opium addiction causes intense cravings for this drug. An opium addict may have trouble controlling her behavior in other ways, and she may seem oblivious to the destruction opium causes in her life. She may try quitting several times, returning to opium use just as recovery seems at hand. Unless she receives adequate treatment, her opium addiction will grow worse. Illnesses, behaviors and cultural consequences associated with opium addiction, such as tuberculosis, consorting with criminal drug dealers or winding up in prison, may eventually disable or even kill her.

Addiction versus Dependence

While many use the terms opium addiction and dependence interchangeably, these two conditions are separate and independent from one another. A person may be addicted to opium or physically dependent on it, or both.

Your body responds to the substances you put into it, such as medicine, tobacco smoke, alcohol or opium, by adjusting its own chemical balance. If you use the substance long enough, these adjustments become permanent and your body begins to depend on the substance to feel normal. When the level of that substance falls, your body struggles to maintain chemical stability. You experience this battle for balance through uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Opium withdrawal symptoms are similar to other opioids and include:

  • Abdominal Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever, Runny Nose or Sneezing
  • Goose Bumps and Abnormal Skin Sensations
  • Hot Sweats and Cold Sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Low Energy Level
  • Muscle Aches or Pains
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Pain
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Rigid Muscles
  • Runny Nose
  • Shivering, Tremors
  • Teary Eyes
  • Yawning

A doctor will diagnose you as being physically dependent on opium if you feel withdrawal symptoms a few hours after you stop using opium. She may diagnose you as having an opium addiction if you exhibit certain behaviors when your supply runs out.
Symptoms of Opium addiction include:

  • Inability to Consistently Abstain from Opium Use
  • Other Behavioral Control Problems
  • Cravings for Opium
  • An Inability to Recognize Significant Problems with One's Own Behaviors and Interpersonal Relationships
  • Inappropriate Emotional Response

You can be addicted to a substance and not dependent on it, and the other way around. For example, you could be dependent on insulin. If you skip a dose after dinner, your blood sugar will rise and you may not feel well as your body fights to maintain chemical stability, but you would not feel cravings for insulin or engage in drug-seeking behaviors.

On the other hand, cocaine is addictive but does not cause physical dependence. In other words, you will crave cocaine if you stop using it but you will not experience the flu-like symptoms normally associated with opioid withdrawal.

Addiction: What Family Members Should Know

Addiction is a disease that affects the central nervous system. Opium addiction does not mean your loved one has a weak moral character. As with any other medical condition, your family member relies on your love and support to help him through his recovery attempts. Because opium addiction usually involves cycles of remission and relapse, you may need to remain dedicated to recovery for weeks, months or years.

Everyone in the immediate family shares a risk for developing an addiction. Scientists now know that genetics play an important role in the development of addiction to substances such as opium and other opioids. Researchers have also established that stresses within the home environment raises everyone's risk for developing an addiction sometime in their lives.

Stress and Other Environmental Factors

Household or workplace stress increases the risk for addictive behaviors for everyone within that environment. Research shows a person may be hypersensitive to stress, which increases his chances for developing an addiction. A child may inherit this hypersensitivity from a parent.

A child also learns behaviors from a parent. A parent with poor coping mechanisms cannot properly teach his child how to deal with stress. A child who watches a parent deal with stress by drinking or taking drugs such as opium is likely to cope with pressure in the same way later in life.

Families can decrease everyone's risk for opium addiction by reducing environmental stress. This can be accomplished by learning to resolve conflicts without resorting to arguments or violence, balancing household responsibilities fairly and reducing the ambient noise levels within the home.

Opium addiction puts the entire family in danger. Opium addiction diverts funds from the family's grocery budget, rent and childcare. A parent battling opium addiction is unable to give his children the guidance, support and financial care they need because the addiction steals an ever-increasing share of his time and resources.

Opium addiction makes it hard go to work every day. Job performance suffers, even on those days when your family member is able to show up at all. As the result of poor performance and absenteeism, he may suffer from layoff or even termination. Opium addiction may cause your loved one to lose the job your family depends on.

Opium addiction leads a person to associate with people he probably would have avoided in the past. Your loved one probably gets opium on the street, from drug dealers. At first, he may keep his drug dealer at a safe distance from his family but as his disease gets worse, he drops his defenses and invites this criminal element into the home to get high or deal drugs. This endangers everyone within your home.

Without a job, your loved one may have to resort to crime to feed his drug habit. Criminal activity ultimately ends in arrest, jail time and possible conviction. Participating in the legal system is expensive, diverting still more money from the family.

Opium addiction can also drive up medical costs, especially if it results in overdose or an infectious disease commonly associated with drug use.

Addiction: What Parents Should Know

Parents should look for warning signs including:

  • Unusual odor in your child's bedroom
  • Unusual loss of interest in things that once were important
  • Drop in academic performance
  • Loss of motivation or energy
  • Finds ways to sneak off
  • Money issues
  • Items missing from the home

Caring for a Family Member with an Opium Addiction

Family members can develop a care plan and should communicate freely about opium addiction. The addicted person does not have to participate in these conversations at first; in fact, she may be resentful and angry about the discussions at first. Her defensiveness will fade as opium addiction loses its grip on her.

While your loved one's opium addiction has had a negative effect on your family, her recovery can be a positive influence on every member of the household. You and every member of your family will discover hidden strengths and talents as you face the challenges of opium addiction together. Each person will learn to work as a team member to provide a network of support.

Family members should know that they play a critical role in recovery from opium addiction. Each person in the family should encourage the addicted individual to seek and complete treatment. It is quite common for the family to have found the treatment facility in which the addicted individual eventually participates.

Do not let your loved one hit rock bottom. Avoid the hazards of opium addiction through early treatment. It is possible to arrest the disease's progress at any time.

Signs of Addiction

Opium addiction makes changes to the nervous system. These changes alter the way you behave, think and feel. Doctors look for these particular behaviors and thought patterns when diagnosing a patient as being addicted to substance such as opium.

Behavioral, Cognitive and Emotional Changes


Addiction causes you to use opium excessively, often in higher quantities or more often than you intended. Some will say you seem unable or unwilling to quit, even though you honestly wish to be free from your opium addiction. A doctor may diagnose you with an opium addiction if you continue to use this substance despite the negative impact opium addiction has on your life.

You will lose a great deal of time looking for opium, smoking it or recovering from the effects of being high. This will have a significant negative effect on your social life, domestic responsibilities and ability to work. Your opium abuse will interfere with your personal relationships, or the way you interact with others at home, work or school.

Opium addiction changes the reward circuitry in your brain. With prolonged use, opium narrows your behavioral repertoire so that you lose interest in everything that you used to make you happy. Things that used to be important, like friends and family, do not give you the sense of reward that opium does.


Opium addiction changes the way you think. You begin to see only the positive attributes of using opium and are blind to the negative aspects of drug abuse. You attribute your problems to the misdeeds of other people or bad luck instead of realizing that your troubles are the predictable consequence of your drug abuse.


Opium addiction causes emotional changes including increased anxiety, feelings of sadness and emotional pain. Things may seem more stress to the opium addict. She may have difficulty identifying or describing her emotions to others.

Symptoms of Addiction

While doctors identify opium addiction through certain characteristic behaviors, opium addiction does cause physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • Unexplained Weight Gain or Weight Loss
  • A Change in Sleep Patterns
  • Deteriorating Physical Appearance - Looks Sickly
  • Nagging Cough
  • Diminished Hygiene Care
  • Body or Clothing May Have an Unusual Odor
  • Bloodshot Eyes with Large or Small Pupils
  • Tremors
  • Slurred Speech

Psychological Symptoms

Psychological symptoms of addiction to opioids include:

  • Inability to Abstain Consistently
  • Impairment in Behavioral Control
  • Cravings for Drugs or Intense Reward Experiences
  • Diminished Capacity to Recognize Significant Personal or Relationship Problems
  • Dysfunctional Emotional Response

Gender Differences

According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, men were twice as likely to abuse illicit substances or be dependent on drugs such as opium as women. In 2010, 5.9 percent of females admitted to using illicit drugs, as compared to 11.6 percent of males.

While fewer women abuse illegal drugs such opium, females are more apt to use prescription drugs, such as opioids, to get high or to treat a condition for which it was not prescribed. Females are also more likely to combine prescription drugs like opioids with alcohol, marijuana or other opioids.

There seems to be a strong social stigma against drug abuse in women. This may prevent some females from seeking or completing treatment.

Treatment Options

The American Society of Addictive Medicine warns that addiction can cause "disability or premature death, especially when left untreated or treated inadequately."

Treatment consists of two phases: detoxification and rehabilitation. Detoxification is the process of lowering the level of opioids in the body. When you go through the detoxification process, you will typically experience several days of intense withdrawal symptoms as your body adjusts to low levels of opioids.

Rehabilitation addresses the cognitive and behavioral aspects of your opium addiction. This phase of treatment usually includes behavior modification and counseling to help you learn how to live without opium.

At some point in your opium addiction, you may be tempted to try self-detoxification, sometimes called "going cold turkey." This phrase refers to your skin will appear cold and clammy with goose bumps, much like a plucked turkey. Your skin will look like normal a few days after you stop using opium.

During self-detoxification, you will experience the full brunt of withdrawal symptoms and face an increased risk for suffering complications. One such complication is aspiration, which is when you vomit and then inhale the stomach contents into your lungs. Aspiration may result in fluid in your lungs and lung infections.

Another complication is dehydration resulting from excessive diarrhea or vomiting. Dehydration, left untreated, can cause electrolyte imbalances and other serious medical conditions.

The primary complication associated with detoxification is the return to opium abuse. Many individuals cycle between detoxification and relapse.

Withdrawal symptoms, known in the medical world as opiate abstinence syndrome, occur several hours after your last dose of opium.

Symptoms of opium withdrawal include:

  • Abdominal Cramps
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Blurred Vision
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Tremor
  • Vomiting

The goal of self-detoxification is to make it through five or more days, with the worst symptoms occurring on or about the fourth day. Many people take another dose of opium just to ease the discomfort.

Some people create treatment plans that include specific medicines to reduce individual withdrawal symptoms. One such therapy is The Thomas Recipe, which includes valium or some other benzodiazepine to calm the nerves and help the individual sleep. Imodium eases diarrhea while mineral supplements and hot baths relieve muscle aches.
Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT, can reduce the overpowering symptoms of withdrawal, enabling the patient to tolerate the process long enough to successfully detoxify his body.

Rehabilitation professionals say that MAT is an important and effective treatment approach because it:

  • Improves Survival Rates
  • Increase Retention in Treatment
  • Decreases Illicit Opioid Use
  • Decreases The Risk for Hepatitis and HIV
  • Decreases Criminal Activities
  • Increases Employment
  • Improves Birth Outcomes for Pregnant Women Battling Addiction

Standard MAT involves a hospital stay. During inpatient care, doctors administer naloxone and other medications to reduce opium levels along with drugs for the withdrawal symptoms. While standard inpatient MAT relieves the strength and duration of symptoms a bit, patients still face a lengthy, uncomfortable and demoralizing battle that leaves psychological scars that can interfere with recovery from opium addiction. Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of treatment for opium addiction and by itself does little to change long-term drug use or addictive behavior.

Many experts consider rapid detox to be the most humane form of detoxification available today. Rapid detox quickly puts the patient in a good place to deal with her opium addiction. During rapid detox, board certified anesthesiologists administer the standard detoxification and anti-withdrawal drugs alongside sedatives and anesthesia, so that patient naps in a restful "twilight sleep." When she awakens, she will have no memory of the grueling detoxification process. Instead of a few days, she is ready for meaningful behavior modification in a few hours.


When opium addiction first invaded China and the United States, healthcare providers did not view addiction as a medical problem so much as a cultural, social or legal issue. After decades of clinical studies and medical research, rehabilitation professionals have established a set of principles for the effective treatment of addiction.

Today, healthcare providers agree that addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior. Opium addiction makes neurological changes that result in certain behaviors; addiction is not an indication of a person's moral character.

Opium addiction expresses itself differently for each individual so it is reasonable that no single treatment is appropriate for everyone. There is now a wide variety of treatments available, from long-term inpatient care to monthly counseling sessions.

No matter what type of rehabilitation facility you choose, treatment needs to be readily available to be effective. Many people stop engaging in therapy sessions that are expensive, at inconvenient times or are far away.

Effective treatment attends to your multiple needs, not just your opium addiction. You are a complex person with a complicated medical condition. You may have other social, personal or legal issues that interfere with your recovery efforts.

It is critical that you remain in treatment for enough time for neurological processes to resume normal function, resulting in a return to healthy behaviors. You cannot rewire your brain in just a few days or weeks.

Individual, family and group counseling, along with other behavioral therapies, are the most commonly used forms of drug abuse treatment. These therapies teach you how to cope with stress, resolve differences and engage with others in a positive, meaningful way.

Medications are an important element your rehabilitation, especially when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies. Certain medications can ease withdrawal symptoms, soothe anxieties and help you sleep. Many individuals struggling with opium addiction need medication to address other illnesses that interfere with recovery, such as depression.

Your counselor or physician will continually assess your progress and adjust your treatment plan accordingly. Your needs will change as you take the journey from opium addiction to recovery, and your counselor will modify your course as necessary to ensure it meets those changing needs.

Many drug-addicted individuals also have other mental disorders that worsen opium addiction or prevent recovery. Talk with your doctor or rehabilitation professional if you feel a mental illness is interfering with your attempts at rehabilitation.

Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of treatment for your opium addiction treatment. By itself, detoxification does little to change long-term drug abuse because it does not address the behaviors associated with opium addiction.

Treatment for opium addiction does not need to be voluntary to be effective. According to NIDA, individuals under legal coercion tend to remain in treatment longer than and do better than those not under pressure.

Counselors will monitor your drug use continuously during treatment. Relapse to opium use during rehabilitation is common and your healthcare provider must remain vigilant against return to drug use.

Your healthcare provider may test you for HIV/ AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. The counselor will discuss with you behavioral changes that will reduce your risk for developing or spreading these diseases.