Article at a Glance:
- Opium and opium products have been used medicinally for thousands of years
- Opioids carry a high risk of abuse and addiction
- Opium overdose can be fatal and is a medical emergency.
- There are specialized treatment facilities that can help overcome the challenges of opium use disorder treatment to help a person return to their normal life
What is Opium?
Opium is the milky, latex sap that is found in the poppy plant, Papaver somniferum. Raw derivatives of the plant are called opiates, which are natural painkillers that are often used for medical purposes. Opiates can be synthesized to create opioids, which are man-made pain relievers.
The opium poppy is a key ingredient in many of today’s popular psychoactive substances, such as:
For many years, health professionals have used medications with ingredients derived from opium, like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl.
As early as 5,000 B.C., poppy plants were grown in the Mediterranean region. The Sumerians referred to it as the “joy plant” because of the euphoric effects produced by opium. The Sumerians then passed the drug along to the Egyptians, who began growing poppy plants.
Since then, the poppy plant has been grown in many countries around the world. The cultivation of the plant soon spread along the Silk Road to China. There, opium served as a catalyst in the mid-19th century Opium Wars involving China and Britain.
Opium was introduced as a pain reliever among medical experts in the 1600s.
In the 1800s, opium dens were established throughout China. These dens were soon popularized in Southeast Asia and parts of Europe. In the mid-1800s, Chinese immigrants brought opium with them to the United States, particularly New York City and San Francisco.
In the United States, health care professionals use synthesized opium, called opioids, to reduce pain.
Opium Addiction Potential & Abuse
Opium is a Schedule II drug. Schedule II substances have a high potential for abuse and result in severe physical and psychological dependence.
When people are addicted to opium products, their brain changes over time and their tolerance to a particular drug increases. Individuals may take the substance more frequently or in higher quantities to satisfy intense cravings. An opium addiction increases a person’s risk of experiencing an overdose.
People with an opium addiction struggle to carry out everyday tasks. They might struggle to fulfill responsibilities at school, work or home. In many cases, an opium addiction can cause physical and behavioral changes that lead to long-term health complications.
Physical addiction should be distinguished from psychological addiction. People who take opium products may develop dependence on the drug and experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop taking it. Symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Dilated pupils
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased tearing
- Trouble sleeping
Psychological addiction is the change in behaviors that come along with substance use disorder. These behaviors are similar regardless of the drug being used. Common symptoms include:
- Appearing fearful or paranoid for no reason
- Change in appetite or eating behaviors
- Engaging in secretive behaviors
- Lack of motivation
- Sudden mood swings or agitation
- Unexplained change in personality
The potential for addiction depends on several factors related to the person and the specific drug being used.
On an individual basis, factors that affect addiction to opioid products or other drugs include:
- Drug availability
- Lack of strong social support
- Aggressive behavior in early life
- Personal or family history of substance use disorder
The potential for addiction is also increased for certain drugs. Factors that affect addictive potential include:
- Drug targets. Drugs that target certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine, have a much greater risk of addiction.
- Pharmacokinetics describes how the drug works in the body. In general, drugs that produce a fast and intense high have greater addictive potential. Heroin is a good example of this.
- Withdrawal symptoms. When the come-down is more uncomfortable, the urge to take more to relieve the effects is generally stronger.
Effects of Opium Addiction
Opium can produce both mild and dangerous effects. Some of the consequences of using the substance include drowsiness, confusion and constipation. If used in excess, opium can lead to physical or psychological dependence.
Opioids, including opium, are misused because of their extremely pleasant short-term effects including:
- A “rush” of immediate pleasure
- Feelings of warmth and heaviness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Reduced sensations of pain
- Slow heartbeat and breathing
The long-term effects of opium products can range from psychological to physical changes. A person using opium products for long periods has a greater risk of dependence and substance use disorder. The longer a person uses these substances, the more they need to accomplish the same “high,” which is called tolerance. As tolerance increases, the risk of dependence and addiction does as well.
Other long-term effects include:
- Increased pain sensitivity
- Mood changes
- Sleep disturbance
- Withdrawal symptoms
The risk of opium overdose can be unpredictable because of drug tolerance and purity of the product can be unpredictable. Overdose is often a medical emergency, and you should call 911 if someone experiences the following:
- Cannot be awakened
- Extremely slowed breathing
- Skin is extremely pale, and lips are blue
- Vomiting or making gurgling sounds
Drug overdose can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone contact Web Poison Control Services for online assistance.
Common Nicknames and Street Names
Opium street names may include the following:
- Big O
- Black pill
- Chinese molasses
- Midnight oil
Opium Addiction Rates and Statistics
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70,630 people died of a drug overdose in 2019. About 70% of these deaths involved an opioid.
The global production of poppy plants remains high. However, according to a report by the International Narcotics Control Board, the cultivation of poppy straw concentrations decreased slightly from 2018 to 2019. Beginning in 2017, the global manufacture of morphine began to decrease below 400 tons. In 2019, 380 tons were produced.
The widespread availability of opium increases the chances that people can engage in opioid use, which also increases the risk of developing an opioid use disorder. If you’re dealing with an opium-related addiction, treatment may be needed to heal both physically and psychologically.
Opium and Other Drugs
Opioids, including opium are commonly mixed with alcohol, over-the-counter (OTCs), benzodiazepines, muscle relaxers, other opioids, and stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine.
When mixed with other depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines, the risk of overdose and death is greatly increased. This is also true when mixing with stimulants. A mixture of cocaine and heroin is commonly called a “speedball.”
How Is Opium Abuse Diagnosed?
Opium abuse is diagnosed by a licensed professional using criteria from the DSM-V. In general, if you are using opium or other opioids without a prescription, or in a way different than prescribed, you may be abusing opium.
If you or you suspect that a loved one is abusing opium, you can contact The Recovery Village for support and guidance.
Opium Addiction Treatment Approaches & Options
If a healthcare professional has determined that a person has opium or opioid addiction, then it may be a good idea to seek professional treatment. Treatment works best when it’s comprehensive and involves supporting many facets of a person’s life, including support for mental, physical and social health.
Detox is the initial stage of opioid use disorder treatment. During this stage, the person stops taking the drug and it begins to clear their body. Withdrawal symptoms are generally worst at this time.
Withdrawal symptoms for opium may include diarrhea, sweating, goosebumps, yawning, nausea and vomiting. Withdrawal symptoms are often a trigger to take more opium, so it is critical to receive support during this time. If in a treatment program, medications can be given to manage uncomfortable symptoms.
After the initial detoxification, a person continuing treatment will enter into maintenance treatment. This can occur in several settings, depending on the needs of the client.
Inpatient is often a residential program, is the most structured and involves living in a facility with others seeking treatment. Those whose symptoms are not impacting their daily life can enter outpatient treatment and still attend to their responsibilities like work or school. There are also treatment programs that are a blend of the two where a person lives in a facility but still leaves for obligations outside of treatment hours.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that focuses on improving mental health and unlearning harmful behaviors. CBT teaches a person to improve emotional regulation and improve coping strategies. CBT can be delivered in inpatient or outpatient programs.
Teletherapy has become more prevalent in the post-pandemic world. This type of treatment is useful for people with less severe substance use disorders who may have difficulty getting to treatment on-site or prefer therapy from home.
Find the Help You or Your Loved One Needs
Contact The Recovery Village if you believe yourself or a loved one is in need of help. We can help connect you with specialists to verify insurance coverage and locate help. We have an extensive network of healthcare professionals trained to diagnose and treat opioid use disorder.
Common Questions about Opium Use
Most poppy straw concentrate comes in the form of brownish powder. However, opium can also appear as a solid or liquid.
Opium and its derivative products (opioids) are extremely addictive. Pharmaceutical opioid products are partly responsible for one of the largest drug epidemics of the last decade in the United States.
Opium gives a person the sensation of warmth, heaviness and euphoria.
The taste of opium is described as bitter.
Opium is a naturally occurring opiate and belongs to the class of drugs called opioids.
Opium is derived from concentrated poppy straw.
Poppy straw is concentrated and processed for human consumption, whether by oral ingestion, smoking, or injection.
Professional treatment facilities, including The Recovery Village, can treat opium addiction. You can also consult with your doctor or other trusted medical professional to find help for opium addiction.
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “Opium.” April 2020. Accessed Aug 30, 2021.
International Narcotics Control Board. “Narcotic Drugs.” 2020. Accessed Aug 30, 2021.
MedlinePlus. “Opioids and Other Drugs: What to Watch for.” Jan 2020. Accessed Aug 30, 2021.
MedlinePlus. “Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal.” May 2020. Accessed Aug 30, 2021.
MedlinePlus. “Opiate Overdose.” Oct 2018. Accessed Aug 30, 2021.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Are Prescription Opioids?” June 2021. Accessed Aug 30, 2021.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.