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Opiate vs Opioid: What’s the Difference?

5 minute read

If you’re familiar with the current opioid epidemic in the United States you have most likely heard the words opiate and opioid. Have you been asking yourself what is an opioid vs opioid?

More than 8 million people abused prescription pain medication in the past 12 months. That number has led many people to call the abuse of these medications a public health crisis. While intended to treat pain, these medicines also carry a high risk of misuse. The long-term health implications of prescription medication abuse is also troubling.

It can be difficult to watch someone fall victim to pain medication addiction. It can be even more difficult to get them help. What confuses many is the large number of names used to describe these medications. They are often referred to by their manufacturer names, like Percocet or Vicodin, but they can also be called by their generic names, like hydrocodone or fentanyl.

You may have also heard them called opiates or also opioids. That leads many to wonder if there’s a difference between an opiate vs opioid. There is a difference, and understanding the difference between opiates and opioids can help you guide a loved one towards the right path to recovery. There is a high risk for opiate and opioid overdose, so getting help right away is important.

What Is an Opiate (vs and Opioid)?

An opiate is an addictive drug derived from the poppy plant. These drugs include:

  • Opium
  • Morphine
  • Heroin
  • Codeine

These drugs are considered natural because they come from a poppy that grows in nature, and some are used for medical purposes. Heroin’s class of drugs, however, is a Schedule I narcotic. That means it has no medical value and it’s highly addictive.

Opiates cause feelings of pleasure and relaxation. These drugs are very powerful and affect the brain on a chemical level. This is due to the release of endorphins in the brain when an opiate is introduced to the body. When these feelings go away, it can lead to uncontrollable cravings, impulsive usage, and abuse. Opiates carry a high risk of overdose and death, particularly when abused over a long period of time.

What Is an Opioid?

Advancements in medical science over the years led to the creation of opioids. They function in a similar way to opiates but are, at least in part, synthetic. That means they are created in labs to mimic the effects of natural opiates. There are more than 500 synthetic opioids with a wide range of uses. For instance, some are used in cough medication to reduce discomfort. Others are prescribed following surgery and accidents to help patients feel less pain. Others, like methadone, are actually used to treat pain medication addictions.

Opioid drugs are often prescribed by doctors as pain medicines, but, like opiates, opioids cause feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Over time, users can build up a tolerance so higher doses are needed to feel the same high. That makes their urges to use the drugs worse.

When abused, opioids can have serious consequences and have troubling drug overdose death rates. If you are addicted to opioids, it’s important to find help as soon as possible. If left untreated, the risk for overdose or even death will only grow.

Opiate vs Opioid: Is Either Safe to Use?

What Are Partial Opioid AgonistsWhen taken under the supervision of a medical professional and in correct dosages for a limited time, some opiates and opioid drugs can be safe and serve valuable purposes. Others, like heroin, do not carry any medical value and are only used to get high. They are exceedingly dangerous, and usage should stop immediately.

Regardless of why you use, you can take steps to turn your life around. Long-term abuse and physical dependence threaten your health and wellness in very real ways[ML1] . Some of the dangers associated with opioid abuse include:

  • Developing a tolerance that leads to consuming higher doses
  • Negative side effects like drowsiness, constipation, and cognitive impairment
  • Depressed breathing, particularly when combined with other drugs or alcohol
  • Increased feelings of depression and isolation
  • Isolation from family and friends as you focus on getting high instead
  • Reduced performance in school or at work

Footsteps to Recovery is a full-service addiction treatment center with skilled substance abuse disorder therapists. Our opioid and opiate treatment programs can help you overcome your opiate or opioid addiction.

Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment

It doesn’t matter if its an opiate vs opioid when treating opioid use disorders. Footprints to Recovery uses the latest evidence-based and holistic recovery programs. Skilled counselors consult with each client to determine the severity of their addiction problem. We also identify any co-occurring mental health issues that could stand in the way of recovery. Treatment plans at Footprints to Recovery are customized to the needs of individuals. They take into account the factors in your life to design a path to recovery you can follow to sobriety.

Here are some of the levels of care offered at Footprints to Recovery:

Medical detox – Before you can begin to live a sober life, you must first rid your body of any opiates or opioids. Medically supervised detox at Footprints to Recovery is safe and effective. Our team manages opioid withdrawal symptoms to make detox as comfortable as possible.

Inpatient treatment – Also called residential care, you’ll live at one of our treatment facilities during inpatient rehab. It’s typically about 30 to 45 days, but that will depend on your specific situation with opioids or opiates. This kind of intensive treatment is valuable because it allows you to place your whole focus on recovery. Outside distractions like work, family, or school take a backseat during inpatient treatment so nothing can distract or trigger you while you improve your life.

Partial hospitalization program (PHP) – Less intense than inpatient treatment, PHP doesn’t involve 24-hour care at treatment facility. PHP clients spend up to six hours per day at the facility, attending meetings and therapy. They are free to live at home and attend work, school, or other obligations when not at the treatment center.

Intensive outpatient program (IOP) – Another step down in intensity from PHP, IOP involves regular treatments and meetings at a rehab center, but usually fewer days per week and for a shorter duration. The focus is on preparing you to re-enter your normal life free from the pitfalls of substance abuse.

Outpatient rehab – Outpatient programs offer the most flexibility when it comes to recovery. It’s one of the final stages of addiction recovery treatment. If you’re in outpatient care for opiates or opioids, you may only visit the treatment center once or twice per week for your programs.

Regardless of why you are using, it’s time to take the necessary steps to turn your life around from opiate or opioid abuse. Long-term dependency threatens your health and wellness in a very real way. Footsteps to Recovery is a full-service addiction treatment center with skilled substance abuse disorder therapists. Our opiate and opioid treatment programs can help you overcome your prescription drug misuse problem. Call today for an insurance verification or to learn more about how we can help you end your addiction to opiates or prescription opioids.


Evan Gove
David Szarka
Author Evan Gove
Medically Reviewed by David Szarka, MA, LCADC
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