Lesson 2: What is Opioid Addiction (Opioid Use Disorder)?

You must first complete Lesson 1: What are opioids? before viewing this Lesson

Lesson Goal


For you to understand the basics about opioid addiction, including treatment models and connections to heroin addiction.

Lesson Summary


The clinical term for opioid addiction or abuse is Opioid Use Disorder. There are multiple types of treatments for Opioid Use Disorder, and most studies show that treatments combined with recovery medications are the most effective.

The Big Topics in This Lesson


1- Understanding Opioid Use Disorder

The information under this topic covers basic information about Opioid Use Disorder. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is also covered under this topic.

2- Understanding the connection between the Opioid Crisis and heroin addiction

The information under this topic discusses ways the opioid crisis has also increased heroin abuse.

Lesson Video


Lesson Q & A


Click on each question to learn more

Q1: What is Opioid Use Disorder?

The clinical term for opioid addiction or abuse is Opioid Use Disorder. As with other addictions, opioid abusers and addicts may experience withdrawal symptoms as well as an increasing tolerance for the drug (the person needs an increasing level of the drug to experience euphoria).

3 Stages of Opioid Addiction

There are 3 major phases of opioid addiction- the Early Phase, The Middle Phase and the Late Phase.

MMEs and Risk of Addiction

The risk of opioid addiction also corresponds to the number of MMEs the patient is consuming each day. It is important to note than any level of MMEs per day carries some risk of addiction.

Opioid Overdose

In addition to reducing pain and creating a sense of euphoria, opioids also act to sedate parts of the brain that regulate breathing. When a person takes a lethal dose of opioids, they can go into respiratory failure and die.





Q2: What is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)?

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is a term for the group of problems a newborn baby experiences when they no longer have the opioids in their body that they received from their mother in utero. Withdrawal from some drugs can impact the newborn up to 6 months after birth.

In addition to the rise in opioid addiction for adults, there has been a corresponding rise in the number of babies born addicted to opioids. The babies become addicted in the womb due to the mother’s addiction (the opioids pass through the placenta), and when they are born they experience withdrawal and other symptoms.

Common symptoms for NAS include:

  • High-pitched crying
  • Sleep problems
  • Sneezing
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Temperature instability
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating

Opioids also harm the baby during gestation. Common problems include:

  • Poor intrauterine growth
  • Premature birth
  • Seizures
  • Birth defects

Babies with NAS are provided treatment drugs to help wean them from the opiate. Once the signs of withdrawal are managed, the dose is slowly decreased.


Depending on the type of opioid the baby is addicted to, withdrawal symptoms begin within 1-3 days.

The incidence of NAS is on the rise and brings a huge human and financial cost.





Q3: What is the connection between the opioid crisis and heroin abuse rates?

As of 2016, there were about 11M Americans age 12 and older that misused opioids. This number includes persons addicted and not addicted to opioids. For comparison, about 1M Americans age 12 and up used heroin in the same year.

Sometimes opioid addicts will switch from prescription painkillers to heroin because heroin is cheaper.


Medicaid Dictionary

 New Terms from this lesson:
  1. Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)– defined in the DSM-5 as a problematic pattern of opioid use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress. Known as Opioid Abuse or Opioid Dependence in previous DSM versions.
  2. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM)– manual used by mental health professionals for diagnosing and insurance coding.
  3. Tolerance– a point in which an individual no longer responds to a current level of drug dosing due to repeated use.
  4. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)– a term for the group of problems a newborn baby experiences when they no longer have the opioids in their body that they received from their mother in utero.

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