The cause of OUD not known. Things like genetics, the environment, and peer pressure may play a role.

How it Affects the Brain
Opioids help release chemicals in the brain that cause joy. Over time, you need more drugs to cause the same release. This leads to misuse.
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Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of OUD are:

  • Anxiety, depression, loneliness, and past or current alcohol use disorder
  • Misuse of medicines
  • Family history of drug or alcohol use, or acting without thinking



OUD can lead to:

  • Being unable to stop or limit use
  • Craving the opioid
  • Making a habit of using the opioid even though it causes problems
  • Moving from one doctor to another to get more
  • Fast increase in the amount of opioids needed
  • Use that gets in the way of doing normal things
  • Trying very hard to get more of the opioid

With regular use, the body begins to need the drug. Stopping or taking less of the opioid may cause nausea, vomiting, shaking, and sweating. This can make it harder to stop using it.


The doctor will ask about symptoms, past health, and opioid use. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

Blood, urine (pee), saliva, sweat, and hair may also be tested to look for opioid use.



The first step is to stop using opioids. This is also known as detox. The second step is to change behaviors to stop from using the drug again.

It can take some time to recover. Treatment may be given in a rehabilitation program. Many people may need to be treated several times. It may include one or more of the following:

  • Medicines, such as:
  • Buprenorphine
  • Buprenorphine/Naloxone—a combined drug
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone
  • Therapy (individual or family)—to help a person learn:
  • Coping and problem-solving skills
  • How to replace opioid-use behaviors with healthier choices
  • Support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous—to support recovery from OUD


The best way to prevent OUD is not to use opioids.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.