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Time to
the stigma

Addiction isn’t a moral weakness or a personal failure. It’s a chronic, relapsing disease that affects brain function, driving continued use of opioids, such as heroin.


The science

It’s not about willpower

Opioid addiction is a long-term disease and not a moral weakness. It causes changes and rewiring in the brain making it hard for people to quit even when addiction is destroying their lives, even when they try again and again.

The cycle of opioid addiction

Once the brain has been rewired through continued opioid use, a vicious cycle of withdrawals and cravings mean that it is difficult to break the habit.

What drives people to addiction?

Initial use of opioids, such as heroin, stimulate the reward centre in the brain to feel pleasure. Over time, repeated use leads to dampening of this pleasure and, in fact, further use is triggered by the need to overcome the negative effects of withdrawal.

Looking closer at the brain

In opioid addiction, changes in the brain connections can cause people to act to get their next “hit” very quickly or impulsively, without having too much time to think through the consequences of their actions. Which means that they often regret what they have done later on once, they have had the time to process it. Over time, some people with addiction need to use opioids, such as heroin, more regularly or in larger amounts to get the same feeling they got before. For this reason, opioid use can spiral out of control and why people may feel their use is out of their control.


Are you eligible for treatment?

Addiction to opioids will affect each person differently. Recognising your dependence on opioids, and the negative effect they are having on your life is the first step towards managing your addiction and improving your life. You may notice you experience symptoms related to your addiction and these may become worse with continued opioid use.

Symptoms may

Physical withdrawal symptoms after using opioids e.g. cramps, pain, diarrhoea

Continuing to use, despite harmful effects

Neglecting interests and loss of social activities because of time spent looking for drugs

This is not a complete list, so please speak to your doctor if you feel you are experiencing any of these symptoms or if you want to tackle your addiction.

You may already be on treatment, but still experience some of the above. Speak to your doctor about assessing your treatment plan.


It’s about science

Both medications prescribed by a doctor and psychological counselling, to help with mental health and emotions, may help to make the brain function normally.

Making an informed

Different treatments work for different people. It is important to find the treatment that works best for you with minimal impact on your daily routine.

Different treatment

There are many ways you can work with your family and friends, or even things you can do by yourself to help you stop taking illicit drugs.

Treatment with medicines

Treatment approaches that use medication, specifically to help people with opioid addiction, along with psychological approaches, such as therapy/counselling, are effective in helping people achieve their individual goals. This could mean reducing or controlling drug use or helping people stay abstinent or “clean”.

Medication has been proven to manage the daily physical withdrawal symptoms and craving to use opioids. The idea is these medications encourage you to stop using illicit drugs and from seeking the “high” that you get from taking drugs such as heroin.

Your doctor will ensure that your medication is prescribed at the dose that makes you feel completely well and stable. Some patients may choose to stay on treatment for many years and other just some months. Everyone is different and it is important to discuss your goals with your doctor.


It’s about people…

It’s about helping professionals and the general public understand that the journey is really significant, and it requires [from the patient] a tremendous amount of courage to even start. The value of being treated like a human being cannot be underestimated, and being treated like a human being who is unwell is really important. We would like to see people just really understand what this condition is, and they don’t.

– Annemarie Ward, CEO FAVORUK


If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, your doctor or nurse, along with support groups, are available to speak with for advice on how to get help or where to find resources.

Images used are not real patients and are used for illustrative purposes only

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January 2021