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How Long Does it Take to Get Addicted to Opioids?

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The opioid crisis in the United States is due to their extremely addictive nature and how prevalent they are in modern medicine. Many people are prescribed opioids as a means of managing chronic pain or to help in recovery from an injury. However, continued use of opioids or the misuse of them can lead to an addiction that can be very difficult to break from. But how long does it take to get addicted to opioids? Read further to understand this complex opioid use disorder.

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Why are Opioids so Addictive?

Opioids are highly addictive due to their powerful effect on the brain’s reward system. When someone takes an opioid, the drug enters the brain and attaches to specific receptors, primarily the mu-opioid receptors. This binding triggers the release of large amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, pain relief, and a sense of well-being.

This surge in dopamine not only provides significant pain relief but also produces a feeling of euphoria or a “high.” The brain registers all of these feelings as important and creates a strong desire to repeat the experience, laying the groundwork for addiction.

Furthermore, with repeated use, the body starts to adapt to the presence of the drug. This adaptation, known as tolerance, means higher doses or more frequent use is needed to achieve the same effects. Thus, pushing the individual further into a cycle of dependence and addiction.

Lastly, when opioid use is stopped, users often experience uncomfortable or even painful withdrawal symptoms. This drives them to use the drug again to relieve these symptoms. Therefore, reinforcing the cycle of addiction. This combination of pleasurable effects, tolerance, and withdrawal makes opioids particularly addictive.

How Long Does it Take to Get Addicted to Opioids?

Opioid addiction sets in slowly for some and much more quickly for others. The time it takes to develop an addiction to opioids varies greatly depending on several factors. Including, the individual’s biology, the specific opioid being used, the dosage, frequency of use, and method of administration.

  • Individual Differences: Genetic factors, mental health status, and personal or family history of addiction influence how quickly someone becomes addicted.
  • Type of Opioid: Different opioids have different strengths and effects. For example, fentanyl is much stronger than morphine. So, addiction develops more quickly with stronger opioids.
  • Dosage and Frequency: Higher doses and more frequent use also accelerate the development of addiction.
  • Method of Administration: Methods that deliver the drug into the bloodstream, such as injection, lead to quicker addiction compared to methods.
  • Psychological Factors: Factors such as stress, trauma, and mental health disorders also play a significant role in the speed of addiction development.

Some individuals develop a dependence on opioids within just a few days of regular use. Whereas, others may take longer. Dependence, characterized by the need to continue using the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms, is a key component of addiction. However, dependence is not the same as addiction. Addiction is a complex disease involving uncontrollable drug seeking despite harmful consequences.

Because of these individual differences and complexities, it’s difficult to answer the question, “How long does it take to get addicted to opioids?” This unpredictability is one reason why opioids are considered highly dangerous and typically prescribed with caution.

Timeline of Opioid Addiction

As mentioned previously, the timeline for developing an addiction to different opioids varies. So how long does it take to get addicted to opioids? Here’s a general overview of how quickly addiction might develop for some common opioids:

Short-acting Opioids (Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Morphine)

  • These opioids work quickly and are typically prescribed for acute pain.
  • Dependence can develop within a few days to a few weeks of regular use.
  • Addiction develops within weeks to months of continued use and involves behavioral changes and uncontrollable drug-seeking.

Long-acting or Extended-release Opioids (OxyContin, MS Contin)

  • Often used for chronic, these opioids are released into the body over a longer period.
  • The risk of dependence and addiction is still significant but may develop over a longer period. Typically, over several weeks to months, compared to short-acting opioids.


  • Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid, often used for severe pain and in medical settings.
  • Due to its potency, dependence can occur very quickly, potentially within days of regular use.
  • Addiction can also develop rapidly, often faster than with less potent opioids.


  • Heroin, an illicit opioid, is often snorted, smoked, or injected, leading to rapid onset of effects.
  • Dependence can develop within a week of regular use.
  • Addiction can evolve quickly, sometimes within a few weeks.


  • Methadone is a long-acting opioid often used for pain management and as a treatment for opioid addiction.
  • Dependence and addiction can develop, but usually over a longer timeframe compared to other opioids, often over several months.


  • Buprenorphine is used in opioid addiction treatment and has a lower risk of addiction compared to other opioids.
  • Dependence and addiction can still occur but typically over an extended period.

To summarize, these timelines are not fixed and can vary greatly among individuals. Factors like previous substance use, mental health status, and environmental factors play a significant role in the risk and speed of developing an addiction. Additionally, the transition from dependence to addiction is influenced by a combination of physiological, psychological, and social factors. Thus, making it a complex and individualized process.

Recovery from Opioid Addiction

Recovery from opioid addiction is a multifaceted process that often involves a combination of medical treatment, counseling, and support. The journey can be challenging but is achievable with the right approach and resources. Comprehensive opioid addiction treatment may include:

  • Medical Detoxification
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
  • Therapy and Counseling
  • Support Groups
  • Aftercare and Relapse Prevention
  • Lifestyle Changes

Recovery is a personal and ongoing journey. Therefore, what works for one person may not work for another. Often, it requires a commitment to lifelong change and continuous effort to maintain sobriety.

Start Your Recovery Journey at Tulip Hill Recovery

The opioid crisis has shed light on the addictive nature of these substances, emphasizing the need for careful prescription and monitoring of these powerful drugs. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for both healthcare providers and patients to prevent addiction and manage pain effectively.

At Tulip Hill Recovery, we focus on discovering what factors in your life may be contributing to addiction. Our treatment model emphasizes the dual diagnosis approach. This means we treat addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders that might be fueling the addiction. This approach helps a person in recovery become better equipped for dealing with the challenges of mental health disorders without feeling like they need substances or alcohol to cope.

Contact us today to learn more about our opioid addiction treatment programs and services at Tulip Hill.

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