Opioids, Opiates and Heroin: How Do They Differ?

 In Effects, Withdrawal

Many people are familiar with the terms ‘opiate’ and ‘opioid’ and use the words interchangeably. There are subtle differences between these two terms, however. You may find yourself asking the questions, “What are the differences, exactly? What are opiates? What are opioids? What medications are classified as such?”

Below is a bit more about opiates and opioids including how they affect a user’s brain.


Opiate Versus Opioid

‘Opioid’ was once a term used to refer to synthetic opiates only, but has evolved and is now used for the entire family of opiates including, natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic. Opioid is now an all encompassing term and can be used to refer to any opiate or opioid.

‘Opiates’ are alkaloids derived directly from the opium of a poppy seed, and medical professionals may use the term for a specific non-synthetic opioid. All opiates are still considered opioids, but not all opioids are opiates.

All opioids are strong pain relieving narcotics that act on opioid receptors in the brain that alter the way pain is perceived.


Your Brain on Opioids

human brain drug effects absorbing

Opioids attach to specific proteins called opioid receptors. Found in the brain, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract, these receptors help to produce the perception of pain. When opioids attach to these receptors, they reduce he perception of pain. A euphoric response is often experienced as a result alongside drowsiness, mental confusion, nausea and constipation.

These drugs can also affect how the brain feels and how the user experiences pleasure. An individual who takes opioids who is not in pain will experience a feeling of elation followed by deep relaxation.

When addicted to opioids, tolerance is lowered and more of the drug is needed to achieve the same intensity of effect. Another result is dependence, characterized by the need to continue use of the drug to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. Opioids present an inherit abuse liability, especially if they are used for non-medical purposes.


Common Opiates and Opioids

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Opium
  • Methadone
  • Percocet, Percodan, OxyContin (oxycodone)
  • Vicodin, Lorcet, Lortab (hydrocodone)
  • Demerol (pethidine)
  • Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
  • Duragesic (fentanyl)
  • Heroin


What About Heroin?

Heroin is considered an opioid because it has been synthesized from morphine. Considered to be one of the most addictive drugs in existence, heroin results in intense withdrawals that make it difficult for a user to detox. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms can last for months or even years after becoming sober.


Getting Help

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Awareness is the first step to recovery. At Opiate Centers of America, our specialized staff works to help our patients escape the cycle of addiction once dependence has been identified. We treat every aspect of addiction using medication-assisted therapy alongside physical therapy and counseling sessions.

Interested in learning more about OTCOA’s method of affordable, accessible, outpatient treatment?

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