What Are the Different Types of Opioids?

What are the different types of opioids? Learn about what opioids are, what they’re used to treat, and how you can safely use them.


Addiction to opioids and opioid overdose are significant public health concerns in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose deaths stemming from opioid abuse rose from about 47,000 deaths in 2018 to 50,000 deaths in 2019. 1 
This article will discuss commonly abused opioids drugs, the different types of opioids, symptoms of addiction, and how individuals can safely use opioids to manage pain.


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What Are Opioid Drugs?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), opioids drugs are a specific class of legal and illegal substances often used for pain relief.  1 
There are both legal and illegal opiates, and it is important to only consume opiates properly prescribed by a professional.

How Do Opioids Work?

Opioid medications and substances act on a person’s opioid receptors attached to the body’s nerve cells. Opioids effects on the brain and body include feelings of euphoria and pain relief. 1 

Commonly Abused Opioids

Commonly abused opioids drugs include fentanyl, heroin, oxycodone, codeine, morphine, etc. 1 

Morphine (Naturally Occurring Opioid)

Morphine or MS Contin is a schedule two drug with a high potential for addiction to opioids. Morphine is commonly abused via injection, oral consumption, or smoking.2 

Codeine (Naturally Occurring Opioid)

Among the types of opioids that are commonly abused is codeine, a schedule two substance with high abuse potential. This drug is typically sold as a tablet, capsule, or liquid. 3 

Heroin (Semi-Synthetic Opioid)

Semi-synthetic opioids like heroin are created when natural substances are chemically altered. Heroin is a highly addictive drug made from the resin of opium poppy plant seeds. 4 

Oxycodone (Semi-Synthetic Opioid)

Oxycodone, also sold as Percocet, Percodan, Roxicodone, and Oxycontin, is a schedule two drug twice as potent as morphine. 5 

Oxymorphone (Semi-Synthetic Opioid)

Semi-synthetic opioids like Oxymorphone and Opana are schedule two drugs with high abuse potential. 6 

Hydrocodone (Semi-Synthetic Opioid)

Hydrocodone is a schedule three controlled substance with high abuse potential. This drug is available pharmaceutically under Norco, Lorcet, and Vicodin. 7 

Buprenorphine (Synthetic Opioid)

Buprenorphine or Subutex belongs to a class of drugs called synthetic opioids. This schedule three medication is commonly prescribed to treat opioid dependence but does have the potential for abuse. 8 

Methadone (Synthetic Opioid)

Methadone or Dolophine is another drug used to treat addiction to opioids. However, this schedule two drug does have high abuse potential. 9 

Fentanyl (Synthetic Opioid)

Opioid medications like fentanyl have a very high abuse potential and are commonly abused via injection, smoking, snorting, chewing, and swallowing. 10 

Opioids: What are They and What Do They Do?

There are three main categories of opioids. These types will be detailed below.

Three Main Opioid Classifications

The three opioid types and compositions include:
  • Natural Opioids: Natural opioid types, including codeine and morphine, are classified based on their chemical structure. 11  
  • Semi-Synthetic Opioids: Semi-synthetic opioid types of the natural alkaloids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and buprenorphine. 11  
  • Fully Synthetic Opioids: Fully synthetic opioids include fentanyl, sufentanil, alfentanil, methadone, tramadol, etc.11  

What Happens to Your Brain When You Misuse Prescription Opioids?

Opioids’ effects on the brain include inducing temporary feelings of calm, happiness, and reduced pain. 12 

Opioid Misuse Symptoms

If a person abuses opioids for chronic pain or other opioids side effects, they may experience breathing issues, nausea, vomiting, constipation, sleepiness, and confusion. 12 

Opioid Misuse Side Effects

Opioid side effects can include overdose, addiction, and death. 12 
It is important to be cognizant of the risks of misuse and always consult a doctor when consuming opiates.

Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction and the effects of opioids on the body, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of opioid addiction. Keep reading to learn more about the most common signs of opioid addiction.

Shallow or Slow Breathing Rate

Slow or shallow breathing can be a symptom of opioid addiction and overdose.13 

Physical Agitation

Physical agitation can be a possible sign of opioid addiction. 13 

Poor Decision Making

Poor decision-making and risky behavior are common symptoms of opioid addiction. 13 

Abandoning Responsibilities

Abandoning responsibilities, missing necessary appointments, and poor school or work attendance can be signs of opioid addiction. 13 

Mood Swings

Mood changes, being overly energetic, and rapid speech could all be signs of an opioid addiction. 13 


If someone is struggling with opioid addiction, they may seem nervous, cranky, or irritable. 13 


Poor mental health, sadness, depression, and unusual exhaustion can be signs of an opioid disorder. 13 

Lowered Motivation

For individuals experiencing opioid addiction, lack of motivation, isolation, and loss of interest in activities are common. 13 

Anxiety Attacks

Anxiety attacks can be a common symptom of opioid addiction. 13 

Side Effects of Opioids

Now that you know how opioids for chronic pain work, let’s explore the short and long-term effects of opioids.

Short-Term Side Effects

An opioid mechanism of action can result in detrimental short-term side effects, including:
  • Drowsiness: Feelings of drowsiness or sleepiness can be a side effect of short and long-acting opioids.
  • Slowed Breathing: Difficulty breathing or slowed breathing is a possible side effect of overdosing on opioids.
  • Constipation: If a person is using or overdosing on opioids, they may experience constipation. 
  • Unconsciousness: Unconsciousness is a possible short-term side effect of short and long-acting opioids. 
  • Coma: Due to the opioid’s mechanism of action, coma is a possible short-term side effect. 
  • Nausea: Nausea and vomiting are short-term side effects associated with strong opioids.

Long-Term Side Effects

The following sections will discuss the long-term side effects of abusing strong opioids.

Chronic Constipation and Gastrointestinal System Disruption

Long-lasting gastrointestinal symptoms, including constipation, can result from abusing substances on the opioid list of drugs.

Respiratory Issues and Irregular Breathing

Lung infection and respiratory issues are possible long-term side effects of opioid addiction.

Cardiovascular System Issues Like Atrial Fibrillation

Long-term abuse of opioids can cause heart infection and other cardiovascular issues.

Reproductive System Shutdowns

Reproductive damage is associated with substance abuse, including opioid addiction.

Susceptibility to Bone Fractures

For individuals with a history of abusing opioids, there is an increased risk for muscle pain and bone fractures.

How Can You Safely Use Opioids To Manage Pain?

Although addiction and withdrawal from opioids are risky, it’s possible to receive opioid treatment safely. Keep reading to learn how to avoid withdrawal from opioids and discuss alternatives to opioids with your provider.

Talk to Your Physician or Physician Anesthesiologist

If you have concerns about addiction or opioid misuse, discuss this with your healthcare provider to learn about your options.

Watch Out for Side Effects

Now that you’ve read this article, you are familiar with the possible side effects of opioid addiction. Consult your doctor immediately if you begin noticing any symptoms of opioid addiction.

Take Opioids Only As Directed

If your physician prescribes opioids, follow their instructions closely to manage pain safely.

Seek Treatment When Necessary

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, it is important to know that you are not alone. Treatment options are available, and you can regain autonomy over your life.
At Concise Recovery, we will equip you with the tools needed to reestablish sobriety and wellness in your life.