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Opiate Addiction: Treatment without Medication

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Medically reviewed: 02/11/2019
Last updated: 05/13/2019
Author: Medical Review

Reading Time: 4 minutes

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite negative consequences.”  When people find themselves victim to this insidious disease, they often feel ashamed and hopeless.  Seeking treatment to recover from this illness that affects the brain is critical to leading a healthy, productive life.

What are Opiates?

Opiates act as depressants upon the central nervous system, and are often prescribed for their pain relief properties.  There is a high potential for abuse with opioid substances.  There are many different opiates.  They generally fall into three categories:  natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic.

Natural Opiates

Some opiates are found in nature.  Poppy plants are the source of opiates.  The following is a list of natural derivatives of the poppy plant:

Semisynthetic Opiates

The following medications are mixed with opiates, but are mixed with synthetics.  These drugs offer power pain relief, but people who use them are at great risk of addiction.  Here is a partial list of semisynthetic opiates:

Synthetic Opiates

Synthetic opiates are generated in a laboratory and designed chemically to affect specific areas of the brain.  These chemicals offer effective pain relief, but are also highly addictive.  The following are a few of these opioid medications:

Opiates and the Brain

Because of the manner in which opiates act in the brain, recovery without treatment can be utterly fruitless.  Opiates bind tightly to the mµ receptors in the brain, affecting how pain and pleasure is processed within the central nervous system.  Chemicals also cause craving and intense drug seeking behaviors in addicted persons.

Statistics for Recovery from Opiate Addiction

In 2013, the SAMHSA reported approximately 22.7 million people required substance abuse treatment. Of these people, about 289,000 were current heroin users and 4.5 million were nonmedical users of prescription opioids. Of these, an estimated 40-60% relapse at some point when trying to get clean from drug addiction.

Treatment Protocols for Opiate Addicts

Medical professionals understand the deadly nature of heroin and opiate addiction because of the risk of overdose and exposure to other types of diseases like hepatitis C or HIV.  As a result, most physicians recommend medical detoxification using medications like buprenorphine, methadone and naloxone.  Some people prefer natural detoxification to begin their journey into recovery.

Withdrawal Symptoms

For patients choosing to detox without the aid of medication, the following withdrawal symptoms can be expected.  While physical symptoms usually last between 3 days to 2 weeks, emotional and mental symptoms can last for years.  Being mindful of the withdrawal symptoms can help patients determine if detoxing without the aid of medication is the right option for them, personally.  Expect some or all of the following to different degrees:

  • Pain
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Sleeplessness
  • Restless Legs
  • Chills and sweating
  • Abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Tremors and Shakes
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings

Detoxification Tips

Plan for illness and seek the help of friends or family.  Over-the-counter medications can help with flu-like symptoms.  Heating pads, ice packs, blankets and fans will be handy tools to aid with significant discomfort.  Monitoring temperature and blood pressure will help care givers to determine if symptoms can be managed at home or if medical help should be sought.

Ongoing Recovery Tips

Recovery from opiate addiction involves more than just stopping the drugs.  Each person is different and should be treated as a whole individual.  Adopting a healthy diet and taking a daily multivitamin is a simple way to help restore the body.  Daily exercise is another helpful tool in moving into wellness.  Not only are muscles restored with physical activity, the brain produces endorphins, which helps to establish balance in brain chemistry.

Best Practices for Opiate Addiction Recovery

Stopping opiates is no simple matter.  Specific changes in the brain and the chemistry within the brain require careful consideration.  Addiction specialists are available to help.  Seeking the advice of professionals who have helped others to successfully recover from opiate addiction is the smartest course for people seeking treatment from opiate addiction without medication.


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