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What is Opiate Addiction?
Opiates are drugs that block feelings of pain so people can experience relief from surgery and other medical conditions that cause mild to severe pain. But in addition to offering pain relief, opiates produce feelings of euphoria and well-being that influence some opiate users to abuse their medications. Opiates are highly addictive due to the way they bind to receptors in the brain that drive feelings of reward and euphoria and can lead to an overdose when used in high amounts.
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People who use opiates regularly can become tolerant to the drugs, and require higher amounts to achieve the drugs’ effects. Increased tolerance can lead to physical dependence, which is marked by withdrawal symptoms like headaches and nausea when opioids are stopped. Opiate dependence can quickly lead to opiate addiction or opiate use disorder and can be deadly when left untreated. But an addiction treatment center can help you or a loved one safely and successfully recover from opioid addiction using detox and therapy.
What are the Risks of Opiate Addiction?
Every day during the opioid epidemic in America, over 115 people die of an opioid drug overdose. These are not only street opioids (e.g., heroin) but also natural opiates, prescribed by doctors, that are taken in higher doses, and alongside other prescriptions. Opioid overdose deaths in America are now five times higher than they were a decade ago. This upward trend of misuse costs the U.S. billions of dollars in healthcare, as well as costing many Americans their families.
People who use opiates for legitimate medical reasons can sometimes become physically dependent on the drugs without intention. Over 40% of overdose deaths in 2016 were caused by prescription opioids. Many believe the United States overprescribes pain medication, as it encompasses 5% of the world’s population but consumes 75% of all prescription drugs manufactured worldwide.
What are the Symptoms of Opiate Addiction?
Prolonged use of opiates can lead to nerve damage to the brain that causes cells to stop producing their opiates (natural painkillers known as endorphins). This can lead to an inability for the body to prevent pain because there are no endorphins to mask the pain initially. The degeneration of the nerve cells that reduce pain can lead to a physical dependence on opiates as an external supply source.
Long-term opiate abuse can lead to opiate dependence, which is characterized by withdrawal symptoms like sweating, insomnia, and nausea when a person stops using the drugs abruptly. Withdrawal symptoms are the body’s way of trying to rebalance after being accustomed to the presence of opiates.
Some withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate detox will set in within hours after the last dose while others may take a few days to set in fully. These symptoms are likely with abrupt quitting of opiates, but can also be a problem for those who taper off the drugs too quickly.
Opiate withdrawal symptoms can be extremely unpleasant but are not life-threatening in themselves. However, symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea can lead to life-threatening complications like dehydration due to loss of fluids and reduced sodium levels in the blood. Opiate withdrawal can also lead to suicidal thoughts and ideation that may lead to death. Recovering from opiate addiction under medical supervision at a treatment center can greatly lower the risk of complications and death during withdrawal.
Common Opiate withdrawal symptoms include:
- Cravings to use the drugs
- Raised blood pressure
- Cramping in the stomach
- Chills or goose-bumps
- Irritation or agitation
- Muscle aches
- Shakes or trembling
- Dilated pupils
- Bone pain
Opiate addiction happens when someone becomes dependent on opiates, and feels a compulsive need to continue using the drugs despite numerous attempts to quit, and despite knowing opiate use will have negative consequences. Opiate addiction is often characterized by changes in behavior that lean in favor of opiate use, such as spending less time with friends and family to use drugs and neglecting important bills like rent and mortgage to spend money on opiates. Long-term opiate use and opioid addiction can increase one’s risk for serious health problems like liver damage and brain damage, as well as a drug overdose.
Those who suffer from opiate addiction will often change their behavior in ways that prioritize opiate use above other hobbies, interests, and responsibilities. Look for the following signs of opiate addiction:
- Track marks or needle marks
- Lethargic or heavy limbs
- Wearing long sleeves
- Hanging out with different groups
- Borrowing money without explanation
- Lack of appearances
- Excessive sleeping
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
What to do if Someone You Love is Abusing Opiates?
What can you do to help if you know that someone you love is addicted to heroin, Oxycodone, or another opiate? There are some steps that you can take to limit their drug use, place their addiction on hold or forcefully get them to accept treatment for their addiction. You can’t truly force anyone into treatment, but there are ways of helping them to make that decision.
Here are some tips for getting someone you love into opiate addiction treatment:
Provide support and loving care. Support does not mean that you pay their bills or let them borrow money every day. Support means that you help them to understand that they have a problem, that you love them and that you want for them to get help. You can let them know that you will be with them every step of the way.
Set limits. Those who suffer from addiction often struggle with controlling certain behaviors surrounding their addiction and may need your help with setting limits. Explain to your loved one that you support their recovery from addiction, but that you can no longer help them if they choose not to get treatment. Setting limits like these can help your loved one understand that you genuinely care, and can motivate them to fully overcome addiction with professional treatment.
Provide meaningful answers. You won’t have all of the answers but when you decide to address an addiction with a loved one, do your best to have the answers that you need. If you have additional questions, you may want to have an interventionist help you with the discussion and the manner in which you should start the discussion.
Know where to find help. Addiction treatment professionals can discuss all your available treatment options and help you find the best programs for your loved one fighting addiction. Use our directory to find nearby rehab centers in your area, or call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 1-800-654-0987 to get help from an addiction counselor. The medical staff at a rehab center can also perform an evaluation, and customize a treatment program that works best for you or your loved one.
Intervention is sometimes necessary. In some cases, you will have to seek the help of an interventionist to get the best help for your loved one without risking any further chances with their addiction. Interventionists can help you to come up with an alternative plan for your loved one, can help to enforce the plan and can provide the answers to many of the questions that everyone will have about treatment, recovery and what happens next!
Which Treatment Options are Available for Opiate Addiction?
Opiate addiction is best treated using a combination of therapies that can help patients overcome every aspect and cause contributing to their addiction. Detox allows patients to overcome opiate dependence, while therapy can treat underlying mental health disorders like depression and anxiety that may be driving addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps patients identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors, while 12-step support groups allow patients to build a stronger support network with peers in recovery.
Long-term treatment programs of 90 days or longer are often recommended for those overcoming opiate addiction. This gives opioid recovery patients plenty of time in which to achieve mental clarity, modify their behaviors, and learn relapse prevention skills that help them stay clean. Detox, therapy, counseling, and all other addiction treatments can be safely conducted in an inpatient or residential rehab center, and are available in an outpatient setting after 90-day treatment programs have ended.
Opiate detox can help patients safely withdraw from opioids and overcome physical dependence. Detox is the first step of any treatment program and typically consists of medical intervention, rest, and relaxation paired with time to help the patient heal. During opiate detox, the patient will feel many withdrawal symptoms. Some can be treated with rest while others may require medical intervention for the safety and comfort of the patient.
Patients recover in a residential setting for the duration of their treatment program and benefit from 24/7 medical supervision and access to supportive counselors and staff. Inpatient treatment is ideal for those who have relapsed after receiving opiate addiction treatment in the past, or who are overcoming a long-term addiction and need help setting a new daily routine. Inpatient treatment can also benefit those who need a safe recovery environment away from negative influences and opiates, and who also suffer from a mental health disorder or dual diagnosis.
This type of treatment for opiate addiction involves counseling and therapy that is provided on a daily, weekly or monthly basis and can help the recovering addict to stay on track with their recovery goals while they continue to work on their treatment and recovery outside of the facility as well.
Many support groups can be found within the various levels of treatment for opiate addiction as well as within the community. Some of the more common support groups that have been found to help those who suffer from opiate addiction include Narcotics Anonymous and Opiates Anonymous. While you may find it difficult to find an Opiates Anonymous group in your area, there are typically hundreds of Narcotics Anonymous groups in each state offering support to those who are ready to quit.
Many treatment centers provide replacement therapy for those suffering from opiate withdrawal. The methods of replacement therapy will differ slightly from one medication to the next, but the general idea is simple: Provide the patient with a medication that will cause their body to think that it is receiving opiates, which will lead to fewer withdrawal symptoms and can help the detox process run more smoothly.
- Methadone –widely used for the replacement of heroin or other opiates to help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate detox. Methadone is also a highly addictive drug and the use of such as a medication replacement should be monitored by a doctor.
- Suboxone –a relatively new method of medical replacement therapy that is highly effective in helping patients overcome opiate addiction. Suboxone will make the addict feel sick if they do use opiates while they are being treated with this medication.
- Naltrexone — This medication blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of opiates, and is reported to reduce opiate cravings. Naltrexone is commonly used as part of maintenance therapy to help patients stay sober and avoid relapse, since the drug prevents feelings of euphoria, and can bring on sudden and severe withdrawal symptoms.