Most patients who go through surgery are given pain-blocking medications before, during and after their procedure. Prescription painkillers are highly effective and allow doctors to fix medical problems that would be far too painful to treat otherwise. These painkillers are often delivered intravenously before and during the procedure. During the recovery process, a lighter dose is often continued in pill form. As helpful as these drugs are, however, doctors and patients must always be on the lookout for the onset of addiction. The vast majority of these pain medications are opiates, which are directly related to heroin, and the risk of dependence is very high.
How Opiates Work in the Brain
Pain signals are sent through the central nervous system via a network of chemical receptors. Opiates bind to these receptors, effectively blocking them from sending or receiving their signals. Incidentally, these same receptors deliver signals related to emotional or psychological distress. This gives users temporary relief of all of the following feelings:
- Self-esteem deficiency
- Behavioral compulsions
When first taken, these drugs give users a euphoric high that the emotional center of the brain recognizes and craves. These cravings function in a way that is much more powerful than conscious thought.
The body develops a tolerance to opiates relatively quickly. This means that it will take larger and more frequent doses in order to achieve the desired response. Eventually, opiate addicts need a constant supply of the drug in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms, but even as they continue to use the drug, they are not able to feel the original euphoria. Once this level of tolerance is established, many opiate addicts combine their pain medication with alcohol or other drugs or turn to harder narcotics such as heroin in order to feel the effects.
Symptoms of Opiate Dependence
Opiate dependence can be established very quickly or over an extended period of time. People respond differently to these drugs. Some are born with a biological predisposition toward addiction while others suffer from underlying or co-occurring psychological disorders that they may not even be aware of. The temporary relief these drugs provide can lead to addiction almost immediately.
The following symptoms often accompany the onset of opiate addiction:
- Obsession with having and using the drug
- Anxiety if the drug is not available
- Diminished pain blocking effectiveness
- The act of taking more of the drug or taking it more frequently than prescribed
- Dishonesty with doctors, pharmacists or other loved ones related to drug use
- Defensiveness when approached about drug use
It is unlikely that individuals with no personal or family history of substance abuse or addiction will become addicted to opiates if they follow their dosage instructions meticulously and stop using the drug when they are supposed to. However, it is possible.
Opiate Dependence Treatment
Opiate addiction is both physical and psychological. Recovery almost always requires comprehensive treatment of all aspects of the disease through holistic rehabilitation services. These programs offer a combination of diagnosis, personal counseling, support group dynamics, education, medically supervised detox and development of healthy new coping skills and behavioral patterns.
Opiate Addiction Help
If you need help ending your addiction to opiates, please call our toll-free helpline right now. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day to connect you with life-saving recovery resources. Don’t try to quit on your own and don’t put off treatment for one more day. Call now.