The most important step that starts the recovery process is acknowledging that you have a problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately two million people in the United States are addicted to prescription opiates. Many also suffer from shame believing that addiction is a sign of moral and mental weakness. Because of this, they think that willpower alone can get them sober. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, it is a chronic and progressive disease, just like hypertension and diabetes. Recovery rarely occurs on its own; once dependence upon a narcotic develops, addicts need professional help in order to break the cycle of abuse.
Even with help, opiate addiction is one of the hardest addictions to beat. The more you understand the process, the more likely you are to succeed.
Opiate Addiction 101
Not all people who abuse drugs in order to get high become addicted. Those who do, however, exhibit traits that include the following:
- Taking more of the same drug in order to feel the effect
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Taking other drugs to cancel out withdrawal symptoms
- Ingesting larger amounts than you intended to
- Repeat failed attempts to quit
- Spending significant amounts of time obtaining, using and recovering from opiates
- Missing work or other important functions
- Using opiates despite having suffered a negative consequence
- Isolating from friends and family who do not use opiates
Many people exhibit one of these traits while using opiates but do not qualify as opiate addicts. In order to meet diagnostic criteria for true opiate addiction, a person must experience at least three of these symptoms within a 12-month period.
Opiate addiction changes brain chemistry in significant ways, forever altering how the brain reacts to certain stimuli. Opiates directly affect the reward circuit of the brain. This area of the brain activates whenever opiates enter the body. A surge of the feel good neurotransmitter dopamine releases into the body, thereby rewarding the user for taking drugs. Effectively, the brain reinforces behaviors that encourage drug use, tricking the mind into thinking that using is a good thing. Eventually, the body depends on opiates in order to function normally, which is why withdrawal symptoms kick in when consumption dips. The mind also sees opiates as necessary for survival. This is what triggers cravings. These cravings can occur months and even years after getting clean, which is one reason abstinence alone is rarely sufficient treatment.
Addiction: Steps to Freedom
The first and most important step that starts the recovery process is acknowledging that you have a problem. Denial is a big part of addiction. Surrendering self-deception is something many opiate addicts cannot do until they reach a low point in their lives. However, it is not necessary to wait for a crisis or hit bottom before getting sober. The sooner you admit that you need help, the better your chances of recovery become.
Step two involves detox. This process requires medical supervision and time. Psychology Today names narcotics among several drugs that should never be stopped cold turkey since cutting off the supply too quickly can produce debilitating pain. The best way to detox is to attend a professional rehab center where your body can rid itself of chemicals under the careful oversight of health practitioners. Detoxing can take one week to one month. In addition to physical symptoms such as aches, pains, nausea and vomiting, it typically induces considerable emotional volatility as well. Symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia often worsen noticeably before they begin to improve.
Once detox is complete, other components of recovery can begin. For example, therapy and counseling—both individual and group—may become part of a daily schedule. Dealing with emotional problems that gave rise to addiction is one principal aim of therapy. The recovering addict may also be assessed for co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety and depression that should be addressed simultaneously.
Deciding upon a drug-maintenance program is another foundational task in early treatment. Many people who abuse opioids suffer from long-term brain changes. In order to avoid relapsing on opiates, they must treat their condition with replacement drugs designed to reduce the symptoms of dependence. Two popular options include Subutex, a medication that contains only buprenorphine hydrochloride, and Suboxone, a drug containing an ingredient called naloxone, which guards against misuse. Frequently, Subutex is given during the first few days of treatment while Suboxone is used during the maintenance phase of treatment.
Because overcoming opiate dependence is notoriously difficult, it is important for newly sober people to make sure they keep a good plan in place for avoiding relapse. Joining a 12-Step support group is one way many people stay motivated to maintain their recovery and rebuild their lives.
Help for Opiate Addiction
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to opiates, help is available. Admissions coordinators at our toll-free, 24-hour helpline can guide you to wellness. You don’t have to feel alone. Please call today to learn how you can find the road to recovery.