It’s challenging to face opiate addiction. When it’s time for treatment, it’s common to feel fear, denial, skepticism and even reluctant hope. Stepping up to get treatment is a crucial step to recovery; the rest just takes one moment at a time.
Understanding Addiction Treatment
Treating an opiate addiction requires managing physical and behavioral symptoms. Opiates are a highly addictive class of drugs; they include prescription pain relievers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and fentanyl as well as heroin. Someone addicted to opiates takes them to maintain emotional wellbeing and avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The combination of physical and behavioral impulses makes an opiate addiction challenging to treat without addressing the whole person: mind, body and soul.
Addiction manifests in the brain, where imbalanced neurochemicals send messages about the necessity of getting more opiates. Someone addicted to opiates responds to the messages in the same way he or she responds to messages to get enough food. The hunger for drugs compels a person to focus on opiates; he plans periods of time to take the drug, makes sure he has a constant supply and does what it takes to get more. Brains addicted to opiates can’t produce a normal level of certain neurochemicals without getting them externally. This means a person doesn’t feel normal without the drugs, plus his body responds with a variety of withdrawal symptoms if he doesn’t take opiates regularly.
What Happens in an Opiate Addiction Treatment Facility?
People who seek treatment in a residential center or outpatient program receive treatments based on individual needs. Someone may need treatment for an anxiety disorder along with addiction treatment to address underlying cravings for opiates. Or, a person may need counseling for past abuse to understand the connection between opiate use and a craving for emotional numbness. Opiate addiction treatment combines multiple forms of therapy to help patients set and achieve goals for recovery and improved quality of life.
Achieving individual goals is best done through evidence-based treatments. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) recommends evaluating a person’s symptoms to determine the best course of action. The following factors must be considered to determine a patient’s treatment plan:
- Acute intoxication and/or withdrawal potential; many patients addicted to opiates experience withdrawal symptoms, the severity of symptoms depends on how long a person uses opiates and how strong of a dose he takes
- Medical conditions and complications; patients with co-occurring conditions must be treated for all medical conditions during addiction treatments, it’s common for a patient to suffer with mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression
- Emotional, behavioral, or cognitive conditions and complications;
- Readiness to change; active participation in therapy and treatment programs reduces the amount of time a person needs to spend in treatment
- Relapse, continued use, or continued problem potential; patients have varying risks of relapse depending on personal circumstances and ability to handle stress and anxiety
- Recovery/living environment; patients need support and encouragement to maintain sobriety
Treatment plans must consider all of these factors to adequately address the symptoms of addiction.
Opiate Treatment Basics
Opiate addiction treatment begins with detoxification. The detox process forces all drugs to leave the patient’s body, giving her a chance to taper off the drug and gradually manage withdrawal symptoms. Once detox is complete, a person is over the physical aspects of an opiate addiction. While detox ends physical withdrawal symptoms, it does not cure addiction. Addiction is a brain disease with psychological symptoms. Evidence-based addiction treatments rewire the brain and balance neurochemicals by pointing patients to new behaviors. Living in recovery is the ongoing process of making anti-drug behaviors a habit and avoiding relapse.
Once detox is finished, patients begin psychological therapies. Therapeutic treatments are individualized to treat a patient’s needs. For example, a Native American patient with a family history of opiate addiction needs strategies that build new habits and culturally sensitive therapy that incorporates religious beliefs and community needs. Every person has unique needs. To get the most out of psychological treatments, she sets treatment goals with the help of a counselor. Attending therapy sessions helps a person achieve goals. Therapy includes individual sessions, group sessions and support groups.3
In individual therapy, patients meet with a therapist to discuss personal issues that affect their lives. Often, these issues are underlying causes of addiction. Therapists help users learn to deal with these issues and show them methods to deal with stress, teach them general problem solving skills and show them ways to avoid drug abuse. In group therapy, a therapist leads a classroom of patients and teaches them about addiction and drug abuse. The therapist then opens the floor for discussion and allows patients to learn from shared experiences and understand how to apply what they learn to their lives.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). DrugFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction.
Nicholls, Lance; Brago, Lisa and Ruetsch, Charles. (2010). Opioid Dependence Treatment and Guidelines. Supplement to Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from http://www.amcp.org/data/jmcp/S14-S21.pdf.
 McNicholas, Laura, et. al. (2004). Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Clinical Guidelines for the Use of Buprenorphine in the Treatment of Opioid Addiction. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) 40. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/buprenorphine.
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Treatments for Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/substance-use-disorders.