Today a wide array of opiates are available, from the illicit (opium, heroin) to prescription pain medications (OxyContin, Demerol, Percocet, Vicodin) and drugs that are usually administered by doctors at hospitals or clinics (buprenorphine, methadone). Some people find themselves caught in the grip of addiction after experimenting with recreational street drugs, while others simply filled a prescription given to them by their doctor.
How Opiates Work
Opiates flush through the brain, binding to special pain message receptors and blocking signals in the central nervous system that indicate pain, emotional distress, anxiety and other emotions. It washes over the receptors, removing the naturally occurring “mood-regulating” chemicals and replacing them. They are so powerful that, in many individuals, they create a feeling of euphoria that is extremely powerful. Because this is also the “pleasure” or “reward” center of the brain, the behavior that brought about the euphoria is urged on by the mind.
Opioid and opiate drugs essentially rewire brain chemistry, initiating a process that will require a constant supply of opiates for the consistent opiate user to feel normal. Within days or weeks, a tolerance will build, meaning that increased quantities will be required to achieve the same effects as the first dose. This also means that when the person stops taking the drug, his or her body will go through withdrawal. Withdrawal can be an intensely uncomfortable, painful, and physically distressing process. If the dependence is allowed to continue, it will become a full-blown addiction and will be difficult, if not impossible, for the addicted individual to conquer alone. Opioid use disorder is a diagnosable illness that can be treated.
Signs of Opiate Addiction
Signs of opiate addiction include the following behaviors:
- Dishonesty in obtaining or about using the drug
- Pain or other physical discomfort when not on the drug
- Anxiety about quitting
- Marked mood swings
- Noticeable change in activity levels
- Fear of withdrawal
- Pre-occupation with obtaining and consuming the drug
- Continued use despite negative health, financial, relational or legal side-effects
Fortunately, opiate addicts need not be on their own as they try to beat this insidious disease. Many individuals have overcome withdrawals and gained the support and skills necessary to overcome this unfortunate substance dependence.
Recovering From Opiate Addiction
Many addicts will try to quit on their own, even enduring the worst of the withdrawal symptoms of detox only to relapse when their mental or psychological addiction digs in. After a relapse or two a person may begin to believe that recovery is impossible for them. The problem, though, is that they never really gave themselves a chance.
That first detox phase is certainly the most difficult part, physically. As the drug leaves the body, a range of withdrawal symptoms will grip the opioid dependent person. Some symptoms of withdrawal include the following:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Extreme pain in bones, joints and muscles
- Muscle spasms
- Irrational thinking, anxiety, or panic
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea and cramping
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
In the best treatment centers, these symptoms may be significantly relieved through careful medical supervision. Once the worst of the detox phase is complete, full rehab begins. Opiates create both a physical and a mental dependence. In many cases the mental, or psychological side of addiction will be the most difficult to kick. Beyond the safety and reassurance of a medically-supervised detoxification, full rehab services will likely include the following help aids:
- Treatment of trauma, PTSD, or other underlying contributors to substance use
- 12-step groups
- Preparation for life beyond opiates
- Ongoing support
Need Help Finding Opiate Addiction Therapy?
Our toll-free helpline is available 24 hours a day, and caring and knowledgeable recovery professionals are waiting to talk to you about your addiction and start you on the path to recovery. Please do not put this off any longer. A clean, healthy life is waiting for you. Make the call today!