Relying on opiate detox to manage addiction is like brushing half your teeth or setting half of a broken leg—detox only treats part of the disease.
Traditionally many people, even people in the medical community, believed addiction could be cured with willpower. This belief expected an opiate addict to power through his cravings after he overcame the physical symptoms of withdrawal. In reality, addiction is a complicated disease. Like asthma or diabetes, it is a chronic, relapsing disease that requires ongoing management. Since it is also a brain disease, it requires psychological interventions to help addicts understand how addictive substances change brains and learn ways to manage cravings and build healthy habits.
Evidence-Based Addiction Treatment
Opiate addictions develop for a variety of reasons; some people become addicted using them to treat pain, while others try them out of curiosity or to feel good in times of stress. Around 4.3 million people report taking prescription painkillers non-medically and 435,000 report heroin use. Certain areas of the country experience higher use than others. Dramatic increases in overdose deaths affected the Northeast, Midwest and South. Overall, opiates led to 28,647 deaths in 2014; the five states with the highest overdose rates were West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio. 
Opiates include a long list of prescription painkillers, think everything from OxyContin to Codeine, as well as morphine and heroin. Opiate addictions progress quickly due to the immediate rush some users get from injecting or snorting the drug. For people who take prescription pills, addiction may progress more gradually. Over time, it takes more and more of an opiate to produce the same feeling; some people switch to injecting the drug to get the original high. This feeling of pleasure and reward feeds the cycle of addiction, when a person progresses from craving and bingeing on drugs to needing drugs in order to feel normal and finally to compulsively cravings the substances and taking them regardless of negative consequences. Addiction occurs because of the changes addictive substances bring to brain circuits.
How to End Opiate Addiction
An opiate addiction is challenging because opiates produce a strong physical dependence in addition to psychological cravings. Many people fear stopping the drug because of possible withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the length and amount of a person’s opiate use, withdrawal symptoms may be mild or severe. Classic symptoms include: agitation; anxiety; tremors; muscle aches; hot and cold flashes; sometimes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. While detoxification is an important part of opiate addiction recovery, it is not the only step. Detox is just the beginning of the recovery process. Opiate users who end treatment after detox, are at a high risk for relapse. Ending use without addressing the intense cravings for the drug or the psychological reasons behind using (stress, fear, pain avoidance) leave a person ill-equipped to manage a lifetime of recovery.
Best Outcomes for Opiate Addiction
To fully recover from opiate addiction, a person must treat every aspect of the disease. This requires addressing the physical, psychological and emotional aspects of addiction. While detox eliminates the physical aspects of addiction, many emotional or psychological issues still remain. The best way to treat these issues is through an evidence-based addiction treatment program. While there are many programs to choose from, only a small percentage of treatment programs offer integrated treatment programs. These programs treat a person comprehensively, addressing any mental health issues along with addiction. It is common for a person who struggles with depression or anxiety to develop an addiction.
Counseling programs and therapy sessions are the backbone of opiate addiction treatment. Talk therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, give people skills to recognize thought patterns that lead to cravings. The therapies also help people identify negative and self-defeating thoughts that contribute to drug-seeking behavior. Through psychological therapies and support from others, people can understand themselves better and develop a sense of empowerment and confidence. Without a comprehensive treatment program, it is unlikely a person will effectively manage the challenges of a life in recovery.
Things to Consider
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