The use of opiates such as heroin, Morphine, opium or Oxycodone can lead to a central nervous system disorder that results in physical dependence and addiction. Opiate addiction is not only a dangerous condition, it could prove to be deadly if left undiagnosed or untreated. People who abuse opiates are at an increased risk of becoming physically dependent on these drugs and continued use of opiates is likely to lead to tolerance and subsequent addiction.
Opiate addiction can be caused either by the recreational use of opiate based drugs or it may be caused by prescribed use of the drugs. Often times, opiates such as Oxycontin, Oxycodone or Morphine are prescribed for the treatment of chronic pain such as the pain that would be associated with cancer, Fibromyalgia or a progressive disease such as Parkinson’s. Unfortunately, many people who are prescribed opiate painkillers do not realize the risk of opiate addiction and believe that they are under no danger if they take the medication as prescribed by their doctor. Unfortunately, even prescribed use of opiates can lead to physical dependence and addiction.
What is Opiate Addiction?
Opiate addiction is a painful and difficult disease that often requires professional treatment, therapy and even medication to overcome. Described as a central nervous system disorder, opiate addiction results when prolonged opiate use leads to damage of the sensory nerves and the brain which causes cells to stop producing endorphins. Medically termed endogenous opiates, endorphins are naturally occurring painkillers that, in a non-opiate abuser, stop pain by blocking the nerve perception of the pain.
Prolonged opiate use will lead to nerve damage that results in an inability for the body to cope with or stop pain. Damage to the nerves result a reduced or completely eliminated production of endorphins and as a result, the user is unable to mask pain. Over time, nerve cells continue to degenerate to an extent that the user requires opiates in order to feel comfortable and to prevent extreme bodily pain. This resulting damage to the nerves that stops endorphin production and causes a dependence on opiates to produce similar effects is known as opiate addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this can happen to someone who is taking opiate pain medications as prescribed as well as those who are abusing their own prescriptions or taking them illegally. A good portion of opiate addictions begin with medically-prescribed pain medications.
Signs of Opiate Addiction
At first, the signs of opiate addiction may not be prevalent and you may not even realize that there is a problem, but sustained use of opiates can & most likely will lead to tolerance, physical dependence and addiction. The most obvious sign of opiate addiction is a compulsive use of the drug despite the harm that it is causing either to the user’s body, health, or social well-being. The user may wish he or she could stop using the drugs but no matter how hard they try, relapse always follows shortly behind and they can’t seem to stay away from their drug of choice.
It can be very difficult to spot opiate drug use, as several of the signs are subtle and only become glaringly apparent when an individual’s problem has become severe. In addition to the subtlety of the signs of addiction, it is extremely common for individuals who are using, dependent on, and/or addicted to opiates to deny their use either in its entirety, or its severity. This will happen both because they do not want people to know the details of their drug use, and they may not be fully aware of the effects opiates are having on their life. The Child Welfare Information Gateway explains that opiate addiction often causes loss of impulse control, relationship problems and failure in school or work, and is often associated with denial and concealment.
The following signs of opiate addiction are common:
- denial or thinking that there is no problem
- lack of control over drug use
- spending more and more time using drugs
- spending more and more money on drugs
- spending bill money on drugs
- inability to say no to the drug
- lying about drug use
- track marks or scabs and bruises, especially on the arms
- finding needles
- trying to quit multiple times and always falling back into drug use
- using despite the known consequences that are being caused financially, physically, or emotionally
- compulsive use
- using morning, day and night
- inability to maintain social relationships
- trouble at work or at school
- trouble with the law
- continued use despite physical/medical complications
- paying less attention to personal hygiene
- paying less attention to household cleanliness
Opiate Addiction Statistics
Over the years, various statistics have been reported by National Drug Control Policy Administration and similar networks regarding the use and subsequent addiction to opiates. Professional drug treatment centers often report on opiate addiction, treatment and recovery to help provide greater access for those in search of statistical analysis of drug treatment and recovery efforts. While not all of the statistics regarding opiate addiction are available to the public, many alarming details are leaked to those who are in search of more information.
Increases in the availability of prescription pain medications over the past couple of decades has caused increases in the rates of prescription drug abuse and addiction. With that has come some changes in the rules relating to the availability of prescription drugs, and their price. As people who have become addicted to prescription drugs are less able to obtain them due to finances, availability, or other reasons, it is not uncommon for them to turn to heroin. The increases in prescription drug addiction and heroin addiction appear to go hand in hand, and have increased in alarming rates across the United States.
Alarming Opiate Addiction Statistics
- nearly one in ten adult Americans abuses opiates at some point in their lifetime
- opiates account for more than 80% of all treatment admissions for intravenous drug addictions
- the World Health Organization estimates more than 3 million people in the US & Europe alone are addicted to some kind of opiates
- almost 10% of today’s medical practitioners are addicted to opiates
- opiate addiction can be up to a $150-200 dollar a day habit
- between 1991 and 2010, prescriptions for stimulants increased from 5 million to nearly 45 million and for opioid analgesics from about 75.5 million to 209.5 million, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse
Opiate Addiction Facts
The more you know about opiate addiction the greater your chances are of staying away from a potentially fatal disease. Knowing the facts about opiate addiction will also allow you to point out dangers and reasons for concern if you have a loved one or friend who is using opiates either recreationally or as prescribed.
Opiate Addiction Facts that you May Not Already Know
- Opiates are some of the most widely abused drugs in the world
- Opiates such as heroin, morphine and methadone were all once touted by medical professionals as non-addictive
- Opiate addiction causes major problems socially and for the health of the user
- Opiate addiction can lead to overdose and potentially death from respiratory failure, cardiac arrest or coma
- Opiate addiction is both physical and psychological in scope
- Opiate addiction cannot be cured, though it can be managed
What it Means to be Opiate Dependent
To be opiate dependent means simply that the user is physically or psychologically dependent on opiates such as heroin, methadone, morphine, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone or another opiate derived drug. Opiate dependence can be characterized by an inability for an individual to stop using opiates despite his or her desire to do so and despite his or her knowledge as to the complications that the use of opiates is causing or has the potential to cause in life. An opiate-dependent person will need to continue taking opiates in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms, sometimes referred to in slang as becoming “dope sick”. Opiate dependence includes a physical, psychological and cognitive dependence on opiates that is very difficult to overcome.
At its core, opioid dependence is a result of the brain changes that occur with chronic opioid use. According to the US National Library of Medicine, the brain abnormalities that produce opioid and opiate dependence are able to be resolved within weeks of when opiate use stops. This is different, however, from the brain abnormalities associated with addiction which are more wide-ranging, complex, and long-lasting. Dependence leads to addiction, so if you or someone you love is recognizing an opiate dependence developing, get help before addiction develops.
At least 3 of the following characteristics must be present to be considered opiate dependent
- Strong or compulsive desire to use opiates
- Trouble controlling drug use
- Physiological withdrawal when opiates are not used
- Developing a tolerance to the opiate
- Spending more time trying to get opiates instead of taking part in otherwise fun activities
- Using opiates despite health consequences or other known consequences that have resulted from the drug use
Treating Opiate Addiction
Many opportunities exist when it comes to treating an opiate addiction. Most often, a combination of both medical intervention & psychological counseling is needed in order to effectively help an individual overcome opiate addiction. Because this addiction is medically recognized as a central nervous system disorder, much attention has been placed on medical intervention and treatment of opiate addiction through medication replacement therapies.
The cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting opiate use are very strong and difficult to overcome. It is for this reason that medication-assisted treatments are often recommended. These therapies address the changes that drugs have caused in a user’s brain, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The most common drugs used to treat opioid addiction and dependence are opioid agonists or partial opioid agonists, which interact with and activate the opiate receptors in the brain. What this means is that they create a mildly opiate-like effect, though nothing like strong opiate drugs, and they curb drug cravings as well as opiate withdrawal symptoms. Medication-assisted therapies are safe in that they are administered by trained physicians in measured daily doses, they are not taken intravenously and thus eliminate the risk of HIV and other IV-related diseases, when taken correctly they eliminate the risk of overdose and the criminal activity associated with drug abuse.
The two most common medications used in opiate addiction treatment are
Methadone is the oldest of these kinds of treatments and has been used since the 1960s. It must be taken in certified, specialized methadone clinics, and is generally taken orally once a day. Suboxone, a mixture of buprenorphine and naloxone, is a newer treatment for opioid dependence. Buprenorphine, the main component, was approved by the FDA in 2002 and can be prescribed by physicians. Due to the fact that it can be taken in physicians’ offices rather than solely in specialized clinics like methadone, Suboxone and buprenorphine have expanded treatment access for opiate-addicted individuals. It is also taken orally, once a day.
Opiate antagonist medications such as naloxone & naltrexone are also used for the treatment of opiate addiction. The medications actually work by biding to the opioid receptors to bock the body from responding to opiates. When this method of treatment is used, the individual will not feel the effects of the opiate when it is taken and in time, will consciously choose not to take the drugs simply because they do not feel anything pleasurable for the use of opiates.
Oftentimes, opiate addiction treatment must take place in a hospital-like facility known as an inpatient or residential treatment center. Because of the severity of withdrawal symptoms that are associated with opiate dependence and addiction, many people who are addicted to opiates require an extensive stay in a residential treatment setting before they can safely integrate into an outpatient treatment setting. The severity of the addiction and various other factors are considered when determining the most effective and the safest method of opiate addiction treatment for each person.
Another thing to consider with addiction treatment is the longevity of opiate addiction. Unfortunately, individuals who become addicted to opiate and opioid drugs can’t easily walk away from the addiction and often deal with it for a very long time. With that in mind, after attending a treatment facility and/or going through a medically-assisted detox, continuing some sort of outpatient drug treatment or regularly attending support groups can greatly help recovering opiate addicts avoid relapse and remain in recovery.
Overcoming Opiate Addiction
Kicking an opiate habit can be a tough process but there is help and anyone who is addicted to opiates should not feel as if they must continue to abuse the drugs because they can’t overcome the addiction. Many people who want to quit using opiates find it difficult to get past the first weeks mostly because of the physical withdrawal symptoms and, as time progresses, even psychological elements of the addiction tend to linger on.
There are three common ways to overcome an opiate addiction and they are:
Quitting Cold Turkey
To quit cold turkey is not only difficult it is also dangerous. Opiates cause physical changes within the body and the brain that can make quitting cold turkey actually a deadly plan of attack when it comes to overcoming opiate addiction. Generally, it is not advisable to quit opiates without at least tapering the drugs off or being under the direct care of a healthcare professional because there is a risk of opiate withdrawal symptoms leading to deadly consequences. If this is the way that you intend to overcome an addiction to opiates, seek the help of a medical professional especially while in the first stages of opiate detox.
Methadone Clinics & MMT
As discussed above, one of the most common ways of overcoming opiate addiction is to seek treatment in a methadone clinic or through methadone maintenance treatment. Methadone maintenance treatment involves being administered a dosage of methadone each day which will counteract the withdrawal symptoms by tricking the body into believing that it is still using heroin or other opiates.Methadone maintenance is most effective when combined with counseling and therapy.
MMT is not without dangers, however, as it is a mild opiate and does have addictive potential. Although MMT is a potential addictive scenario, it is an effective means at helping an addict to surpass the negative aspects of heroin addiction and move forward with a more productive life. It much safer and cleaner than heroin and other drugs, and allows people to successfully hold a job and manage other aspects of their lives.
Some people do not want to go forward with only medication-assisted therapy and therefore do not wish to take part in a methadone maintenance program. For those who decide not to quit cold turkey but also not to take part in a medication replacement program, drug rehab is an option. Drug rehab involves a combination of medical intervention, monitoring, peer support and counseling to effectively help patients overcome opiate addiction. Many drug rehab programs do utilize methadone maintenance of Suboxone, but most provide alternatives that are also effective at helping patients get past the strongholds of opiate addiction and move on with their lives.
There are several different kinds of drug rehab, and the one that works for a certain individual may not work for another. The main difference in programs is that in some facilities you are provided with housing. These facilities are called inpatient or residential centers and they provide around the clock care, daily counseling in either or both one-on-one or group settings. They are usually more costly than the alternative, outpatient programs, and usually require people to leave their job, family, and other parts of their lives for the duration of treatment.
Outpatient programs also provide counseling, drug testing, and other types of treatment, but they are more flexible and usually less expensive. Individuals in outpatient programs have more of an ability to work their treatment around their lives and schedules. Outpatient opiate rehab may require more self-control, especially in the early stages of recovery, as it does not have the benefit of an entirely drug-free environment for people 24 hours a day. It is up to the individual to avoid opiates and attend their treatment sessions.
Opiate Addiction Recovery
For those who suffer from opiate addiction, recovery is always on the mind but not always considered an option. What does opiate addiction recovery feel like? How can one get to that point? What does it take to get past the addiction and finally be sober and clean? These are all questions that an individual may have if he or she is ready to get past the opiate addiction but simply does not have the ability to really visualize recovery.
The seemingly endless cycle of using heroin or other opiates followed by treatment, followed by using again and treatment and relapse takes a great toll on one’s pride and one’s faith in their ability to ever recover. Each person who uses opiates has a different reason for using and has a different reason for wanting to get well but for each person, the techniques and the tools that are necessary to achieve recovery may be similar in many ways. For instance, methadone, suboxone, naltrexone and other medications can work for some but not for everyone. Likewise, tapering the drug use off and substituting the addiction with fun, clean activities can also work for some—but not for everyone. A study found in the Drug Policy Alliance shows that opioid addiction recovery is possible, and is more possible than previously thought and previously experienced. They emphasize the need to break ties with opiate users, create new and healthy social networks, and generate new and healthy interests.
Opiate addiction recovery is what you make of it. Some find recovery to be a rewarding state in which life is repaired, rejuvenated and fulfilling. Others find recovery to be an uphill battle plagued by constant fear of relapse, constant fear of slipping and constant wondering if the recovery will last. The bottom line is—recovery doesn’t happen overnight but it can happen if you work for it.