Opiate addiction carries a high relapse rate, mostly due to the obstacles addicts encounter in recovery. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, addiction’s effects on brain function last long into the recovery process, placing addicts at ongoing risk of relapse.
Certain risk factors contribute to the likelihood of relapse, some of which include:
- Lack of a support system
- Poor coping skills
- Mental health problems
- Lack of motivation to stay well
Not surprisingly, the biggest problems with opiate addiction recovery involve one or more of these risk factors. Fortunately, opiate addiction treatment programs offer a range of services and interventions specifically designed to help recovering addicts work through these issues.
Understanding how opiates impair brain functions can go a long way towards finding needed treatment help. With the right treatment supports in place, a person can be well equipped to tackle the biggest problems in opiate addiction recovery head-on.
Opiate Addiction’s Effects
Whether using heroin or prescription pain medications, opiates interact with the brain in the same ways. Opiates have a chemical make-up that closely resembles the brain’s neurotransmitter chemicals. For this reason, the brain interacts with opiate materials in the same way it interacts with its own natural chemicals.
This degree of compatibility between opiates and the brain enable –
- Tolerance levels to increase on an ongoing basis
- Physical dependency to develop
- Changes to take place within the brain’s reward system
- An overall “reconfiguring” of the brain’s physical and chemical make-up
In effect, opiate addiction is a progressive condition that only gets worse the longer a person continues to abuse these types of drugs.
Opiate Addiction’s Aftereffects
Once addiction sets in, stopping opiate use brings on a range of aftereffects that can last anywhere from two months to 10 years depending on the severity of the addiction. For many people, the withdrawal effects experienced in detox only mark the beginning of an ongoing struggle with drug cravings that can persist for years into the recovery process.
The neurotransmitter processes most affected by opiate abuse regulate most every brain and body function. During the course of an addiction, opiates have damaged brain cell functions to the point where widespread chemical imbalances have taken root.
These imbalances also impair a person’s thinking processes, emotions and behavior. The biggest problems encountered in opiate addiction recovery stem from the overall state of brain chemical dysfunction opiates leave behind.
Getting the Needed Level of Treatment
Opiate addiction treatment options vary in terms of –
- Intensity level
- Duration of treatment
- Treatment services offered
These differences work to address opiate addiction in all its forms. Unfortunately, not every type of treatment will work for any one person’s circumstances. In general, not getting the needed level of treatment constitutes one of the biggest problems in opiate addiction recovery.
In order for a person to maintain abstinence for any length of time, it’s essential to receive the level of care that best addresses his or her treatment needs. As many may opt on the side of convenience (choosing outpatient as opposed to inpatient or residential care), relapse is more than likely for people struggling with moderate or severe addiction problems.
Stopping Drug Use
Anyone who’s abused opiates well knows how uncomfortable withdrawal effects can be. After using for so long, the fear of experiencing withdrawal becomes a driving force behind ongoing drug use.
According to Harvard Health Publications, withdrawal effects commonly experienced include –
- Drastic changes in body temperature
- Aches and pains
- Severe depression
Stopping drug use altogether brings on the most severe of withdrawal effects, which can quickly overwhelm a person’s resolve and ability to follow through. Without adequate treatment care, addicts have a difficult time making it past this difficult stage of the recovery process.
In cases of moderate and severe addiction, detox treatment programs administer medication-replacement therapies that work to ease withdrawal symptoms along the way. Medications, such as methadone and buprenorphine mimic the effects of opiates and support damaged brain cell functions.
Undoing the Addiction Mindset
More than anything else, the effects of opiate abuse on the brain’s reward system lie at the heart of addiction. While many may view addiction in terms of physical dependency, addiction actually grows out of the psychological dependency that forms as chemical imbalances warp the brain’s reward system.
This reward system dictates learning processes in terms of how the brain defines positive versus negative experiences. Each time a person gets “high,” brain chemical levels surge, which accounts for the effects of the drug. Over time, these chemical surges “rewire” the reward system to the point where the drug’s effects become a primary motivating force in a person’s life.
Whereas detox treatment only addresses the physical dependency issue, addiction treatment doesn’t start until a person undergoes psychosocial treatment. Psychosocial interventions are designed to help addicts undo the psychological effects of addiction.
Interventions may take the form of –
- Individual psychotherapy
- Drug counseling
- Drug education training
- Group therapy
Failing to get needed psychosocial treatment care leaves a person vulnerable to falling back into the addiction mindset. Once this happens, drug use resumes.
Developing a Drug-Free Lifestyle
Considering the tasks and activities involved with maintaining a drug habit, people who get caught up in addiction develop a lifestyle that makes ongoing drug use possible. Once a person completes drug treatment, aspects of this lifestyle, such as friends and hangouts can quickly pull a person back into the addiction lifestyle when he or she reenters everyday life unprepared.
While developing a drug-free lifestyle does happen over time, not having some type of routine in place during the early stages of recovery increases the likelihood of an untimely relapse episode.
Staying Engaged in the Recovery Process
Opiate addiction works in much the same way as any other chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Chronic conditions require ongoing treatment in order to manage the symptoms of the illness.
Likewise, staying engaged in the recovery process is essential to maintaining abstinence on a long-term basis. Just like with a chronic medical ailment, addiction “symptoms” can flare-up at any time. Having the necessary supports in place along the way can help ensure a person’s success throughout the recovery process.