Opioids are prescription and illicit substances that mimic the body’s natural opioids, which are involved in reducing pain and producing feelings of pleasure. This drug class includes natural opiates, which are derived from the opium poppy, as well as semi-synthetic and totally synthetic opioids that act similarly on the body. Although opioids are used in medicine to treat pain, they are also among the most addictive drugs of abuse. In the US, about one in 10 people will abuse opiates at some point in life. In addition, more than half a million people have used heroin within the last year. For many addicts, opioid dependence can be overcome with inpatient treatment. Below is more about the different types of opioids, their effects on users and society and the treatment available for addiction to these drugs.
Opioids are generally divided into the categories of natural opioids, usually referred to as opiates, semi-synthetic opioids and fully synthetic opioids. All of these substances work on the opioid receptors in the body, reducing physical and emotional pain, causing euphoria and reducing anxiety. However, individual drugs in these categories have specific effects that make them more or less common in medical treatment and among addicts:
In the past, many people viewed opioid addiction as largely occurring on the streets, away from the medical usage of opioids. Now, opioid addiction most commonly results after patients are prescribed opioids for pain. In fact, prescription opioid abusers are now outnumbering the number of addicts taking illicit opioids, such as heroin. Many states are seeing soaring numbers of deaths and emergency room admissions due to prescription opioid abuse. Between 2003 and 2009, Florida had an 84-percent rise in deaths due to these substances. Some doctors say that the epidemic of prescription opioid abuse is related to the widely held belief that patients should not experience pain, which has resulted in opioids being heavily prescribed in medical settings. Now, more prescription drug abusers are seeking inpatient treatment to combat their addiction.
How Opioid Addiction Develops
Many users first begin taking opioids casually with friends but progress to dependence and addiction over time. Because these drugs overload the opioid receptors in the brain, users experience extreme pleasure, comfort and feelings of well-being that many find irresistible from the beginning. Over time, however, the urge to take more becomes practically uncontrollable as users become unable to feel pleasure without opioid drugs. Side effects, such as nausea and irritability, often disappear as usage becomes regular. In addition, addicts experience potentially severe withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop using opioids.
Oral opioids, such as painkillers, are often the first forms encountered by addicts. This may be through medical treatment or casual recreation, but once addiction begins to grow, the waning effects of the drugs drive many users to pursue smoked, snorted or injected forms of stronger opioids. Some addicts crush prescription pain drugs, such as oxycodone, and snort them for faster and more intense effects. Eventually, some users progress to heroin for its stronger effects and lower price. Finally, injection becomes the favored method of usage for many long-term opioid addicts due to the fast onset of effects and greater cost effectiveness as less is necessary to get the high that addicts crave. Unfortunately, the greater intensity and faster onset of injected opioids also more easily condition the addict’s brain to use more of the drug and stay addicted over time.
Problems Caused by Opioid Addiction
Psychological and physical dependence begin soon after starting to use opioid drugs in many cases. The presence of tolerance is the first sign of addiction, requiring that users take more of the drug to get the same effects and avoid withdrawal symptoms. Soon, addicts find themselves taking higher dosages than they plan on using. It is not uncommon for a long-term opioid addict to use dosages that would be fatal for someone without a tolerance. More time is devoted to acquiring and using opioids, destroying the person’s ability to work and socialize effectively if at all. With opioid addiction, the long-term user completely loses the ability to enjoy any activity other than opioid usage. As a result, the user effectively becomes a slave to the opioids to which he or she is addicted.
If addicts stop taking opioids, they suffer a wide range of withdrawal symptoms affecting the mind and body:
Because of the intensity of opioid withdrawal, many patients go back to using opioids soon after stopping. Even years after quitting opioids, many recovering addicts find themselves unable to stop thinking of opioids and may go back to taking the drugs again, resulting in a lifelong struggle to stay clean.
Besides withdrawal symptoms, opioid addicts may experience a number of health problems related to their addiction. Long-term opioid abuse suppresses the immune system, exposing the addict to infection and disease that can be fatal. HIV, hepatitis and blood infections are common among injection drug users, who may use and share dirty needles in their hurry to get a fix.
Friends, family and society also suffer from opioid addiction. Addicts may lie and manipulate to satisfy their intense cravings for opioids. In some cases, users engage in criminal behavior to get money for more opioids. Although some users are able to stay employed and maintain a facade of normality during opioid addiction, especially in cases of prescription opioid addiction, long-term heavy usage often takes its toll on addicts and their loved ones by causing antisocial behavior, destruction of relationships, and loss of productivity.
The devastating effects of long-term opioid addiction make inpatient treatment the only option for many addicts and their families. The intensive combination of detoxification, therapy and life skills training in a safe atmosphere allows many patients to successfully quit using opioids. Rehab centers vary in their techniques, but most programs consist of a few basic elements.
At the beginning of inpatient treatment, medical professionals screen patients for mental health issues that may contribute to their addiction. If depression, anxiety or psychotic disorders are found, medications may be prescribed to help patients stay off of opioids. Doctors and nurses are often on hand to monitor patients as the opioids leave their system.
Therapy in rehab centers usually combines individual and group counseling, an approach that offers more to addicts than either type on its own. One-one-one sessions with trained therapists are tailored to recovering opioid users’ individual struggles with addiction as well as any mental health issues. In group sessions, recovering opioid users develop a deeper understanding of their addiction and help each other through the struggle to quit abusing opioids. In addition, social support that develops in these sessions contributes to long-term success at treatment.
Life-skills training at rehab assists recovering opioid addicts in the process of re-learning skills that are lost during hardcore addiction to opioids. Time management, cooking, cleaning, and finding employment are common topics that are covered. As a result, recovering addicts are better able to adapt to sober life successfully after leaving rehab.
At the end of inpatient treatment, patients often receive extended outpatient counseling to help them stay off of opioids in the long term. This therapy supports recovering addicts as they are faced with opioids, users, and dealers that may stimulate feelings of temptation at home. Although some patients may only need outpatient counseling on a temporary basis, others may choose to continue these sessions indefinitely in order to stay off opioids and help deal with any mental health problems that complicate their struggle to stay clean.
The intensely addictive effects of opioid drugs, both illicit and pharmaceutical, makes them a major problem for individuals prone to drug addiction. In many cases, patients struggle with addiction to these substances throughout life after experiencing opioid dependence for any period of time. Fortunately, inpatient treatment offers a dependable solution to opioid addiction that can pay off with sobriety and better quality of life in the long term.
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