Opioid addiction or dependency presents one of the most daunting challenges to overcome, bar none. While in the grip of the addiction, it may seem as if there is an invisible rope pulling you relentlessly toward the next dose and completely overriding your will—even when you want to break free from the opioids. But the reality is that overcoming an entrenched addiction requires the specialized interventions of an opioid addiction treatment program.
Just ask someone who attempted to stop the drug on his or her own volition. It quickly becomes evident that professional help is needed to be able to accomplish this goal. Even the best of intentions are no match for the powerful withdrawal symptoms that quickly make waste of your efforts to stop the drug on your own. A few hours of suffering through the withdrawals leads most that attempt a detox right back to the drug, just to stop the painful symptoms.
Fortunately, there is hope. A quality detox and rehabilitation program can completely change the downward trajectory, providing the expert therapies that help the newly sober individual carve out new ways of thinking, behaving, and coping. By adopting new positive thought patterns, improving interpersonal skills, and establishing sources of support and guidance, an opioid addiction can become a thing of the past, no longer defining the present.
Decoupling the brain’s dependence on the drug takes time, requiring much patience and lots of commitment. But with a positive attitude and an effective opioid addiction treatment program to partner with you, a life filled with hope and a promising future is definitely possible.
About Prescription Opioids
Opiates are drugs that are derived from the opium poppy. These medications or drugs may have a natural composition (such as opium, morphine, and codeine), or a synthetic composition (prescription opioids, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl, and meperidine) and heroin). Prescription analgesics are intended to help patients recovering from surgeries or injuries, as these products are extremely efficacious at relieving pain.
Admittedly, doctors had no formal prescribing guidelines during the early years after oxycodone came on the market, so they would simply guess at dosing, not yet aware that these drugs were highly addictive. Dr. Jay Lee, an author of a study from the University of Michigan, states, “Before this study, we were just guessing about how much opioids our patients needed to adequately relieve pain after surgery. Because of this, many patients were prescribed too much opioid medication.”
Prescription opioids are not safe to take long-term. With continued use of the analgesic the body will begin to increase tolerance to its effects, as it requires more of the drug to achieve the desired effect. As the frequency of dosing increases, physical dependence and addiction can result. Addiction happens when the individual comes to believe they still need the drug lest they suffer from pain, even if they would likely not need that level of pain management by this point. But the reflex to reach for the drug is now ingrained in the brain’s reward pathways.
Because of the slight euphoric effect, coupled with the substance’s highly addictive qualities, many of these drugs are abused recreationally. However, in very many cases, the individual became addicted to the medication through no fault of their own.
The most commonly abused prescription drugs include:
Although these are medications that require a prescription, illicit copies of the drugs proliferate online and on the street, some containing the dangerous fentanyl. Young adults are the age group with the highest rates of prescription opioid abuse, as well as the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths.
What Are the Signs of an Opioid Addiction?
The brain has opioid receptors built into its reward center. When an opioid is taken or injected, this triggers the release of endorphins, known as the brain’s feel-good chemicals. This causes a sense of euphoria, pain relief, and deep relaxation. The brain sends a signal to its reward system that this effect feels good and should be repeated.
As repeated use of the drug continues, the brain begins reducing the production of dopamine, which is a sign that tolerance is increasing. This often motivates someone to take higher doses than what was prescribed by the doctor, or to dose at more frequent intervals. Because the drug mimics natural brain chemicals, such as dopamine, the brain becomes dependent on the regular dosing of the drug to do its job. When the individual attempts to stop using the opioid, they will experience withdrawal symptoms within hours.
Signs and symptoms of an opioid dependency or addiction include:
- Sleep disorders, such as insomnia
- Decreased appetite and weight loss
- Chronic constipation
- Drowsiness and lack of energy. The individual may seem to be on the verge of falling asleep, known as “nodding off”
- Tiny pupils. Constricted pupils, or pin-dot pupils, is caused by the constriction of blood vessels
- Reduced respiration
- High blood pressure
- Hyper-arousal, hyper-vigilance
- Increased heart rate
- Mood swings
- Withdrawal symptoms when drug is withheld
- Repeated refills of prescription
- Increased tolerance, leading to higher or more frequent dosing
- Stealing opioids from friends or family members’ medicine cabinets
- Stealing money to buy opiates
- Doctor shopping
- Hanging out with a different group of friends
- Stops participating in activities or events once enjoyed.
- Decline in academic or work performance
- Loss of motivation
- Increased demand for privacy and isolating behaviors, sneaky behavior
Why Opioid Addicts Turn to Heroin?
Prescription opioids are extremely addicting, even in as little as two weeks of prescribed use a patient can become addicted. When the prescription runs out, the individual will begin to feel sick, therefore requests a refill. When the doctor eventually refuses anymore refills of the prescription, the now addicted patient becomes desperate. They may search for the opioids online or purchase the pills on the street. They may begin doctor shopping, hoping to obtain a new prescription. But when all avenues eventually dry up, the individual may shift from prescription opioid to heroin use.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 80% of heroin users report a history of misusing prescription opioids. Heroin is also an opioid, created from morphine, which is derived from the opium poppy plant. Prescription opioids have a similar effect to heroin, so gravitating to heroin when the synthetic opioids are no longer available or affordable is a natural step for the addict to take. Heroin offers these individuals a more potent high at a fraction of the cost.
Risk of Opioid Overdose
This last decade has witnessed a tragic rise in overdose deaths related to opiates and prescription opioids, with fentanyl currently associated with the most recent spike in deaths. In 2018 a total of 67,367 American lives were lost due to opioid overdose, including heroin, fentanyl and prescription analgesics, according to statistics provided by the CDC.
A significant number of opioid or heroin overdose deaths has been among individuals who have completed an addiction recovery program and who have been sober for a lengthy period of time. When this cohort then is overcome with cravings or triggered by some event and relapses, they may go back to the levels of drug consumption they last had prior to getting clean. Their central nervous system cannot manage this level of opioid ingestion, as it has adjusted to the absence of opioids for a length of time, and the person expires.
Starting Recovery with Medical Detox
When deciding to obtain professional opioid addiction treatment, the first step in recovery is the detox and withdrawal phase of treatment. This 5-7 day process allows the body to purge the substance and the brain and central nervous system to then stabilize. Detox should always be monitored by medically trained detox specialists who will oversee the process and provide medical relief for symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Intestinal distress, including nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Shakiness or chills
- Excessive yawning
- Fatigue and physical weakness
- Mental confusion
- Watery eyes
- Nasal congestion
- Loss of appetite or excessive hunger
- Feelings of detachment
About Medically-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
A growing body of evidence is supporting the importance of medically assisted treatment (MAT) for relapse prevention and sustained recovery from opioid use. The drugs used in opioid treatment include:
- Buprenorphine or Suboxone. These are partial agonists that partially attach to opioid receptors
- Methadone. Methadone is a full agonist that fully attaches to opioid receptors.
- Naltrexone. Naltrexone is an antagonist that blocks opioid receptors
The drugs work by primarily training the opioid addict to no longer desire the drug by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain. If they no longer experience the high associated with the drug they will gradually lose the cravings for it. After a few months to a year the client enters a tapering schedule to slowly decrease the brain’s dependency on the drug. However, methadone may be prescribed for long-term maintenance.
Opioid Addiction Treatment
Following the detoxification of the opioid from the bloodstream, an extended period of engagement in therapeutic activities—individual talk therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and adjunct therapies—will address the factors that contributed to the drug dependency. Therapists will teach new coping skills, life skills, communication skills, and show clients how to modify their behaviors and thoughts from being self-destructive to being constructive and positive.
Treatment interventions include:
- Individual psychotherapy sessions. During these one-on-one sessions the therapist will help the client identify underlying factors that might be driving the dependence on opioid drugs, such as using it to self-medicate a mood disorder, chronic pain, or a difficult emotional event or trauma.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT shows clients how their disordered negative thoughts led to the maladaptive use of the opioids, and then helps them replace those distorted thought and behavior patterns with healthy ones.
- Group counseling sessions. Group therapy provides the social support so essential in addiction treatment. Members of the group, under the facilitation of a therapist, share their own experiences, offer their suggestions, and bond together with the common goal of overcoming the addiction.
- Complimentary therapies. There are several adjunctive therapies or activities that enhance the overall clinical results. These include family-centered therapy or couples therapy, learning recovery skills such as conflict resolution, problem solving, anger management, mindfulness training, yoga, and art therapy. These activities can help improve recovery success rates.
The period following treatment is the most important part of recovery. Early recovery is typically a tenuous period, when recovery is new and healthy habits are not yet established. Returning home after a lengthy rehab stint may cause a great deal of stress and even could trigger a relapse, which is why the aftercare component is so important to a sustained recovery. In some cases, transitioning first to sober living provides a protective factor before returning to the home environment.
Aftercare may include the following:
- Sober living housing
- Weekly outpatient therapy sessions, individual, group, or both
- Participation at recovery community meetings, such as Narcotics Anonymous or a similar venue
- Establishing a regular daily schedule and sleep routine
- Establishing healthy dietary habits and a regular exercise schedule
- Finding sober activities to enjoy with others in recovery and building new sober friendships
Opioid addiction is something that can be overcome with the right treatment program, support system, and aftercare efforts.
Next Level Recovery Opioid Addiction Treatment in Utah
Next Level Recovery is a leading addiction recovery program located in Midvale, Utah, outside of Salt Lake City. At Next Level Recovery, a variety of treatment options exist to help you or a loved one begin the journey toward a healthy and productive life. Offering residential and outpatient programming provides a seamless continuum of care for individuals completing residential rehab and transitioning to post-rehab outpatient care. Sober living housing provides an added aftercare element that can offer a multitude of benefits for individuals in early recovery. Call Next Level Recovery today at (877) 890-0248.