Unfortunately, the past few years have seen an astonishing increase in the rise of people addicted to – and dying of – opioids. Opioids, or opiates, are the basis of heroin, methadone, and many prescription painkillers like morphine, Demerol, oxycodone, and codeine. People also abuse the drug tramadol, works on the opiate receptors, so basically it’s still addictive. These drugs, typically found in prescription painkillers and heroin, have many legitimate uses. Unfortunately, their chemical composition makes them ripe for substance use disorders. Thankfully, there is help for individuals who are addicted to opioids. Resources such as The National Rehab Hotline can connect you to professional counselors and treatment resources with a simple phone call.
What Is an Opioid?
Opioids are a class of drugs. They come in multiple varieties, including those that are naturally occurring and others that are synthetically produced. Regardless of how they are made, they are designed to interact with your brain and nervous system to produce certain calming, pleasant effects. They are also a widely prescribed pain medication that can be extremely beneficial for individuals who have injured themselves. They come in a variety of strengths and have been around for centuries.
It is important to realize that many types of opioids are perfectly legal and safe and that they can do quite a bit of good when used appropriately and under the guidance of a medical professional. Unfortunately, many people become addicted to them via legal use. Their addictions may start with legal drugs, such as being prescribed pain medications. After awhile, doctors stopped prescribing the medications, and even some doctors have gotten in trouble for overprescribing these medicines, leaving the patients with continued pain and withdrawal symptoms. Often they resort to the streets to get drugs or go to multiple doctors trying to get several prescriptions. In this process, they advance to harder, illegal, and more dangerous drugs.
Tragically, the opioid epidemic has completely overtaken America in the past few years. According to the federal government, 70,630 people died of overdoses in 2019, an increase of almost 32,000 from 2010. This spike has not continued completely unabated, as governments across the country have unveiled a variety of methods designed to slow the spike of overdose use.
Overdoses can occur due to a variety of opioid substances. These include:
• Synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is arguably the deadliest of the opioids currently available
• Psychostimulants that are ripe for abuse, such as methamphetamine
• Cocaine and heroin, both of which are illegal across the United States and in most of the world
• Prescription-based opioids that are used for the treatment of pain and other medical issues
• Benzodiazepines, which are used for anti-anxiety and anti-seizure purposes
Why Are Opioids So Addictive?
There are many reasons why opioids are so addictive. First, and perhaps most importantly, opioids make users feel good. They produce a high or euphoria that is common for many addictive substances, leaving someone to feel happy and relaxed. For users who take opioids for medical reasons, they can also remove pain, making the person feel better and more able to accomplish daily tasks. Unfortunately, this feeling can also become addictive.
Your body can become chemically dependent upon opioids, slowing down its production of endorphins, which are the body’s “feel-good” chemicals. As a result, you may start to require opioids to function, to feel good, and to avoid entering withdrawal. Unfortunately, largely as a result of this, users often develop a tolerance to opioids. Once you become tolerant, it takes more and more of a substance to produce the same high and to satisfy the same craving. This can have a variety of dangerous physical impacts, including leading to a deadly overdose.
Tolerance also leads to other problems. An individual may lose access to his or her legally prescribed opioid and feel compelled to continue abusing the substance. As a result, he or she may turn to illegal drugs, like heroin or cocaine, to get the high. Not only is this obviously dangerous, but it can deepen the cycle of addiction. Drugs like heroin and cocaine are often cut with other substances, like fentanyl, which can be extremely dangerous and deadly.
What Are the Signs of Opioid Addiction?
Every addictive drug is distinctive and displays itself differently. Opioid addiction is defined by many symptoms. Some of these include:
• A sudden change in social groups or social behavior, including hanging out with new friends or withdrawing from activities that had been previously enjoyed
• Loss of hygiene, including bathing, showering, personal grooming, or dental care
• Physical symptoms, including a lack of coordination, constipation, small pupils, or constant scratching
• Wild fluctuations in energy levels
• Appearing very energetic one moment and completely exhausted the next
• Difficulty concentrating
Perhaps the most noticeable of all signs of opioid addiction are behavioral symptoms. These include difficulty maintaining finances or getting to work, increased secrecy, potential legal trouble, and sudden and otherwise unexplained changes in personality.
What Caused the Opioid Crisis?
Opioid abuse has been around for as long as these drugs have been available for purchase. However, the recent cycle of abuse began in the 1990s when doctors were instructed to treat pain as one of the main symptoms of diseases. As a result of this alteration in treatment plans, pain-treatment drugs like opioids began to be prescribed more and more. Since these substances were so ripe for abuse, more and more people became addicted to them.
Drug companies began to produce an increasing number of opioid drugs, even while acknowledging that these drugs had real addictive properties. They also began to more aggressively promote these drugs to patients and to doctors. Indeed, there have been many multi-billion-dollar legal settlements surrounding the role of these prescription drug companies in the promotion of opioids. There have even been some criminal probes related to the role that some drug company executives have played in the ongoing opioid crisis.
As opioids became more and more prescribed and people were unable to get the high they needed from prescription drugs, they turned to illegal drugs like heroin and street fentanyl. This resulted in an explosion of the demand for illegal drugs and an increasing need for treatment providers.
The recent rise of available funding and programs designed to treat opioid abuse has not only made it easier to access substance use treatment, but it has also led to a shift in how we view addiction. Until as recently as the 1980s, addiction was thought to be a moral failing, something that happened only to weak people. Thankfully, that mindset has changed. Addiction is now largely viewed as a disease and a medical condition that is no different than any other disorder. This important shift in public perception has made it easier for people to admit that they need help and to seek treatment. It has also made it politically easier to support tax funding for these programs, something that is important for their long-term viability.
How Can Opioid Use Disorder Be Treated?
As addictive and dangerous as opioids can be, there are, thankfully, many options to treat opioid use disorder. One of the longest-used methods of treating opioid addiction involves counseling. This means working with a therapist, either in a one-on-one or group setting, and discussing individual issues that led to a person being addicted.
Counseling will likely explore many issues related to a person’s substance use disorder, including the reasons for his or her addiction, past trauma, thought processes, and more. There are many different styles of therapy for treating substance use disorders, including cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational therapy. In many cases, a therapist will go deeper and will encourage an individual to address a variety of facets of his or her life, including friends and family, in order to address the addiction. Family therapy is also common, particularly if family-related issues led to a person becoming addicted to a substance.
A newer form of opioid use disorder treatment is medication-assisted therapy. This approach is somewhat controversial in some corners of the recovery world, but ample evidence indicates that medication-assisted therapy can be an invaluable tool when it comes to recovery from opioid use disorder. These medications include drugs like buprenorphine and methadone. These drugs can be given to individuals under the strict supervision of a medical professional in order to ween them off of opioids. Medication-assisted therapy will also change the way that someone reacts to an opioid, causing the drug to not result in a high. These drugs can be abused on their own, which is why they must be used under the supervision of a trained professional. Furthermore, they work best when combined with psychological therapy.
However, it’s important to note that medication-assisted therapy will only work after a person has fully detoxified. This means that he or she is no longer using opioids and has purged any trace of the drugs from his or her system. Unfortunately, this process can be extremely painful, traumatizing, and potentially deadly if not done under the supervision of a trained professional. Symptoms of detox include sweating, tremors, diarrhea, enlarged pupils, pain, mental disorientation, and more.
Treatment can be provided in one of multiple settings. Outpatient treatment means that a person will visit a doctor’s office or treatment center, receive treatment, and go home at the end of the day. This option enables a patient to get the treatment that he or she needs while disrupting life as little as possible. In many cases, this type of treatment allows an individual to keep up with his or her duties at home and potentially still go to work.
There are also more intensive forms of outpatient therapy. These may involve a person visiting a treatment center for extended periods of time each day before returning home at the end of the night. This may last for a set time period, such as a month.
Unfortunately, for some people, returning home is not appropriate. Their addictions may be so severe that they are at a serious risk of relapse and potentially hurting themselves or others. These patients may stay at inpatient facilities, which are staffed 24/7 and provide more intensive care and treatment options than those that are available at outpatient facilities. These are residential facilities, so someone will live in that location for a period of time. The facilities are also likely to have expanded treatment options that also incorporate additional forms of therapy, such as art therapy, physical activities, and family counseling.
Thankfully, as you can see, there are many treatment options available for people who are suffering from opioid addiction. In fact, there are so many methods of treatment available that it can be overwhelming. That’s where opioid hotlines come in. These hotlines can serve as a one-stop-shop that makes it easier for people to find the information that they need and then to be referred to the treatment that they deserve.
One of the best opioid hotlines is The National Rehab Hotline at 866-210-1303. This hotline and website contain a wide array of information, including materials about opioids, recognizing the signs of addiction, and finding out where you can get help. Please remember that people who have been addicted to opioids can lead a good and happy life. With time and energy, you can recover.