Opiate addiction has never been as big a problem in the United States as it is right now. Over the last ten years or so, they have been prescribed excessively. But there are also illegal opiates available, and the number of people abusing them has increased substantially. It is so important to know and understand the dangers of both types of these drugs.
For someone who is addicted to opiates, treatment is the best way to get off them. But getting to that decision can be difficult for many reasons. Most people with addictions are afraid to stop using. They may be scared to go through withdrawal, and therefore, they put it off for as long as they can.
The reality is that opiates are very dangerous. While recovering can be uncomfortable, with the right support it is possible. It can also be a very rewarding experience. Learning about the risks associated with abusing opiates is the best way to get motivated to stop.
An opiate is a drug that has been directly derived from the opium poppy plant’s seedpod. There are both legal and illegal versions, and it is possible to get addicted to both of them.
Opiates are sometimes referred to as narcotic drugs. They act as depressants on the central nervous system. They are highly effective, which is why they are prescribed so often. But, they are also very addictive.
There are several different types of opiates that are driving the opioid epidemic currently. Their popularity has risen all across the country, and there are many people who use them. Because of their use, so many people are addicted to a drug they never meant to get addicted to.
Prescription opiates can be a very valuable resource for doctors who need to treat pain, as well as other conditions. They tend to work quickly, and they are very effective.
According to NIDA, when opiates first became available, they were highly overprescribed. Pharmaceutical companies ensured physicians that their patients would not get addicted to them. With that in mind, it was not long before doctors were prescribing them all the time. They would even give their patients large amounts of these drugs because they seemed to be improving their quality of life.
It was not long before it was discovered that they were very addictive. It took some time, but laws were passed that required pharmacies to label them that way. There are also laws in place that prevent doctors from issuing refills for these drugs automatically. The CDC has guidelines in place that all physicians are encouraged to follow.
People will frequently switch to illegal opiates when the legal ones are no longer available to them. Doctors are much less inclined to continue to prescribe these drugs long-term like they once did. The risk of addiction is too simply too high. As a result, they may prescribe them for a week or two, then the drug is discontinued.
In the past, patients would get past this hurdle by doctor shopping. They would visit multiple doctors for the purpose of obtaining several opiate prescriptions. But that practice is falling away because of the changes in prescribing laws.
In addition, the use of electronic prescribing services is prevalent across the United States. Every prescription a patient receives is entered into a database that keeps track of them. Many pharmacies have identified people with doctor shopping behaviors with this system. Their numbers have decreased considerably.
Because it is so difficult to get prescription opiates long-term, many people turn to illegal ones. They feel they have no other options. They also discover that these drugs are typically much cheaper than their prescriptions. That only makes it seem to make even more sense in their minds.
Because there are so many different types of opiates, there are also many different street names for them. These are what they are called when they are sold illegally, and even the prescription variety can be sold on the street.
Some typical opiate street names include:
Street names are often used as a safety precaution when selling drugs illegally. But regardless of what they are called, opiates can be very dangerous. This is especially true when they are purchased on the street. There is no guarantee of purity, and they can be mixed with all kinds of chemicals and other, harder drugs.
It is quite common to see people – even professionals – referring to opiates and opioids interchangeably. While they do work the same way, there are some differences between them.
Opiate drugs are directly derived from opium. But there are other types of drugs that work on the body’s opioid receptors that are not derived directly from opium. Instead, they are synthesized in a lab.
The term opioid refers to any of these drugs – natural or synthesized. But the term opiate only refers to those that have been made from opium. That means that they are all opioids, but they are not all opiates.
For the purposes of the information we are presenting here, we will only be covering opiates.
Our country is currently facing the biggest opioid crisis it has ever faced. There are so many people that are addicted to these drugs, and many of them feel hopeless. It is interesting to look at the statistics surrounding each type of opiate drug.
Opium is, in a sense, the “father” of the opioid epidemic. All opiates are derived from this one, and it has been around for a very long time.
The Global Information Network About Drugs offers the following facts and statistics:
Because opium is used to make other drugs, the use of it alone is rare in the United States. But there are those who still use it, abuse it, and get addicted to it.
Morphine is often the go-to choice for pain relief in hospital settings. It is frequently given to patients after surgical procedures. This drug is offered for use at home less often, but it does happen. In 2016, there were 3,989,646 prescriptions written for it alone.
SAMHSA tells us that:
The use of heroin is a growing trend in the United States. It is the illegal opiate that most people turn to when they can no longer get prescription painkillers.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
Codeine is an opiate drug that is often taken in the form of cough medicine. The drug is mixed with other ingredients, such as Mountain Dew or Sprite. When it is in this formulation, it is typically referred to by slang terms like Purple Drank or Lean. The drink has been raved about by many celebrities and there are a few top recording artists have written songs about it. It’s popularity spread quickly.
The latest statistics on codeine tell us that:
Even though opiate drugs are very effective, they are still known to have potential side effects. As with any other drug, most people will experience side effects when they start using them. Some of the effects may go away, and others may linger, or even possibly get worse. The effects tend to be both physical and psychological in nature.
The longer the drug is taken, the higher the risks are. For those who take prescription opiates correctly, their side effects should be minimal.
It is not uncommon to hear people talking about substance abuse and addiction as if they were the same. They are actually quite different. It is important to understand these differences in order to understand the risks associated with each one.
Someone who is abusing opiates is taking them in a way that is inconsistent with how they were prescribed. Or, they may be taking them without a prescription at all.
A lot of people start out abusing substances without realizing they are. It often begins by taking doses too closely together, or increasing the dosage just a little. Sometimes people will attempt to boost the effects of opiates in a few different ways. They might mix the drug with alcohol or use multiple drugs at one time. Or, they may inject the drug or smoke it.
All of these are missing a critical element of addiction – the urgent desire to use. When someone is abusing a drug, while it is still dangerous, it does not mean that they are addicted. They do not feel compelled to use, and they can stop at any time; generally without even going through withdrawal. The same is not true for someone who suffers from an addiction.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine offers an excellent definition of addiction. It states that:
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.
When someone is addicted, they obsess about the drug all the time. They use frequently, and when they are not using, they are thinking about it. Their addiction completely takes over their lives, and they are powerless to stop it on their own.
It is so important to understand how abuse develops into an addiction over time. It is common for people to believe that addicts are those who just do not have good morals. People also think that those who are addicted to drugs just lack willpower not to use them. Neither of these is true.
A drug addiction is a complex disease, according to NIDA. It causes significant changes in the brain that make quitting very difficult. Stopping the use of drugs takes more than willpower and good intentions. The same is true for opiates.
When people use opiates, they experience a few different sensations. The first is pain relief, which is often enough to encourage them to keep taking them. The second is euphoria. That sensation occurs because of the surge of dopamine that is taking place in the brain.
Dopamine is a chemical that the brain makes on its own when people are happy. It is the chemical that causes people to experience feeling secure and safe as well. Opiates cause the increase of dopamine in the brain. Once an addiction forms, those higher levels of this chemical become the person’s new normal. They get to the point where they do not feel like themselves if they are not using.
Every instance of addiction begins with abuse. Over time, and with continued use, they become addicted.
Both opiate addicts and their loved ones should know how to spot the signs of an addiction. It can be extremely hard for people to tell when they are addicted to one of these drugs. Most tend to believe that they have everything under control. They believe that they are strong enough to withstand an addiction, or that it could never happen to them. Of course, they would be wrong.
Families are frequently concerned that someone they love might be addicted to opiates. They need to know what signs they should be looking for as well. They are both physical and behavioral in nature.
The physical signs of an opiate addiction include:
The behavioral signs of opiate addiction are:
As we mentioned earlier, the longer someone takes an opiate drug, the more serious the impact on them will be. Some people only use them short-term, whereas there are others who will use them long-term. It is important to understand what to expect during each timeframe and what the effects will be.
We have mentioned many of the short-term effects already. They include:
Even with short-term use, it is possible for people to fall unconscious at times. There are even those who have gone into a coma, or suffered from significant heart or kidney problems. It really all depends on the type of drug that was used and how much the person used at a time.
As we mentioned earlier, the continued use of opiates can result in physical dependence and addiction. In addition, using them long-term can also result in the following:
Quite often, when people realize that they have become addicted to opiates, they panic. They want to quit using them right away because they did not intend to get addicted to anything. Others may have the desire to stop using them, but not know anything about how to begin the process of recovery.
There are many different ways that people try to get off opiate drugs. Whether they are using heroin or morphine, the following is an overview of possibilities. But please keep in mind that there is only one option that we approve of and endorse.
It is very common for people who want to quit using opiates to attempt to go cold turkey. They do it for a number of different reasons. Some will tell themselves that they will just give it a try. If it does not work, they will try an alternate method. Others may just want to get through withdrawal as quickly as possible so they can move on with their lives. There are even those who view it as more heroic than getting professional help.
Those who have quit opiates cold turkey in the past understand how difficult it is. In an article on the Tonic website, one user discusses her experience with quitting them abruptly. She says:
“You want to know what it feels like? It feels like the worst flu you ever had, the sickest you’ve ever been, times suicidal thoughts and complete and total confidence that you are never, ever, ever going to feel better. It feels like the day your wife left and your kitten died and there were no more rainbows anywhere and never will be again.”
Opiates may just be the worst drugs to withdraw from. Many times, those who quit cold turkey end up going back to using again. This is called a relapse, and it carries risks of its own. We will talk more about them in just a moment. This method of quitting is not recommended.
In some cases, tapering off opiates is encouraged, but only when it is done in a medical setting. Far too often, people attempt to wean themselves off these drugs, which is extremely risky.
Stopping the use of opiates too quickly can result in severe withdrawal symptoms. In their eagerness to get off these drugs, people will typically cut down how much they take too fast. Some will even make the goal of tapering off completely within a week’s time.
This method is very dangerous; yet it is often promoted as harm reduction. It is not recommended, and it carries a lot of risks.
The alternative medicine field has come forward saying that there are natural ways to detox from drugs. They cite using certain vitamins and minerals, supplements, detox drinks and kits and a host of other methods. Their argument sounds like a valid one. The problem is, none of these methods have been proven to be effective; at least not on their own.
In reality, people who use natural detox methods are taking some very big risks. They may be able to relieve some of their symptoms, but there are those that may still be quite severe.
As of this date, there are no natural drug detox methods that have been FDA approved. Without testing to prove that they are effective, it is dangerous to attempt to use them. This method is not recommended.
It is possible to find many outpatient drug detox programs. That is actually an excellent selling point for their services. They state that people can come to their facilities and detox while they live at home. There are a lot of problems with this method.
For one, many people need to be removed from their home environments when they quit using drugs. Also, there are medical complications associated with opiate detox that need to be watched for.
An outpatient detox is not the best option on this list. It is not recommended because it is too risky.
Professional opiate addiction treatment offers people the best chance of recovering from their addictions successfully. This process typically begins with drug detoxification. This is done in an inpatient setting, and the timeframe is tailored to the individual’s needs.
While the person is in drug detox, they will be monitored carefully for any complications. In the event of a problem, they can receive treatment right away. But, please remember that this type of detoxification drastically reduces the risk of complications.
The goal of treatment is to treat both the physical and the psychological components of the addiction. When this is not done correctly, the risk of relapsing increases. But the best programs can offer the type of help that gives people the tools they need to succeed long-term.
Attempting to stop the use of opiates without support is very difficult. In fact, most people find it to be impossible. That is why it is so important to seek out professional help.
Drug treatment offers an excellent level of support that can assist people with getting and staying clean. They have the opportunity to learn from professionals in the industry who understand what it takes. They can also get a lot of help from others who are in recovery.
As we mentioned previously, there are two main parts of drug treatment for opiate addiction. People need to go through both detox and rehab. Otherwise, they are much more likely to relapse.
Detoxing is the process of ridding the body of toxins that are present because of the drug use. It helps the body adjust to no longer having the substance that caused the addiction. It can control, or even eliminate withdrawal symptoms altogether, and cut down on the risk of complications. Opiates are on the list of drugs that require detox.
Most people who go through drug detox are very happy they took that step. They feel better faster than those who quit cold turkey, and they are much more likely to remain in recovery.
A doctor should review their case and put together a treatment plan that is right for them. It may involve a combination of the following.
Medical detox is often the very first recommendation for those who are addicted to opiates. That is because it allows them to take medications that can help with their withdrawal symptoms. This may include those that are chosen to help with specific symptoms. But more often than not, it involves medication assisted treatment.
Medication assisted treatment, or MAT refers to types of drugs that have been approved to treat withdrawal. There are several medications that patients may be placed on, and they include:
A new drug called Vivitrol is also being given to people with opiate addictions. Many have had a lot of success with it, and it has proven to be quite effective when combined with counseling. It is given by injection only once every 30 days. It is also non-addictive, which is not true of the medications on the above list.
Holistic detox is a very important part of the recovery process for opiate addicts. For them, getting their bodies working correctly again is of utmost importance. Many people do not eat diets that offer them all of the vitamins and minerals they need. This can put a great deal of stress on their livers and kidneys, which slows down the detoxification process.
By working with a nutritionist, dietary changes can be made. In addition, regular physical exercise is also a part of the treatment plan in most cases. The body can detox itself through the pores of the skin, and activity speeds up that process.
Holistic detox might not be the only way to rid the body of toxins, but it works well with medical detox. People feel healthier overall, and they are well on their way to a better way of life.
After detoxing, individuals who are addicted to opiates need to go through drug rehab. It is essential for them to also address the mental part of their addiction as well.
It is very easy to become psychologically addicted to opiates. So many people are, and they do not believe they can or should stop using them. In addition to trying to help their pain, they may also be using these drugs for other reasons as well.
Many people use opiates because they believe they help them deal with stress. Or, they may use them to boost their moods, or for a number of different reasons. This is often the reason behind the addiction, and it has to be treated. If it is not, the person is very likely to return to using.
As many as half of the people who have an opiate addiction are also suffering from a co-occurring disorder. This refers to a list of mental health issues that are typically to blame for many addictions.
The euphoria that opiates can cause is very pleasurable. For those who rarely feel pleasure, it can offer them a welcome escape. They use these drugs as a coping mechanism because they do not know what else to do.
There are several different types of co-occurring disorders that can lead to addictions. They include:
The best way to treat a co-occurring disorder is through dual diagnosis treatment. This method allows the conditions to be treated at the same time. The addict can make the connection between the two, and staff members can more easily communicate.
An opiate relapse is really a very serious situation, yet it is also a very common one. Remember, this is a relapsing disease. That means it happens all the time. According to NIDA, as many as 40%-60% of people with addictions will relapse after treatment.
For many people who relapse, the solution is to get back into treatment. The type of treatment that is needed will depend on individual circumstances. For example, someone who used opiates one time probably only needs to start attending outpatient appointments again. They may need to confide in their therapist. For someone who relapses and then goes on a binge, they may need a higher level of care to stop again.
But the truth is, not everyone who relapses will survive it. A relapse is the top cause for a drug overdose, and they can sometimes become fatal.
When someone has overdosed on opiates, they tend to display certain signs. It is especially important for family members and friends to understand what the signs of an overdose are. They include:
Once someone has overdosed, it may not be possible to wake them up. It is vital to call 911 right away. The paramedics can administer a medication called Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of the overdose right away. They will need to be taken to the hospital for further treatment.
As we mentioned earlier, recovering from an opiate addiction is challenging. But that does not mean that it is not possible. It is, with professional support. That is best achieved by going through a quality drug treatment program that has proven to be successful in the past.
At Ashwood Recovery, we provide our clients with referrals to one of the best detox programs in the area. We recognize that is a very important part of the recovery process. Afterwards, we offer them treatment through our IOP program, which has also proven to be very effective.
Do you have questions about opiate addiction or recovery? Please contact us right away.