Opiates are a class of drugs that include heroin and prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin. Widely abused and highly addictive, opiates can produce a marked sense of euphoria and wellbeing. The brain immediately learns to associate these feelings of pleasure with the drug, and cravings can begin to set in after the initial use.
Opiate Addiction and Dependence
An opiate addiction has developed when you are unable to stop using heroin or a prescription painkiller despite the negative consequences it causes. Addiction is not the same thing as dependence, although addiction and dependence typically occur together.
Opiates produce a high level of tolerance very quickly, which means that the brain changes its way of functioning to compensate for the presence of the drug. With chronic abuse, tolerance continues to build, and the brain may soon require opiates in order to function “normally.” When opiates are subsequently withheld, withdrawal symptoms set in as the brain’s way of telling you it has developed a physical dependence on the drug.
Signs and Symptoms of Opiate Addiction
According to the National Institutes of Health, some of the signs and symptoms of opiate addiction include:
- Continuing to use opiates despite negative consequences to your health, relationships and finances as well as legal problems associated with the abuse.
- Neglecting duties at home, work or school.
- Increasingly neglecting personal hygiene.
- Needle marks on the arms, legs, hands or feet.
- Stealing or borrowing money to buy drugs.
- Engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence.
- Finding that you’re unable to stop using the drug even though you want to or have tried to.
Treatment for Opiate Addiction and Withdrawal
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, willpower alone is very rarely enough to conquer an addiction. Additionally, the withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate detox can be excruciating, and the vast majority of those who try to detox without professional intervention will quickly turn back to drugs to make the pain stop.
Medical detox will be the first step in treatment if you have developed a physical dependence on opiates. During medical detox, various medications are administered as needed to alleviate the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, which include hot and cold sweats, abdominal cramping and diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, intense cravings and muscle aches. These symptoms may be severe, but they aren’t life-threatening.
In many cases, medications like methadone and Suboxone, which stave off withdrawal symptoms and cravings without producing the euphoric effects of opiates, will be used to help wean addicted individuals off of the drug of abuse. Managing an opiate addiction in this way enables you to work on restoring your life and addressing the various underlying issues without distraction.
Once the physical dependence has been broken or your addiction is under control with the help of medications, various treatment therapies will be used to address the complex issues underlying the opiate abuse. Common therapies used to treat opiate addiction include cognitive behavioral therapy, which will help you identify and replace harmful thoughts, attitudes and behaviors, and motivational interviewing, which will help you identify your own intrinsic motivation for wanting to recover from chronic opiate abuse or addiction.
There Is Hope
Beating an addiction to opiates may seem like an insurmountable task, but treatment is designed to make withdrawal and treatment as pain-free as possible. A high-quality treatment center will offer a holistic approach to treatment that includes both traditional and alternative therapeutic approaches that address issues of the mind, body and spirit for overall wellness and successful healing from an addiction. In most cases, taking the first step toward treatment is the hardest part of recovery.