What is Opiate Addiction?

Prolonged use of opiates can lead to nerve damage within the brain that causes cells to stop producing endogenous opiates (natural painkillers known as endorphins).  This can lead to an inability for the body to stop pain because there are no endorphins to mask the pain initially.  The degeneration of the nerve cells that reduce pain can lead to a physical dependence on opiates as an external supply source.  This leads to what is known as opiate addiction.

Opiate Withdrawal

Long term opiate abuse that leads to physical dependence is further barred by what is known as opiate withdrawal.  The physical illness that results when an individual stops using opiates can be difficult and potentially deadly to cope with for the patient, especially when not treated by a proper medical staff.  Opiate withdrawal syndrome includes many symptoms that can range widely from person to person.

Some of the withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate detox will set in mere hours after the last dose while others may take a few days to fully set in.  These symptoms are likely with abrupt quitting of opiate use but they can also be a problem for those who taper the drugs off too quickly.

Because opiates are often used for medical reasons, many people do find themselves dependent on these drugs despite their desire to stay clean.  Taken safely, even for a short period of time, opiates even as prescribed can lead to physical dependence that requires detox in order to safely get the individual off the drug.  Although opiates are prized for their grand ability to relieve pain, tolerance tends to build rather quickly and this can lead to a range of withdrawal symptoms when the drugs are no longer used.

Common Opiate withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Cravings to use the drugs
  • Nausea
  • Cramping in the stomach
  • Sweating
  • Chills or goose bumps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritation or agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Shakes or trembling
  • Insomnia
  • Dilated pupils
  • Bone pain

Most of the time, opiate withdrawal symptoms are non-life threatening but in rare cases, based on the severity of the opiate addiction and the length of time that the individual has been addicted, there is a risk of some dangerous opiate withdrawal symptoms occurring.

Reducing Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Many treatment centers provide replacement therapy for those suffering from opiate withdrawal.  The methods of replacement therapy will differ slightly from one medication to the next but the general ideal is simple:  Provide the patient with a medication that will cause their body to think that it is receiving opiates which will lead to fewer withdrawal symptoms and can help the detox process to run more smoothly.

Medications used in Replacement Therapy:

  • Methadone – widely used for the replacement of heroin or other opiates to help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate detox.  Methadone is also a highly addictive drug and the use of such as a medication replacement should be monitored by a doctor
  • Suboxone – a relatively new method of medical replacement therapy that is highly effective at helping patients overcome opiate addiction. Suboxone will actually make the addict feel sick if they do use opiates while they are being treated with this medication.
  • Naltroxone – a common medication that is usually prescribed with another medication to slow the symptoms of opiate withdrawal.  Naltroxone is actually part of the active ingredients in Suboxone.

Opiate Detox

The process by which the body has to physically overcome all signs of addiction and physical dependence on opiates in preparation for long term counseling and therapy is known as opiate detox.  Detox is the first step of any treatment program and typically consists of medical intervention, rest and relaxation paired with time to help the patient heal.  People can sometimes detox from opiates at home with little or no problem but in some severe cases there will be medical intervention necessary in order to keep the individual safe.

During opiate detox, the patient will feel many withdrawal symptoms.  Some can be treated with rest while others may require medical intervention for the safety and comfort of the patient.  The most difficult to deal with symptoms of withdrawal that are associated with opiate detox include:

  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations or confusion
  • Delirium
  • Sweating profusely
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

Many of the above symptoms are easily treated with mild medications that can make it easier for the patient to make their way through treatment.  Opiate detox is just the first step of treatment and must be followed by long term counseling and therapy to realign the thinking patterns within the brain to stay away from opiates such as heroin, Oxycontin, Roxicontin and other opiates in the future.

Differences between Opiate Dependence and Opiate Addiction

Opiates are powerful painkillers that can lead to euphoric states followed by deep sedation.  The terms opiate addiction and opiate dependence are often used interchangeably but there are some differences between the two.  Here’s how you can tell the different between opiate dependence and opiate addiction:

  • Opiate dependence – a state of adaptation to a drug that is manifested by specific withdrawal symptoms that result when the drug is not used. Rapid reduction, complete elimination or even reduced use of opiates when dependence is a factor will lead to withdrawal.
  • Opiate Addiction – addiction is a chronic, neurological disease that results from the use of opiates and leads to psychological, environmental, and physical factors that are characterized by an impaired control over the drug, impaired behavior revolving around the use of the drug or a craving for the drug despite known consequences of drug use.

Initially, opiate dependence is what comes first and as this dependence grows and a physical need for the drug is developed, withdrawal symptoms persist causing the patient to use more and more of the drug.  Over time, opiate addiction is the resulting factor.

Opiate Addiction Symptoms

Many of the signs and symptoms of opiate addiction can be difficult to spot because you can’t see some of the obvious signs right away.  Often time, the user will mask the signs of their addiction in a way that will prevent others from gaining insight too.

The common signs of opiate addiction that you should pay attention to include:

  • Track marks or needle marks – these come from shooting heroin or other opiates intravenously
  • Lethargic or heavy limbs –heroin and other opiates can make the limbs seem heavy and long
  • Wearing long sleeves – many users will wear pants or long sleeves to cover up their needle marks
  • Hanging out with different groups – many opiate users will choose other groups to hang around that also do drugs rather than spend time with their previous friends who did not use opiates
  • Borrowing money without explanation – many users will borrow excessive amounts of money without any explanation why
  • Lack of appearances – many opiate users will lack on their appearance and not take care of themselves
  • Excessive sleeping – opiates will often cause drowsiness that can lead to excessive sleeping
  • Weight gain – because opiates lead to fatigue many people who become addicted will gain weight
  • Weight loss – because of the excessive sleep and lack of self-help, many opiate addiction will lose weight

Treatment for Opiate Addiction

Many methods of treatment exist to help those suffering from opiate addiction.  The most common methods of treatment include detox, medication replacement therapy, counseling and therapy, as well as support groups.  Opiate addiction often requires residential care or inpatient therapy but in less severe cases, outpatient therapy and support groups can provide a beneficial means of treatment for the addiction.

Each of the types of treatment for opiate addiction are outlined in greater detail below:

  • Residential Treatment – this type of opiate addiction treatment takes place in a hospital like setting where the patient will live for a period of about 30 days or more depending on the severity of their addiction and various other factors.  Residential treatment is most suitable for those who have severe opiate addictions and who cannot complete treatment on their own without constant medical and counseling supervision.
  • Inpatient Treatment – just like residential treatment, inpatient treatment facilities have a hospital or home like setting that is heavily monitored to ensure the successful recovery of the patient in a safe environment.  Inpatient treatment for opiate addiction is ideal for the recovering addict who requires medical intervention and care to ensure their safety and to keep them from relapsing.
  • Outpatient Treatment – this type of treatment for opiate addiction involves counseling and therapy that is provided on daily, weekly or monthly basis and can help the recovering addict to stay on track with their recovery goals while they continue to work on their treatment and recovery outside of the facility as well.
  • Support Groups – many support groups can be found within the various levels of treatment for opiate addiction as well as within the community.  Some of the more common support groups that have been found to help those who suffer from opiate addiction include Narcotics Anonymous and Opiates Anonymous.  While you may find it difficult to find an Opiates Anonymous group in your area, there are typically hundreds of Narcotics Anonymous groups in each state offering support to those who are ready to quit.

Help for a Loved One Addicted to Opiates

What can you do to help if you know that someone you love is addicted to heroin, Oxycodone, or another opiate?  There are some steps that you can take to limit their drug use, place their addiction on hold or forcefully get them to accept treatment for their addiction.  You can’t truly force anyone into treatment but there are ways of helping them to make that decision.

Here are some tips for getting someone you love into opiate addiction treatment:

  • Provide support and loving care.  Support does not mean that you pay their bills or let them borrow money everyday.  Support means that you help them to understand that they have a problem, that you love them and that you want for them to get help.  Support means that you will help them pay for treatment if necessary and that you will be with them every step of the way.
  • Provide meaningful answers.  You won’t have all of the answers but when you decide to address an addiction with a loved one, do your best to have the answers that you need.  If you have additional questions, you may want to have an interventionist help you with the discussion and the manner in which you should start the discussion.
  • Intervention is sometimes necessary.  In some cases, you will have to seek the help of an interventionist in order to get the best help for your loved one without risking any further chances with their addiction.  Interventionists can help you to come up with an alternative plan for your loved one, can help to enforce the plan and can provide the answers to many of the questions that everyone will have about treatment, recovery and what happens next!

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. MW has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. 

Reference:  www.addictions.com