Opioids is the term used for prescription medications and illegal drugs that are derived from or act like opium, which comes from the poppy plant. In fact, prescription opioids like fentanyl, codeine and morphine are often recommended by doctors to treat patients experiencing intense pain due to an injury or a surgical procedure. However, opioids have a dark side too. When used as prescribed, opioids are quite safe and effective, but when misused, they can lead to dependence, overdose and addiction.
How opioids work?
Useful in relieving pain, opioids work by targeting specific opioid receptors in the body, called the “mu,” “delta” and “kappa” receptors located in the brain stem, limbic system and the spinal cord. The spinal cord is where they stop pain signals from reaching the brain, thereby, providing pain relief. The brainstem is where opioids slow down breathing and reduce painful coughing. The limbic system is where opioids can produce a pleasurable effect and help people relax. It is this pleasurable feeling that leads many people to the road of opioid abuse.
Those who take opioids without a prescription or use illegal substances like heroin run a high risk of opioid abuse or addiction because of the effects that opioids have on the reward center of the brain. Opioids flood the brain with a chemical called dopamine, giving people the euphoria they are seeking. Since the brain is hardwired to repeat pleasurable behaviors, prolonged use of opioids can lead to addiction.
Some of the symptoms of opioid abuse include:
- Decreased sense of pain
- Decreased respiration
- Stomach upset, including nausea, vomiting and constipation
In 2016, approximately 11.8 million Americans (aged 12 or above), including 891,000 adolescents (aged 12 to 17) misused opioids in the past year. The numbers continue to increase year after year, shedding light on the fact that opioids are abused more instead of being used for the right reasons, thereby, claiming more lives than ever.
The effects of opioids wear off with time as the body builds tolerance toward the drug. In order to get the previous desired effect of the drug, users tend to crave for an increased quantity of the drug. But eventually, this stops working as the brain stops producing dopamine on its own and becomes dependent on the drug to do so. When an individual is unable to feel pleasure without the use of drugs and gets into compulsively use of drugs, it means that he/she has developed an addiction. The ability of opioids to generate euphoria and produce a sense of well-being also leads to their abuse and addiction. Those trying to experience enhanced euphoric effects may also start abusing opioids by taking them in forms and quantities other than those prescribed. An opioid overdose requires immediate medical attention.
Following are some signs and symptoms of opioid addiction:
- Doctor shopping — obtaining multiple prescriptions from different doctors to obtain more opioids
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not taking opioids
- An increased reliance on an opioid in order to get through everyday life
- Switching from one opioid to another, such as going from prescription medication to heroin
- Aggressive behavior
- Episodes of psychosis
- Abuse of other opioids
- Permanent mental impairments
- Compulsively seeking drug (i.e. addiction), often at the cost of everything else
Opioid abuse or addiction has the potential to consume the entire life of the user. If left untreated, opioid addiction can cause great harm, hence, it is crucial to seek opioid addiction treatment as soon as the symptoms are visible.
Treatment programs for opioid addiction
Recovering from opiate addiction is a long process and a person must be committed to getting better. The first step is to look for reliable opiate rehab or opiate detox centers, where one can recover with the help of opioid treatment programs.
A comprehensive treatment for opioid addiction consists of supervised detox followed by intense behavioral therapies. Considered the first crucial step in addiction treatment, detox helps in getting rid of the toxic substances and managing the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Following are some of the opioid withdrawal symptoms:
- Muscle aches
- Lacrimation (eyes tearing up)
- Runny nose
- Excessive sweating
- Inability to sleep
- Abdominal cramping
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils and possibly blurry vision
- Rapid heartbeat
- High blood pressure
Due to the discomforting and often life-threatening withdrawal symptoms that might arise during a detox, a medical professional who can administer appropriate medicines to control the painful withdrawal symptoms should supervise the detoxification treatment. Texas offers opioid detox treatment on both an inpatient and outpatient basis.
Once one finishes the detox program, the next stage of treatment is therapy. This is often the most critical part of treatment, as a person has to learn how to live without opioids. It involves understanding the nuances of addiction and its effects. Therapy and counseling sessions also help the recovering individual in mastering additional life skills needed to live a drug-free life. During treatment, the patient also needs to be assessed for any co-occurring illnesses that could trigger negative thoughts or cause a relapse.