Opiates Abuse and Addiction Treatment Options
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), opiate use disorder (chronic use of opiates) results in significant distress, impairment, and even death. More than 15 million people around the world suffer from an opiate use disorder, with more than 2 million residing in the United States. More than 120,000 opiate deaths occur every year worldwide. To give this some perspective: the number of patients regularly taking opiates is equal to the number of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), epilepsy, and arthritis in the US, combined.
Opiates are a narcotic substance originating within the opium poppy. Examples of opiates include:
The seedpods of this plant contain a milky sap with these compounds. While the terms opiate and opioid are often used interchangeably, there’s an important difference: opiates are naturally occurring chemical compounds, whereas opioids are the synthetic versions of opiates. Opioids include:
• Oxycontin (oxycodone)
• Vicodin (hydrocodone)
Some individuals might assume that since opiates are naturally derived, that the effects are less destructive than their synthetic opioid counterparts. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 44 people died each day in 2020 from opioid overdose. But drug abuse of opiates and opioids alike can create physical dependence, leading to opioid use disorder, opiate or opioid addiction, and worse.
Both opiates and opioids are prescription drugs. Doctors prescribe opioids (after reviewing a patient’s health information) for severe pain management more than any other medication class. As a synthetic version of opiates, the effects of prescription opioids are similar. But today, additional byproducts of the opium poppy plant have found their way into professional pharmaceuticals and street drugs. For instance, heroin is an illegal drug also derived from the poppy plant.
Opium, one of the naturally occurring opiates in the poppy plant, helps induce pain relief. The other two chemicals, codeine and morphine, are also used to manage pain. Codeine and morphine are also used when treating cancer and nervous mental disorders. Whether an individual takes opiates as part of a prescription pain management regimen or recreationally for the euphoric high that presents in the absence of pain, these substances have a high rate of abuse and are prone to causing addiction.
Why Do People Use Opiates?
Opiates affect the body’s central nervous system and effectively block pain receptors, making these drugs effective for chronic pain sufferers. Cancer patients are often prescribed opiate medications, as are recent surgery patients.
There are a couple of reasons why people use opiates. When a person is in pain, opiates block the body’s pain receptors, which alleviates suffering and boosts the patient’s overall mood. Chronic pain sufferers experience a resurgence of their pain when lowering or stopping doses because the drug is no longer affecting the body’s opioid receptors.
When used recreationally, and the individual has no bodily pain, opiates instead induce a heightened feeling of euphoria, which is why — for both the patient and the recreational user — these drugs are highly addictive.
Do Opiates Offer Any Benefits?
When used in conjunction with a pain management plan and taken as prescribed, opiates provide relief from multiple types of pain. An opiate works by attaching to opiate receptor proteins in the body. Once attached, the medication reduces the patient’s sensitivity to pain, or help the person not experience the full intensity of their pain, such as a cancer patient, car accident survivor, or gunshot wound victim.
Various studies confirm opiate effectiveness in patients with cancer, back pain, neuropathy, and other conditions. Pain can severely impact an individual’s daily life, such as:
- Sleep disruption
- Appetite changes
- Energy level
- Overall quality of life
A pain management plan that includes opiate prescription medication can significantly change a person’s life for the better with effective, long-term pain reduction. As beneficial as this is for many patients, it can lead to dependence, which can eventually result in abuse and addiction.
Effects of Opiate Abuse
An addiction to opiates presents various physical and/or mental health effects. Symptoms that can indicate opiate abuse or addiction include experiencing:
- Elation or euphoria
- Sedation or drowsiness
- Slowed breathing
- Chronic constipation
An individual’s eyes can also be a clue: pupil constriction (when the pupil becomes extremely smaller than normal) can also be a sign of opiate abuse or addiction. Pupil constriction is the opposite of pupil dilation (when the pupil is much larger than normal). A person who is not under the influence of any intoxicating substances will have reflexive pupil constriction and dilation, such as when exposed to low or bright light. Low light signals the pupil to dilate, or open, to absorb as much light as possible so a person can see in the dark. Flip the light switch on, and the pupil quickly closes, or constricts, to restrict the level of light entering the eye. For an intoxicated person, this reflexive action either occurs very slowly or doesn’t occur at all.
If opiates are used for an extended length of time, these drugs can cause respiratory failure, a heart attack, and even death.
In addition to these mental and physical signs of opiate use and addiction, there are various behavioral markers you should know how to spot.
How Do Opiates Affect a Person’s Behavior?
Opiates are a strong class of drugs that can result in dependence, abuse, and addiction in individuals regardless of prescribed or recreational status. If a person is misusing their prescription or buying opiates on the street, they may exhibit behaviors unlike their typical personality. The signs of opiate or opioid misuse, abuse, or addiction can include:
- Doctor shopping. While today’s technology provides a level of connection via computer systems that can “talk” to each other, medical history is protected by HIPAA laws, meaning that while doctors within the same office or hospital system may all have access to an individual’s medical records, doctors outside of that system may not. Individuals that abuse or are addicted to prescription painkillers may seek prescriptions from multiple doctors in addition to the prescription(s) they may already have.
- Opiate misuse. This includes taking prescription opiates in any manner different than what’s prescribed on the label or for longer than necessary.
The following behaviors can also indicate an opiate addiction or opiate abuse:
- The person no longer enjoys activities that were once important to them.
- They isolate themselves or otherwise withdraw from interpersonal relationships.
- They lie, steal, or act secretively so they can continue using opiates.
- They experience mood swings not apparently connected to anything real or material, such as periods of sudden and extreme euphoria or extended periods of inconsolable sadness.
If you or a loved one are experiencing or exhibiting any of the above behaviors, it could shed light on potential opiate abuse or addiction. Call Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439.
When Does Opiate Use Become a Problem?
Some of the above behavioral, mental, and physical characteristics of opiate abuse and addiction are readily noticeable, while other symptoms may not be as apparent. The addicted individual may have become particularly adept at masking or hiding some of these symptoms. As abuse worsens or an addiction becomes out of control, the individual can no longer focus for long periods of time or handle routine activities or tasks. Whether the individual intended to abuse opiates or not, these drugs alter brain chemistry and replace typical responses to external stimuli with compulsive, or uncontrollable, behaviors. Sometimes, someone misusing opiates will distance themselves from relationships, lose motivation for work or home life, perform poorly at work, or cease going to work altogether. In the case of heroin use, the person may also have needle marks in their arms, neck, or feet.
Sometimes, misusing opiates begins as a temporary escape from reality, which can quickly transition to opiate abuse. A person suffering from excruciating pain can find a solution in an opiate prescription. Other times, emotional pain can be just as hard, and people find relief in opiates.
What is an Opiate Overdose?
The side effects of consistent opiate misuse and dependence can bring about other health problems. Opiates impair the immune system and the body’s ability to naturally fend off disease while also instigating a breakdown in the functions a body must perform to sustain life. Over time, consistent opiate misuse leads to tolerance, which is a life-threatening slippery slope. Preventing and recovering from opiate overdose requires supervision by an expert team and the individual to follow the directions provided. An overdose on opiates can happen whether the person has orally taken the medicine or injected it with a needle and syringe. It’s important that someone misusing or abusing not try to manage this condition on their own.
Some of the results of an opiate overdose can include:
- Other disease
- Heart attack
Aside from these effects of overdosing, withdrawing from opiates can also be fatal. It’s important to avoid snacks with high sugar content, as this spikes blood sugar. No alcoholic beverages, beverages with caffeine, or OTC medications should be taken during opiate withdrawal.
Learn more about drug misuse:
What are Opiate Withdrawals?
Opiates are highly addictive because they alter the individual’s nervous system, rewire their brain, and can lead to substance use disorder. This makes stopping use and experiencing opiate withdrawals extremely difficult. It’s not a good idea to attempt detoxing from opiates at home. If the person’s opiate addiction occurred as a side effect of a pain management regimen, it’s possible that detox will cause a significant pain flare-up, intense enough to trigger relapse and potential overdose.
A medically supervised detox is the best alternative. Medically assisted detox offers a safe environment in which the person can receive proper care and support throughout the process. In some cases, medications like naltrexone or dilaudid may be used to help the detox process. Once the opiates have been successfully rid from the body, the foundation for a life of sobriety can begin.
How long an individual’s withdrawals last depend on various factors specific to each person. Withdrawal symptoms can begin in as little as 12 hours and last for several days or weeks. Depending on the severity of the addiction, withdrawal symptoms can even persist for months. The length of withdrawal also depends on the type of opiate, whether orally or intravenously taken, how much was taken, and how long the person has been taking the opiate.
The rainbow among these clouds is that withdrawal won’t last forever. It takes time to develop an addiction, and it takes time to cleanse the body. Some of the symptoms experienced during withdrawal can include mild to serious:
The first several weeks of detox and withdrawal begin stabilizing the person’s endorphins. This is a healthy counterbalance to the effects of withdrawal. Sensitivity, awareness, and bodily functions start returning to normal. It’s tough returning to “normal” life, but worth the work it takes. This is healing. Returning to your family and friendships may take time. Some relationships may be ill-advised if they are friendships spurred by the sharing of an addiction to opiates. No matter what, every day not using opiates is a day of progress.
Journey to Recovery with Zinnia Health
At Zinnia Health, we believe education about prescription and non-prescription opiates and opioids is important. It doesn’t matter if an opiate is prescribed by a doctor, shared by a friend, or bought on a street corner: the dangers are the same. Learn more and begin the path to sobriety by calling Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439.