An opioid is a drug that belongs to a larger category of pain-killing drugs (including heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and other substances). Opioid dependence is the condition where a person physically and emotionally can’t stop using opioids, even if he or she knows they are harmful.
The World Health Organization defines substance dependence through six factors:
- Strong need or want to take the drug.
- Lack of control over the onset, levels of use, or termination of taking the drug.
- Withdrawal state that induces the drug’s typical withdrawal symptoms (or withdrawal which includes taking a similar drug to relieve withdrawal symptoms).
- Built-up tolerance, so that the user must take more of the drug to achieve the desired effects.
- Avoiding other activities to take the drug, and enjoying those activities less less pleasure in activities once enjoyed.
- Continuing to take the drug despite evidence of its physical, emotional, or social harms.
Someone who’s dependent on opioids will act like anyone else who’s dependent upon drugs. Opioids rearrange brain chemicals to make you think that you need the drugs to survive. This brain chemistry will lead you to do anything to obtain opioids, if you’re dependent on them. That can mean greatly changing one’s habits and lifestyle: working to the point of exhaustion to have money for opioids, not spending time with family and friends who know disapprove of your addiction, or not spending money on necessities (food and clothing) in order to have more money for opioids.
If you become dependent upon opioids but then stop using them, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms. Physically, withdrawal can cause sweating, chills, tremors, weakness, cramps, nausea, and other flu-like symptoms. These physical symptoms may be so uncomfortable that you use opioids or similar drugs for relief.
You’ll also feel psychological effects of opioid withdrawal: anxiety, depression, general malaise, and cravings. While physical effects will generally go away after a few days without using opioids, psychological symptoms may persist beyond the initial withdrawal period. In this way, they can be more harmful than physical symptoms.
The most serious symptoms and effects of opioid withdrawal can be deadly:
- Cardiac arrest
- Suicide attempts
That last one shows how psychologically-distraught an opioid dependent may become after a long period of use.
Opioid Dependence Treatment
One type of opioid-dependency treatment won’t work for everyone. After all, opioid addiction is a disease, and so treatment needs to be individualized. Some people need longer treatment plans, while others need a specific balance of physical and psychological help. Also remember: if someone suffering from opioid addiction relapses after one treatment, it doesn’t mean the case is hopeless. Rather, it may just mean that he or she needs a different opioid addiction treatment approach.
The first step of opioid treatment is often detoxification. In this step, you have to go for several days without opioid use. This process will cause withdrawal (which we’ve explained can become extremely difficult). Relapse is common during opioid detoxification, so it’s important that the patient completes detoxes under medical supervision.
After successful detox, patients generally go one of two ways: complete abstinence or medically-assisted treatments. Abstinence is very difficult and requires a lifetime of commitment to maintain. It’ll require constant individual or group therapy, and distance from the factors (people, places, or feelings) that led to opioid use in the first place. However, many opioid users have found success with abstinence.
The other major physical treatment is medically-assisted treatment (MAT). This treatment uses a lesser opioid (less risk of addiction) to keep cravings at bay. For example, using methadone or buprenorphine has many benefits for former opioid users. It makes abstinence from opioids easier by reducing narcotic cravings, and also lowering the chances of a relapse. Since it takes the place of using injected opioids, it also reduces the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis (the risks of using needles to inject opioids).
People also need psychological treatment as part of MAT. Often, there is a mental or emotional reason why people begin using opioids, and without treating these issues, relapse stays likely. If someone chooses to treat opioid dependency by going to an opioid treatment clinic, he or she will take part in group and individual therapies. But they should also continue this emotional therapy after leaving rehab (through attending peer meetings, for instance).
So What Now?
It’s never too early to look for help or for more resources. At Buprenorphine Doctors, we have plenty of resources about opioid addiction, opioid treatments, and opioid recovery. And if you’re ready to take the step toward opioid addiction treatment, visit our lists of opioid treatment doctors or opioid treatment clinics. See how we can serve you or your loved ones today!