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Opiate addiction is one of the leading causes of death in the United States and the prevalence of this terrible condition doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. People who abuse opiates, whether for recreational purposes or as a result of having been legitimately prescribed them, are at an increased risk of becoming addicted.
According to the Department of Health Agency of Human Services in Vermont, “addiction to opioids, such as heron and prescription pain relievers like Oxycontin, is a serious public health problem, with potentially devastating consequences – both for the people who are addicted and for our communities.”
But what are we to do? What is it that makes some people become addicted while others never battle with this disease? What can we do to help prevent opiate addiction before it starts?
Understanding Opiate Addiction
Opiate addiction is the result of prolonged or repeat use of drugs such as:
The list of opiates is very extensive as they are some of the most widely used and widely abused prescription medications on the market. When opiates are abused, the degeneration of nerve cells results in reduced pain but can also lead to physical dependence. When physical dependence sets in, the user will find it all but easy to quit taking the drug of choice.
According to PubMed Health, “opiate withdrawal refers to the wide range of symptoms that occur after stopping or dramatically reducing opiate drugs after heavy and prolonged use (several weeks or more).” Many addicts report that they continued to abuse opiates despite their desire to quit simply because they were afraid or uncomfortable with the symptoms of withdrawal.
Symptoms of opiate withdrawal include:
- Agitation and irritability
- Anxiety and depression
- Nausea and vomiting
- Goose bumps
- Bone or joint pain
- Abdominal craming
- Runny nose, flu-like symptoms
- Increased tearing similar to allergies
- Muscle aches
PubMed Health goes on to explain that opioid withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable but it generally is not dangerous to the user. The user may wish he was dead, may think he is going to die from the pain or suffering of withdrawal, but generally, opiate withdrawal is non-life-threatening.
Signs of Opiate Addiction
If you suspect that you or someone you know might be suffering from opiate addiction, it’s important to seek prompt medical attention. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “about 9% of the population is believed to misuse opiates over the course of their lifetime, including drugs like heroin and prescription pain medications such as Oxycontin.”
- Neglecting responsibilities at work or home
- Using opiates instead of going to the doctor
- Doctor shopping to get more scripts
- Seeking opiates from friends, family members or people on the streets
- Lying about opiate use
- Stealing opiates from others or stealing to fuel a drug habit
- Taking opiates to alleviate withdrawal symptoms
- Using opiates despite the consequences that have resulted
- Track marks or needle marks on the arms or other areas of the body
- Having lethargic or heavy limbs
- Sleeping excessively
- Nodding off or dozing off excessively
- Lacking in physical appearance, not taking care of one’s self
Symptoms to Look Out for in a Loved One
If you suspect that someone you love might be abusing opiates, you should know what symptoms and signs to watch out for. Often times, people you can about could be using opiates without you even realizing that it is taking place. Some will say that they have legitimate pain (and they may or may not) others will completely hide the situation all together.
Some of the signs that a loved one might be abusing opiates include:
- Wearing long sleeves during summer to cover up track marks
- Not taking care of himself when he normally was clean and well kempt
- Showing signs of malnutrition
- Gaining excessive amounts of weight
- Borrowing money with no explanation of why they need the money
- Losing a job and then resorting to borrowing or stealing
- Spending time with different groups of friends or avoiding old family or friends
Methods of Treatment for Opiate Addiction
According to Harvard Health, “opiates are outranked only by alcohol as humanity’s oldest, most widespread, and most persistent drug problem.” Treating opiate addiction has evolved over the years to encompass an array of different methods that can help users to get and stay sober. Some of the most common methods of treatment for opiate addiction include:
- Medical intervention and medication maintenance
- Behavioral therapy
Treatment for opiate addiction can take place in a residential setting or in an outpatient setting depending on:
- Patient needs
- Severity of the addiction
- Length of time the user has been addicted
- Presence of underlying health or mental health conditions
- Commitment of the patient
- Other factors
Harvard Health goes on to state that, “for some addicts, the beginning of treatment is detoxification – controlled and medically supervised withdrawal from the drug.” Alone, detox is nothing more than a safe place to help the user overcome symptoms of opiate withdrawal, but when combined with behavioral therapy and support, opiate detox can provide a foundation for a lifetime of opiate addiction recovery.
No single approach to detox works for each patient. Some do well with a “cold turkey” approach in which withdrawal symptoms are simply allowed to run their course. Others perform better and are much more comfortable with medical intervention.
Various forms of medical intervention come into play in opiate addiction treatment. Most commonly, medication maintenance is used to curb cravings, reduce the risk of relapse and restore stability into the recovering addict’s life. The most common methods of medication maintenance that are used in the treatment of opiate addiction include:
With proper care, patients can take medications to help reduce symptoms of withdrawal and minimize their risk of relapse while they continue to receive counseling and supportive help for other areas of their lives which have been affected by their opiate addiction.
Narcotics Anonymous is the leading support group for those suffering from opiate addiction. According to Narcotics Anonymous, “every addict in the world has the chance to experience our message in his or her own language and culture and find the opportunity for a new way of life.” As such, NA, and other support groups work by providing those in recovery with a safe place in which they can receive supportive guidance and help for their healing and recovery efforts.
Support groups, such as NA, make up the long term foundation upon which an opiate addict can continue to build and to grow in recovery. With continued interaction with others in support groups such as NA, those in recovery are able to grow and foster their continued commitment to abstinence and sobriety.
Opiate Addiction Recovery
The road to opiate addiction recovery will likely be a long and challenging journey with a number of uphill struggles followed by periods of joy and contentment. This is all a part of getting sober and leading a new life of sobriety and change. If you or someone you know is addicted to opiates, just know that the road to opiate addiction recovery may be challenging but the reward will be well worth the effort that you put forth—don’t give up the fight!