Opioid addiction is a chronic disease characterized by cravings, often dependence and withdrawal symptoms, chronic relapse, and more. In the United States, opioid abuse and addiction has reached epidemic levels, and has even recently been declared a national public health emergency.
Millions of Americans every year fall into abuse of prescription opioids, and develop an addiction to the drugs. Without a legal prescription, addicted individuals may seek the drugs through illegal means, or try to find an alternative, which is often heroin.
Fighting the opioid epidemic means helping more people to find the treatment they need. People who get into and remain in treatment stand a far better chance at recovery success than people who never receive treatment.
Overcoming opioid addiction and dependence requires a multidisciplinary approach involving a combination of methods, which may include counseling, behavioral therapy, medication, and medically-supervised detoxification, among others.
What Are Opioids And How Are They Abused?
Opioids are a class of drugs that produce chemical reactions in the brain by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors. They work by producing feelings of euphoria, reducing perception of pain, and altering response to pleasure. The drugs are categorized as natural, synthetic, and semi-synthetic. Though only some opioids are legally prescribed, all categories of the drug have been abused.
Opioids include painkiller prescription drugs like oxycodone (Oxycontin) and fentanyl, and illicit drugs, like Heroin or potent, synthetic opioid combinations, like Gray Death.
Much of the time, opioid abuse begins with a prescription for painkillers. The drugs can be addicting even after a short time of use, which is why they are only prescribed for a few days. If you change the method of administration at all, change the dosage or frequency, take a prescription that doesn’t belong to you, or obtain opioid prescriptions illegally, you’re abusing opioid prescriptions.
Opioids also foster physical dependence, which causes you to become reliant on the drug and experience withdrawal symptoms when not taking them. Because withdrawal symptoms can be highly uncomfortable, dependence can cause you to keep coming back to opioids again and again.
In fact, dependence and the pull of addiction is often what pushes people to seek alternatives for their opioid medications when they no longer have access to them. Heroin is a cheap, easily-obtained alternative.
However, heroin is just as dangerous, if not more so, than prescription opioids because it is often cut with other substances. Each time you abuse heroin, you risk exposure to any number of other additives that may be in the drug and experiencing overdose.
Commonly Abused Opioids
Understanding the dangers associated with these drugs, and being able to identify abuse of or addiction to them, may help you secure treatment for yourself or someone close to you.
The following are the most commonly abused opioids:
- Hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin)
- Hydromorphone (Exalgo ER)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
- Morphine (Duramorph)
- Oxycodone (Oxycontin)
- Oxymorphone (Opana)
What Are The Side Effects Of Opioid Abuse?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains, “opioids act by attaching to and activating opioid receptor proteins, which are found on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs in the body.” By activating these receptors, opioid drugs reduce the perception of pain and produce feelings of pleasure or euphoria.
Other side effects of opioids may include:
- Respiratory depression
Of course, opioid abuse also comes with a set of risks, perhaps the most dangerous of which is the development of dependence and/or addiction.
Long-Term Effects Of Opioid Addiction
In addition to the immediate, or short-term, side effects of opioid abuse, people who struggle with opioid addiction and dependence may experience long-term effects as well. These may include effects on your physical, emotional, psychological, and behavioral health, as well as your social well-being, personal relationships, family involvement, criminal record, and more.
Long-term effects to your health due to opioid addiction may include abdominal distention and bloating, chronic constipation, liver damage, brain damage (which can be caused by hypoxia from respiratory depression), and development of tolerance and/or dependence.
People abusing heroin or other opioids by injection may experience a number of health risks associated with unsafe injection practices. These may include increased risk of contraction of infectious diseases, like HIV or Hepatitis, skin infections, lesions, abscesses, and more.
Signs Of Opioid Addiction
Perhaps the biggest signs of addiction to any substance are experiencing uncontrollable cravings for the drug, urges to seek it, even if you no longer want to, and loss of control over drug use.
If you suspect someone close to you is abusing opioid prescriptions, and may have formed addiction, find out if they are taking increased doses, taking the prescriptions more frequently than prescribed, or changing the method of administration.
If you have an opioid prescription and suspect someone is abusing it, you may be right. Many people get leftover narcotic prescriptions from friends and family members who don’t realize they’re putting their loved ones at risk of addiction by sharing medications.
Signs of heroin abuse may be easier to identify if you see evidence of paraphernalia, such as spoons, candles, or needles used for injections.
In general, signs of opioid addiction include:
- Increased euphoria
- Uncharacteristic drowsiness or confusion
- Dramatic mood shifts
- “Pinpoint” pupils
- Slowed breathing
- Withdrawing from family or friends
- Being secretive, hiding things
- Unexplained financial problems
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Doctor shopping (opioid prescription addiction) to secure drugs
Opioid Withdrawal: Signs And Symptoms
Abusing opioids for a prolonged period of time can cause tolerance. Tolerance occurs when you become desensitized to the effects of a substance, and take more of it in order to feel the same effects.
The danger of tolerance is that taking more of the drug puts you at increased risk of overdose. This is especially true if you have become dependent on the drug, and you find it more and more difficult to avoid taking it due to withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms occur as a physical response to removal of the drug in your system, and can be quite uncomfortable. That’s why many opioid-dependent people find it difficult to commit to recovery alone. Symptoms of withdrawal from opioids include:
Short-term (within 24 hours):
- Body and muscle aches
- Excessive sweating
- Runny nose
- Sleep troubles
- Tearing of the eyes
- Uncontrollable yawning
Long-term (24-48 hours after last use):
- Abdominal cramps
- Constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting
- Dangerously slowed breathing (respiratory depression)
- Goose bumps
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Pupil dilation
Due to the adverse withdrawal symptoms that can accompany opioid addiction and dependence, it’s usually best to complete detoxification before recovery begins. In inpatient drug rehab, detoxification can be completed in a medically-supervised setting.
Medically-supervised detoxification allows your body to get rid of toxins gained during abuse. It’s during this process that you experience heightened withdrawal symptoms, as your body adjusts to being without opioids. Receiving medical care during this process is important for monitoring vital functions like breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate.
Once your body is substance-free, and your physical health is restored, you can devote all your energy and focus on treatment.
Heroin And Opioid Overdose
All to often heroin and opioid use leads to an overdose. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that, “91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose (that includes prescription opioids and heroin).”
Overdose occurs when there is too much of an opioid substance in the body. The CDC identifies the following signs of opioid overdose: choking or gurgling sounds; falling asleep or loss of consciousness (going “on the nod”); limp body or inability to rouse the person; slowed or shallow breathing; pale, cold skin with a purple or bluish tint to it.
An opioid overdose is a medical emergency, and if you suspect someone is suffering from overdose, you should seek help right away. Overdose reversal drugs, such as naloxone, can be administered to help stabilize the person until treatment can be secured.
Opioid Addiction Treatment Options
Opioid addiction affects all aspects of health: mental (addiction), physical (dependence), psychological (behaviors and thought processes). Treatment for opioid addiction is best administered in a multidisciplinary approach, which means integrating several methods for a comprehensive program.
In an inpatient drug rehab program, you’ll first be assessed to determine your treatment needs. If you need detoxification, that will happen first, followed by participation in several types of treatment addressing all aspects of your health.
For instance, you may participate in counseling to work through difficult emotions and thoughts associated with addiction. In group therapy, you can connect with others in addiction recovery to share and learn from experiences of others.
Many people in recovery from opioid addiction have found great recovery success by participating in psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and others.
If you have a co-occurring mental health disorder, you’ll receive treatment for that as well. Should you need medication to help with withdrawal, you can receive that under medical supervision.
Many inpatient drug rehab centers offer exercise and nutrition components as part of their recovery programs, as well as an array of recreational activities. Success in addiction recovery involves so much more than just evidence-based treatment methods.
The best rehab centers will provide access to the latest in research-based methods, supportive and compassionate professional care, a network of individuals to aid in your recovery, and aftercare support and education.
Opioid Addiction In The US
Opioid addiction affects millions in the United States every year, from abuse of opioids to overdose. In fact, two million people had a substance use disorder involving prescription opioids in 2015, and 591,000 people were abusing heroin, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).
Women are the most likely to obtain prescription opioids for chronic pain, and later fall into abuse of heroin, but opioid abuse affects both men and women. In fact, all demographics are affected by opioid abuse and addiction. The ASAM further reports that 276,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 were using prescription opioids for nonmedical purposes in 2015.
The scope of opioid addiction has been far-reaching enough to prompt a formal, federal declaration of a national public health emergency for 2017. To combat the opioid epidemic, the CDC proposes a few specific initiatives which include improving opioid-prescribing practices, improving detection of illegal opioid use, and improving access to treatment and resources for opioid addiction.
Find Treatment For An Opioid Addiction Today
If you or someone you know is struggling with an opioid addiction, you can begin your recovery today by contacting one of our treatment specialists at InpatientDrugRehab.org. We can connect you to an inpatient rehab center that will meet all your needs in recovery, and answer any questions you have about rehab.
To learn more, contact us today.
American Society of Addiction Medicine—Opioid Addiction: 2016 Facts & Figures
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—Opioid Overdose: Understanding the Epidemic
National Institute on Drug Abuse—Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction,Misuse of Prescription Drugs: Opioids
New York Times—Inside A Killer Drug Epidemic: A Look At America’s Opioid Crisis
NPR—Trump Administration Declares Opioid Crisis A Public Health Emergency
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—Opioids: The Prescription Drug & Heroin Overdose Epidemic
U.S. Food and Drug Administration—Opioid Medications