If you’ve watched the news or read the headlines in recent months, you’ve probably heard about America’s opioid epidemic. Throughout the country, people are becoming addicted to opiate-derived medications as well as street drugs—and the effects have been dire. Even so, there remains a lot of misinformation about what opioids actually are, and how opioid addiction impacts body and mind.
In this post, we’ll define some terms, and talk about common examples of opioids. We’ll look both at opioid addiction as well as opioid treatment, and ultimately help you understand what people are talking about when they mention the opioid crisis.
What are Opioids?
To begin with, let’s define what an opioid is. These are drugs derived from opium—that is, from poppy plants. This is a class of substances that is most commonly associated with the treatment of pain; that’s because they work on the mind’s pleasure receptors, minimizing feelings of pain while producing feelings of euphoria. This euphoric sensation is what makes them effective, though, as we’ll see in just a moment, it’s also what makes them addictive.
Opioids are powerful substances, which is why many of them are illegal—yet some remain widely prescribed, especially for those who deal with chronic pain.
Common Opioids, Legal and Illegal
Indeed, there are a number of common opioids we could name. The opioid crisis tends to focus on prescription drugs, and there are several opioid pain relievers that have been linked with addiction—despite doctors’ best intentions. A few names you might recognize include:
In addition, a number of street drugs are technically opioids, including heroin. These drugs are typically more potent than their medically-allowed counterparts, yet it’s fairly common for opioid addiction to begin with prescription drugs, then gradually shift into more dangerous, illegal drugs. To understand why, it’s important to understand how opiates actually work—and how they lead to opioid addiction.
Opioid Addiction: How it Starts
We’ve already hinted at the way opiates work. Essentially, they impact the brain’s pleasure center, providing an intense rush of happiness, or euphoria. This sense of overall wellbeing mitigates any feeling of pain, which is why opiates have legitimate use as pain management tools.
The problem is that, over time, the brain gets used to that sense of wellbeing—and it can become difficult to experience any kind of happiness or euphoria without the assistance of opioids. Therefore, higher and more regular doses are needed just to feel good; when this happens, it is not uncommon for an individual to turn to more dangerous drugs, swapping prescription pills for street drugs, or else to misuse those opioid prescriptions.
The Consequences of Opioid Addiction
Tolerance to opioid-induced euphoria grows faster than tolerance to its side effects—which means that, over time, the individual who is addicted to opioids is at an increasingly high risk of overdose.
And high doses of opioids can be fatal. They can lead to death by cardiac arrest, or by respiratory arrest. That’s why, for those who do have opioid addiction, it is imperative to seek opioid rehab as soon as possible.
Signs of Opioid Addiction
But how do you know if you have a struggle with opioid addiction? There are a few common symptoms and signs of opioid addiction to be aware of, though it’s important to remember that addiction impacts different people in different ways.
The most obvious signs of opioid addiction is that sense of euphoria that we mentioned—and a loss of that euphoric feeling when you stop using opioids. If you need to take opioids to feel happy or secure, that’s a sure sign of addiction. Likewise, if you discontinue taking the drugs but experience intense paint or sadness, that’s also a symptom of opioid addiction.
Some additional physical signs of opioid addiction include:
- Sedation or drowsiness
- Constricted pupils
- Slowed breathing
- Nodding off, or even loss of consciousness
Some behavioral signs of opioid addiction include:
- Doctor shopping, trying to get multiple prescriptions for opioid painkillers
- Misusing opioid painkillers, or taking prescription drugs longer than you need to
- Lying or stealing to continue your drug habit
- Being secretive about your drug use
- Withdrawing from activities or relationships that used to bring pleasure
Finally, there are some signs of opioid withdrawal:
- Body aches
- Inability to sleep
- Overwhelming anxiety
If you or a loved one exhibit any of these symptoms, it could mean that there’s an opioid addiction problem. The good news is, opioid treatment can effectively break addiction’s bond, and restore physical and mental health.
Opioid Addiction Treatment
What does opioid addiction treatment actually involve? It varies from one person to the next, especially if there are co-occurring disorders (like depression or PTSD) present. With that said, there are a few opioid addiction basics that hold true across the board.
The recovery process always begins with opioid detox. It is necessary to rid your body and mind of opioids before you can pursue recovery. This process may take a few days, or in some cases a couple of weeks. Medically supervised withdrawal can minimize the pain and discomfort, and also protect against accidental overdose.
From there, opioid treatment at an opioid rehab center might involve individual therapy, group therapy, and more. It’s ultimately a journey that lasts a lifetime, but the results are worth it—freedom from addiction, and the ability to feel happy without the need for opiate substances.
Experience Recovery from Opioid Addiction
Opioid addiction is a true crisis in this country—and for individuals wrestling with it, it can feel hopeless. The good news is that opioid recovery is always possible, and it begins when you seek treatment.
Begin that journey toward a healthy and hopeful life today. Reach out to Experience Recovery, and ask about the best path forward out of opioid addiction.