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What Is Opioid Addiction?

Opioid addiction is a physical and psychological reliance on opioids. It is a chronic relapsing disorder characterized by drug-seeking behavior. For many, their addiction may occur as a result of being prescribed opiates for a legitimate purpose, such as pain management after surgery, and find it impossible to stop using the drugs, even after the prescription period has elapsed.

Opioid addictions are increasingly common. The New York Times reported in February 2022 that more than 100,000 Americans die each year from an opioid overdose.1 Getting effective treatment for an opioid addiction is of increasing importance as each year deaths from fentanyl overdoses continue to rise.2  

How Opioid Addiction Occurs

Opioids are a category of drugs that include heroin, synthetic opioids (ex. fentanyl), and other prescription pain relievers such as oxycontin, hydrocodone, morphine. These pain medications are relatively safe when you adhere to the prescription and use them within a short period.3

Opioid Misuse

Opioids interact with opioid receptors in the central nervous system, creating a feeling of euphoria beyond merely the intended pain relief, making them highly addictive. Misuse can occur when individuals: 

  • Take at higher doses than prescribed.
  • Take the prescribed dosage more frequently than instructed.
  • Crush, snort, inject, or consume drugs in any way other than directed by their medical practitioner.

Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

There are many signs that an individual may be experiencing an opioid addiction. The following signs of opioid addiction may be observed in an individual addicted to opioids:

  • Shallow or slow breathing rate
  • Physical agitation
  • Poor decision making
  • Abandoning responsibilities
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Lowered motivation
  • Anxiety attacks

Noticing Symptoms of Opioid Use: What’s Next?

If you’ve noticed any combination of some or all of these symptoms in yourself or someone you know, it is recommended to seek an opiate addiction evaluation from a trained addiction specialist who can make an accurate assessment to diagnose an opioid addiction. The first step to treating any kind of substance use issue is to identify its existence.

From there, working with a team of trained professionals is the best step a person can take in addressing disorder and its effects. The importance of effective, patient-centered care can not be overstated in treating opioid addiction. Opioid addiction is an illness and treatment is necessary to prevent further development of the disease.

What Causes Opioid Addiction?

Opioids have a high potency of addiction for people using opioid drugs either recreationally or as part of routine medical care. Someone reading this article may even be using prescribed or self-prescribed opioids for pain relief due to an accident or other chronic pain. Regular use and misuse of opioids can quickly lead to opioid dependence, leading to opioid addiction, overdosing on opioids, or even death.

Opioid Addiction: How and Why Does it Occur?

NCDAS reported that 48,006 people overdosed on opioids in 2020.4

When opioids are used to relieve pain, a tolerance can build up, resulting in a person taking increasingly dangerous amounts of opioids to achieve the same effects. Increased dosages to obtain the same relief make a person more prone to opioid abuse, opioid addiction, and dependence.

Just How Addictive are Opiates?

Opiates are highly addictive due to their ability to stimulate reward systems in the brain which result in feelings of euphoria that lead people to continue their use. If use of opiates is ceased, the brain, which has become accustomed to the increased reward-center-stimulation will cause the body to begin experiencing intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms. The addictive nature of opioids makes ceasing their use very difficult, despite the detrimental consequences to personal health, social well-being, finances, and relationships.

Why People Become Addicted to Opioids

Taking opiates to treat moderate to severe pain can make a person feel intoxicated, leading to increased use, and its associated increased risk of addiction. Most opiate addictions begin after initially being prescribed for a legitimate purpose.

What Should You Do If You or Someone You Know is Addicted To Opioids?

The first thing to understand about opiate addiction is that it is classified as a chronic relapsing drug-using behavior, making it incredibly difficult to treat independently. Seeking professional medical interventions, including medical detox and psychotherapy, is one of the best things a person can do to increase their likelihood of treating the illness.

Drug detoxification – assisted with medications such as suboxone, methadone, Vivitrol – reduces the drugs slowly from a person’s bloodstream until the body is free of opioids. Abruptly ceasing opiate use without appropriate medical support can cause severe or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Counseling or psychotherapy may also help a person to overcome opioid addiction by providing patients coping skills to handle drug cravings and things which may trigger them to relapse. 

How Can You Avoid Addiction to Opioids?

The first step towards avoiding addiction to opioids if you have been prescribed opioids for your pain is responsibly using and adhering to your medical practitioner’s prescription advice. It is recommended that you;

  • Strictly follow the prescription dosage- i.e., the correct amount of medication and proper times.
  • Avoid taking opioids with alcohol or other drugs.
  • Discuss any side effects you observe while using the medication with your healthcare team.
  • Do not share your prescription drugs
  • Consume the drugs in the method prescribed, i.e., don’t inject or snort oral drugs

What Are Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms? How Can You Alleviate Them?

Opioid withdrawal is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s supply of opiates is halted or reduced, resulting in a series of physical and psychological symptoms. Opiate withdrawal requires immediate medical attention in order to be managed safely and permanent damage to the body. Your health care provider can administer approved withdrawal medications depending on the severity of your withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can include:5

  • Drug cravings
  • Anxiety/irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors (shaking)
  • Feeling cold

Recognizing Symptoms

This list of symptoms is only a small sample of the symptoms which a person may experience while going through opioid withdrawal. In detoxification clinics, doctors and medical professionals monitor many of a person’s vital signs in order to ensure they are not at risk of more severe and damaging symptoms of withdrawal.

Without access to this level of information, such as blood pressure, heart rate, potassium levels, and hydration, it is impossible to truly know a person’s risk of developing severe withdrawal side effects. Err on the side of caution and always seek appropriate medical care for opiate withdrawal.   

What Are the Symptoms of an Opioid Overdose?

The ability to quickly and accurately identify an opioid overdose can be a lifesaving skill. To do so, you must be able to identify common signs and symptoms.

Indications of an Overdose

Be aware of these symptoms if you suspect a loved one may be at risk of overdosing on opioids:6

  • Extreme sleepiness.
  • Respiratory depression - snoring, choked breathing, shallow breathing, irregular/halted breathing, rapid breathing may be observed.
  • Loss of consciousness or becoming unresponsive.
  • Blue, purple, gray toned skin, lips, or fingertips (indicating a lack of oxygen).
  • Being conscious, without the ability to talk.
  •  Frequent vomiting.
  • Confusion and delirium.
  • Very limp body.
  • Cold, pale, or clammy skin.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Lack of pulse or slow erratic pulse rate.
  • Small pupils.

Opioid Overdose and Narcan

Opioid overdose treatments may be conducted using Narcan (naloxone), a medicine which reverses an opioid overdose. If you or someone you know uses opiates, or is at risk of receiving drugs which have been contaminated by synthetic opiates like Fentanyl, you may be able to obtain a prescription to keep a supply of Narcan (naloxone) on hand in case of an emergency.

opioid addiction

How Should You Store and Dispose of Opioids to Protect Family Members?

It is necessary to store and dispose of any remaining medications after the prescription period is over in order to avoid or prevent substance misuse, especially for highly addictive substances like opioids. In order to help keep opioids from negatively impacting people you care about, take the following steps.

  • Always store opioids safely and securely, i.e., out of children's reach.
  • Never share your unused prescriptions with friends, or sell them to others.
  • Never throw out unused opioids in the trash; always look for community departments that dispose of drugs and take them. Local pharmacies typically offer drug disposal services.

Accessibility is Key

Accessibility is a key factor in the development of substance use for most substances. By reducing supply and availability of opioids, you are protecting people you care about from accidentally coming in contact with these exceptionally addictive substances outside of the care of a trained medical professional.

Opportunities for Wellness at Anew Treatment Center

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, opioid use disorder affects more than 1.2 million people in the U.S.7 

Despite the prevalence of opioid addiction, there is still hope in opioid treatment. There is no better step that you can take in safeguarding your own health than in reaching out today. If you suspect you, or someone you know is abusing opioids, reach out to Anew Treatment Center today. Our trained team of professionals wants nothing more than for you or your loved ones to experience the happy and whole life that they deserve, untainted by the complications and difficulties created by opioid addiction. Contact us today.

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