Opiates include heroin and certain prescription painkillers; this class of drug refers to a naturally derived opioid narcotic, extracted or refined from the sap or fibers of the poppy plant. The National Cancer Institute defines an opiate as, “A substance used to treat pain or cause sleep. Opiates are made from opium or have opium in them. Opiates bind to opioid receptors in the central nervous system. Examples of opiates are codeine, heroin, and morphine. An opiate is a type of analgesic agent.” (1)
Opiates work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking feelings of pain while increasing feelings of pleasure. Pain-relieving opiates like codeine and morphine are generally safe and effective when taken exactly as prescribed by a licensed medical professional. However, even when taken as prescribed, opiates can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Illegal opiates like heroin can never be used safely, and even a single use can lead to the development of an addictive disorder or to a life-threatening drug overdose. If you or someone close to you has been using opiates and has had a difficult time quitting without help, professional treatment might be a necessary step. To learn more about the opiate addiction treatment options available in your area, contact us today.
Scope of Opiate Use in the U.S.
Opiate misuse is currently one of the most significant drug-related threats in the country. Over the course of the past two decades rates of heroin use have skyrocketed nationwide. This is largely due to the prevalence of addictive prescription opioids in the mid1990s and subsequent government crackdowns on distribution. According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 902,000 people over the age of 12 reported using heroin at least once over the course of the past month. (1) Of these individuals, roughly 691,000 suffered from a diagnosable heroin use disorder. During the same year, there were 13,165 reported overdose deaths involving heroin. Many heroin users begin using a prescription opiate like morphine, and eventually transition to the illegal drug because it is generally more easily accessible and often more affordable. If you or someone you love has been struggling with an opiate use disorder of any type or severity, there is help available.
Opiate Addiction Signs & Symptoms
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, lays out several additional diagnostic criteria those with opiate use disorders tend to experience. If you answer “yes” to more than two of the following questions, there is a good chance you would benefit from some degree of professional addiction treatment.
- Do you often use more of the opiate than you intended, or take opiates for a longer period of time than originally intended?
- Have you attempted to quit using opiates on your own with limited success, or have you attempted to cut back on the dose of the opiate you are taking unsuccessfully?
- Do you experience cravings for opiates throughout the day?
- Do you spend a significant amount of time obtaining opiates, using opiates, and recovering from the effects of opiate use?
- Have you started to experience problems at work or at school directly related to your opiate use?
- Do you continue to use opiates despite newly developing or worsening physical and psychological symptoms?
- Have you been instructed to cut back on your opiate use by a licensed healthcare professional, and have you made the decision to ignore their advice?
- Do you engage in risk-taking behavior while under the influence of opiates, like driving while under the influence or mixing opiates with other substances like alcohol or benzodiazepines?
- Have you started to neglect activities you previously enjoyed as a direct result of your opiate use?
- Have you developed a physical tolerance, meaning more of the opiate is required in order for the desired effects to be achieved?
- Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to cut out opiates entirely?
The physical and psychological symptoms associated with opiate withdrawal can be severe, and are usually so uncomfortable that when left untreated they lead a person back to opiate use within the first 72 hours. Opiate withdrawal can be broken down into three distinct stages: early withdrawal, acute withdrawal, and late stage or post-acute withdrawal.
- Early Withdrawal — Early withdrawal symptoms begin to develop as soon as 6 hours after the final dose. They include intense drug cravings, physical discomfort, and newly developing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Acute Withdrawal — Also known as peak withdrawal, symptoms are most severe during this stage of the withdrawal process. Many liken these symptoms to those associated with a bad flu. They include insomnia, restlessness, low-grade fever, body aches, joint pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, depression, and overwhelming drug cravings.
- Late Stage Withdrawal — Late stage or post-acute withdrawal can last for several months after the final dose is taken. These symptoms can often be easily managed, and might include persistent sleep-related issues, symptoms associated with anxiety or depression, and minor changes to mood.
Treatment Options for Opiate Use Disorder
The most effective treatment options for an opiate use disorder will depend on your unique circumstances, though a multi-staged treatment program is often the most beneficial. Because the withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate detox can be so physically uncomfortable, entering into a medical detox program often comes as a recommended first step on the road to long-term recovery. Many individuals who attempt to detox on their own return to opiate use before physical symptoms have subsided. Additionally, the psychological cravings that go hand-in-hand with early sobriety can be overwhelming when left unaddressed. If you have been misusing a prescription painkiller for more than several months or if you have been using heroin for any length of time, it will likely be recommended that you transition into an inpatient treatment center for between 30 and 90 days once detox concludes. In inpatient treatment you will undergo intensive therapy, learn how to successfully manage cravings and avoid relapse, and gain a thorough education on the Disease Model of Addiction. You will likely be introduced to the 12 Step model of addiction recovery and other peer support programs, which you will be encouraged to continue participating in once treatment ends.
The road to opiate addiction recovery looks different for everyone — addiction treatment is not a one-size-fits-all solution. To learn more about the best treatment options for your unique case, contact us today.
If you or someone you love has been misusing opiates or has developed an opiate dependence, there is help available and recovery is always possible. Because opiates are so habit-forming and because illegal opiates like heroin are often laced with more potent substances like fentanyl, seeking help before an addiction progresses is always a good idea. Unfortunately, the majority of people who would benefit from some degree of professional intervention fail to seek the help they need simply because they are unaware of the resources that are available to them. At Recovery Centers we believe that effective treatment should be readily available to everyone in need. For more information on resources and services available in your area, contact us today. We look forward to speaking with you and helping you get started on your personal journey of opiate addiction recovery.