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What Are Opiates & Why Are They So Addictive?


Opiates fall into a category of drugs prescribed to alleviate pain. They derive from the opium poppy plant and have been used to treat pain for centuries. However, there has been an opiate epidemic that has spread through the U.S. due to the highly addictive nature of these types of drugs. What drug are opiates? These prescriptions may include Oxycontin, Vicodin, or morphine. Not everyone who is prescribed these medications become addicted to them but every use comes with the risk of drug addiction.

The purpose of opiates is to create artificial endorphins in the brain that allow people to feel good for temporary periods of time. Opiates stimulate the body’s Mu receptors, most which are found in the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system. They block pain signals to the brain and replace them with the euphoric feeling people refer to as the “high.” This “high” is what people crave and causes them to become addicted. After it’s gone, the body craves the same feeling again and again, leading to drug dependency and eventually, addiction. Although opiates can be legally prescribed by a doctor, misuse of this prescription is what has led to the insurgence of opioid overdoses and deaths nationwide.

When a person has become addicted, there is an inherent need to find more opiates either through obtaining an illegal prescription or through heroin, another form of opiates that delivers the same kind of high. Since opiates are highly addictive, they aren’t as readily prescribed as in the past. Medical professionals are finding alternatives for those who may not be the best candidates to find pain relief through opiates but the danger still remains.


Painkiller Addiction

Opiates are often prescribed for patients post-surgery and can lead to addiction, especially if the person continues to be in pain. Painkillers can also be prescribed to treat chronic back, fibromyalgia, and other long standing painful conditions.

Oxycodone is often prescribed as Percocet or Oxycontin. Hydrocodone is commonly prescribed as Vicodin. When doctors prescribe these medications, regulating dosage amounts and times is crucial not only to help the body heal but to avoid a dependency.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine reported that in 2016, two million Americans had a substance abuse disorder involving prescription painkillers. Over 20,000 fatalities occurred in 2015 due to overdose of prescription pain relievers and nearly 13,000 deaths were related to a heroin overdose. The need to be free of pain may overshadow the development of an opiate addiction. But the risks of painkiller addiction are intense and recognizable. And fortunately, addiction can be treated.


Heroin Addiction

Over the past decade, the rise in heroin use has increased substantially. Addiction to prescription painkillers is the strongest risk factor for heroin addiction, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those who have become addicted to their pain medication turn to heroin to feed their cravings.

Various states are working to provide more treatment services for heroin addiction, as well as education and preventative care about the risks. The act of using heroin via a needle doesn’t always translate to the same effects as taking a painkiller prescribed by a doctor. But the dangers are equally there because of the addictive properties of the drug.

What once was considered a drug that only infiltrated inner city urban areas has now expanded into the suburbs, as highlighted in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. The Georgia Department of Public Health reported the number of deaths caused by drug overdose nearly equal the number of deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents. Additional reports show that two-thirds of all Georgia counties and 77 percent of rural counties do not have access or have limited access substance abuse disorder treatment. Addiction can affect anyone and help from treatment facilities is important now more than ever.


Alternatives to Opiates for Pain

Opiates are addictive and anyone who takes them is at risk for becoming dependent. Knowing that, you may want to explore other options for dealing with pain. There are other medications available that help alleviate or reduce the intensity of pain.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is commonly prescribed to relieve pain. Depending on what you need pain relief for, this might be a substitute solution from the more powerful use of opiates. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have a bit more strength than acetaminophen and can be used in combination with opioids to make them more effective.

It depends on your condition, its severity, and what your doctor recommends for care. But these are two alternatives that might work for you. For people who suffer from chronic pain, a regular routine of massage therapy, hydrotherapy, or infrared heat therapy are natural solutions that could help you feel better as well. The first course of treatment doesn’t always have to be prescription painkillers, especially if you are concerned with the risks that come with them.


Detox for Opiate Addiction

While the country battles the opioid epidemic, there are already millions of people suffering from addiction who may not have the proper resources or chances for treatment. Addiction can easily be a downward slope that leads to overdose or death.

The steps it takes to fight addiction and become sober takes medical professionals and a support system who can administer proper care. Detox is the beginning stage of any treatment option. In order to battle your addiction, your body must be free of the drug. If you decide to quit using opiates on your own, your body could severely suffer. It has become accustomed to functioning with drugs in its system and the sudden removal of them can cause severe reactions.

Because of this unpleasant experience, detox at home can be difficult to complete. That’s one reason why seeking treatment in a supervised facility is highly recommended. Having a doctor monitor your health and well-being is helpful to ensure you are going through the process as safely and securely as possible.

The opiate detox process involves a withdrawal period which comes with painful and uncomfortable side effects. These may include shaking, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, and chills. It can feel like you have an intense case of the flu and this feeling can last for several days and even up to a week. You may also experience tremors, vomiting, anxiety, irritability, migraines, insomnia. In short, the side effects of detox can cause great pain and discomfort.

It’s because of this that many people relapse when trying to withdraw from drug use. The help of a treatment facility can help you complete detox in the most comfortable way possible.

The detox period typically lasts 5-7 days, again depending on your current condition. Medical supervision in a treatment center helps ensure your safety, comfort, and success. Once detox is complete, you can then move on to the second phase of care.


Choosing Inpatient or Outpatient Treatment

Following detox, you can choose inpatient or outpatient care. Both have proven successful in helping people battle opiate addiction. Inpatient rehab provides the opportunity to take up a temporary residence to truly concentrate on your sobriety. In some cases, becoming sober is more of a challenge when you stay in your same day-to-day life. There may be pressure that makes it harder to go through recovery.

However, with both inpatient and outpatient care, part of treatment includes group therapy, one-on-one counseling sessions, and information and education for how to transition back to the world drug-free. Treatment provides the help you need to better your body and mind in an environment that is safe and secure.

Additionally, when you seek treatment at Luminance Recovery, you have several options that can be personalized to your own treatment plan. The goal of treatment is addressing the root cause of addiction to work through where the problem(s) began. By doing this, you can have a more successful chance of maintaining your sobriety even once the program is complete.

When you go through addiction treatment, you may uncover a dual disorder. In some cases, when there is a substance abuse disorder present, there is also a mental disorder that is diagnosed concurrently. This might include depression, post-traumatic stress, an eating disorder, or alcohol abuse.

The long-term effects of a dual disorder may require additional care depending on your course of treatment. Even as you complete your inpatient or outpatient care and enter recovery, staying sober requires being proactive and taking preventative measures.


Life Skills and Planning with Aftercare

Once you’ve gone through detox and completed the treatment plan set out for you, now it’s time to figure out how you’re going to take what you’ve learned and apply it to the real world. The benefits of aftercare give you full support as you make the transition. At this time, you may receive assistance looking for a job, finding a place to live, working on time management, and helping to find healthy ways to alleviate stress.

It’s a good idea to find a sponsor, a person you can turn to if you’re having an extra challenging day. Opiate addiction changes how you think and act. Once you no longer have the addiction, the change can feel unrecognizable at first to you and to others. It’s nice to have someone who has been in your shoes before give you a listening ear or helping hand when you need it.

Friends and family members may be a valuable support but may not know exactly how to provide you the assistance you need. Make sure you have your sponsor’s number easily accessible and find a support group to attend on a regular basis. This part of treatment is optional but recommended for the success of your long-term sobriety. Sobriety is an ongoing process that you must be an active participant in maintaining. You’ve put in the work to get better, you deserve the rewards of living a healthy, new life sober.

If you do not have extra resources to rely on, you can also opt in to a sober assistance living program. This includes living in a group home with other people also in recovery. There are rules and routines in place to help you acclimate back into the real world. This option provides a stable and safe environment where you can continue to focus on your sobriety while also starting your life again.

The stress of finding a job or looking for housing can be stressful, especially right after you’ve been through rehabilitation. A sober living situation can help you slowly take those next steps and allow you to use your coping techniques to grow stronger every day. Find out what kind of resources are available for you as part of your aftercare.


Continuing Care Post-Treatment

As you continue on your new sober way of life, there may be times when you feel like your routine needs some “maintenance.” Continuing your education about addiction and speaking to others about it can help you feel more in control of your situation. It’s helpful to be with others who are supportive and can reinforce what you learned in rehab.

Your maintenance care might also just be a check-in with yourself. How are you feeling? Are there any stressors you are having trouble overcoming? Are there any events coming up that may trigger certain feelings where it’s best to have support around you? Doing these check-ins or going to meetings doesn’t necessarily mean you are the brink of relapse. It means you are cognizant of the things that make you vulnerable and are actively choosing a healthier path.

Addiction is a disease that changes the way you think, feel, and behave. But treatment gives you a way to fight back and take control of your life. Use the resources available to you and choose the kind of therapy that makes the most sense for you. Call Luminance Recovery today to learn about our types of treatment for opiate addiction.

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