Opiates, such as heroin, OxyContin, Fentanyl or morphine, are some of the most addictive drugs available. Opiate detox removes the drugs from your system so your brain and begins to produce dopamine naturally over time.
In recent years, prescription opioids have been made increasingly available. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013 approximately 250 million opioid prescriptions were written to treat pain, reduce coughs, for pre-surgical or procedural sedation and to manage diarrhea.
Opiates Target Neurotransmitters in the Brain
Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that is responsible for sending signals from the central nervous system. Dopamine allows you to feel things like love or lust, be motivated to complete a task and give it your full attention and even controls learning. Increased levels of dopamine in the brain are associated with an increased feeling of wakefulness. The brain usually produces more dopamine during the day to keep you alert and energized and melatonin at night to help you feel tired. Since dopamine affects your memory, it also affects your learning processes and how you retain information. When dopamine is present during an event or experience, we will remember it. If it is absent, we usually won’t.
One of its most important jobs, dopamine is the central chemical in the brain that regulates how you perceive and experience pleasure. During pleasurable moments or situations, dopamine is released, which causes us to seek out that desirable activity over and over again. Having sex, participating in a sport or activity you love and even eating your favorite foods are stimulants that cause dopamine to be released into the brain.
Along with exciting experiences, dopamine is also released when you encounter unwanted or adverse situations such as being injured or getting into an argument with your spouse, significant other or best friend.
Opiates work by targeting the dopamine neurotransmitters in the brain and cause dopamine to remain present for longer periods of time. This artificially heightened feeling of pleasure leads to addiction and causes the user to seek more of the drug.
Withdrawal Symptoms of Opiates
In people who struggle with opiate addiction or have otherwise developed physiological opioid dependence. Acute opiate withdrawal frequently arises when the offending drug is sharply reduced in dose or completely eliminated. Opioid withdrawal is a complex topic that involves aspects of tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction. The prolonged interaction of opiates with the body primes an individual to experience withdrawal when the drug is no longer used.
Opiate withdrawal symptoms may range from mild to severe, depending on how dependent the individual is on an opioid drug. Dependency can be directly tied to the length of time taking a particular drug, dosage amount, which drug was taken, how the drug was taken, underlying medical conditions, the co-occurring presence of a mental health issue and certain biological and environmental factors such as family history of addiction, previous trauma or highly stressful and unsupportive surroundings.
Withdrawal symptoms from opiates can vary from person to person but generally adhere to a rough timeline.
Early withdrawal symptoms typically start within 6-12 hours for short-acting opiates and start within 30 hours for long-acting opiates. They include:
- A complete lack of energy
- Tearing up
- Running nose
- Excessive yawning
- Trouble falling and staying asleep
- Muscle aches
- Excessive heart rate
Late withdrawal symptoms typically peak within 72 hours and last a week or longer. They include:
- Body aches and pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps
- Intense cravings for more drugs
Holistic Detox from Opiates: A Natural Way
Holistic rehab programs utilize an integrated physical, mental, and spiritual model for treating substance abuse and addiction utilizing various techniques such as:
- Reiki and other kinds of energy work
- Acupuncture or acupressure
- Sauna sessions
- Biofeedback and neurofeedback
- Organic, all-natural nutrition plans
- Vitamins & supplements
- Art, music or animal-assisted therapy
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, more than a third of adults in the U.S. use some form of holistic medicine. For most people, substance abuse goes beyond just the physical addiction. Holistic care centers on the knowledge that simply addressing the physical aspect is not enough. The mind and spirit must also be healed for the mind-body-spirit connection to be restored.
One of the main reasons holistic recovery has received so much attention in recent years is because of an alternative treatment called biophysical detoxification. When a long-term drug abuser continues using illicit substances, his or her body will activate its own defense mechanism. Because the body understands that the liver cannot handle the continual flow of toxins, so it distributes some of these toxins across the fat cells of the body. When the body stores these toxins in the cells it means it does not have to deal with them right away. This is good for the body but ultimately bad for the long-term recovery odds of the user.
When the patient in recovery stops using altogether, these drug toxins are still present in their fat cells. This means that once the person goes through the detoxification process, dormant drug residue being stored in fat cells is released back into the body – especially during sauna sessions and physical activity such as exercise.
Taking Vitamin C to Reduce Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble antioxidant that is an essential nutrient for normal growth and development. Many people take Vitamin C as a supplement for its antioxidant benefits. High doses of vitamin C has been shown to block receptors in the brain from responding as severely to opioids and increase endorphin levels. This is an important effect because opioids effect dopamine production in the brain – something addicts are severely deficient in during detox.
In a recent study, researchers tested the effect of Vitamin C on the development of tolerance and dependence to opiates. Mice were made physically dependent on opioids from the repeated administration of morphine. High doses of Vitamin C in varying amounts were administered to an experiment group. The researchers concluded that Vitamin C, even in very high doses, helped to inhibit the development of tolerance and dependence to opiates and may help reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Exercise and Recovery
Research shows that adding exercise to addiction treatment can strengthen the effects of recovery. One such study published in Mental Health and Physical Activity showed that exercise can lead to a sense of accomplishment, help you to feel stronger, improve your overall health and increase your confidence in staying sober.
Exercise can give you a natural high to replace the artificial high you’ve been chasing. When an addict is trying to recover, the body and mind crave the rush of dopamine caused by getting high. A vigorous sweat can cause the release of those same endorphins – producing a feeling of euphoria and making it easier for someone in recovery to cope with daily life. Although the high you feel is almost certain to be less intense than what you experienced with drugs or alcohol, exercise does provide a pleasurable release.
In addition to the chemical changes happening in your brain when you exercise, working out can mitigate the negative effects of opiates such as trouble sleeping, anxiety and depression. Simply by improving your overall health and well-being, regular exercise builds your body back up and gives you a healthy way to release difficult or pent-up emotions.