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Opioid Addiction

Opioids are synthetic opiate painkillers such as Percocet, Vicodin, Dilaudid, Methadone, Fentanyl, and Oxycontin, and are considered to be among the most dangerous drugs of abuse in modern society because of their massive addictive liability (likelihood of becoming physically and psychologically dependent). Opioids are prescribed commonly for a variety of pain problems ranging from minor procedures like root canals to serious chronic pain problems like Cancer and work very well as effective painkillers in those who have legitimate pain.  Opioids vary in strength and ingredients.  They mimic the effects of naturally occurring opiates in the brain, but are much more powerful.

Opioids are easily obtained in modern society through legal prescriptions, and because they can be legally obtained and there is no “shame” involved in getting a prescription filled, they are among the most common mood-altering chemicals in existence. Although they are legally obtained in most cases, the active ingredient in opioids is scarcely different from heroin. Often, opioid painkiller preparations are compounded with acetaminophen or aspirin for a synergistic effect to provide more effective pain control.  Despite these efforts, opioids like Oxycodone (the active ingredient in Percocet and Oxycontin), Hydrocodone (the active ingredient in Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab) and Methadone are being increasingly diverted to the streets and becoming the subject of millions of opioid addictions worldwide.

Like morphine and heroin, opioids have significant addictive effects on the brain as well as the body.  Once addicted to an opioid, the psychological addiction can wreak havoc on the life of the addict through uncontrollable cravings for the drug and horrible withdrawal symptoms when they run out, often resulting in massive unmanageability in relationships and society.  Opioid addicts are known to lie, cheat and/or steal to obtain their drug of choice, making opioid addiction a major public health problem.  The physical effects of opioid addiction are no less grueling.  The body in opioid withdrawal experiences severe withdrawal symptoms that mimic an extremely severe flu with muscle pains, muscle spasms, high fever, nausea, and diarrhea.  When they are experiencing this sickness, referred to as being “dope sick”, opioid addicts will do just about anything to obtain a supply of the drug.  Once they feel okay again, opioid addicts then return to chasing the high. It becomes a vicious cycle of using opioids to get high, then to not be sick, then to get high again.

Signs of Opioid Addiction

When someone is high on opioids, there are certain signs that can serve as solid proof of opioid use. Since opioids are central nervous system depressants, they slow the bodily functions causing shallow breathing and cause effects that opioid addicts would not be able to avoid or hide. One sign of opioid abuse is in behavior.  With most drugs of addiction, the behavior is usually the first and most drastic change.  A person high on opioids will have slurred speech, seem overly lethargic and fatigued, and most noticeably, will nod out, or experience periods of sleep and wakefulness. They will fall asleep in the middle of a sentence or eating food.  Another sign of opioid abuse is in the user’s eyes.  In a normal person, under bright light, the pupils will constrict to limit the amount of light into the eye.  Under dim light, pupils will dilate to let in more light. Someone high on opioids will have extremely contracted pupils, literally pinpoint, under any light and have saggy eyelids.

It is important to try to recognize the signs of opioid use, as they are side effects of opioids medications and may be exhibited even when taken as prescribed. However, if these effects are seen in someone not prescribed any opioid painkillers, further investigation may be necessary to determine possible opioid addiction. In such a case, more signs to look for would be tools used for speeding the rush of an opioid high. Often, even immediate release opioid painkillers can take up to an hour to begin working so opioid addicts often turn to faster methods of abusing opioids. One of these methods includes crushing and snorting opioid pills with a straw, rolled up bills or papers. Another way to experience a faster opioid high is by heating the opioid pills in water with a flame and injecting it directly into the veins. This is the fastest way to get a rush from opioids and how most intravenous heroin addicts evolve. In this case look for spoons, injection (track) marks not the arms, ankles, neck, hands, feet, and legs, and obviously be on the lookout for needles.

Opioid Addiction Intervention

If an opioid addiction is suspected, help should be sought right away.  There are many ways to approach opioid addiction and get help for someone struggling with it. Opioid addicts often struggle with two things.  Not only do they enjoy the feeling of an opioid high and have the underlying psychological addiction in their brain, but they also have a physical addiction to withstand that causes grueling physical effects when opioids are absent from the body.  Most opioid addicts don’t want to be the way they are, but they are caught between rock and hard place with the physical addiction demanding they use opioids or do anything to not have to endure the withdrawal and the psychological addiction telling them they don’t feel normal unless they are high on opioids.  The opioid addiction is two-fold and opioid addicts know they have an uphill battle to fight and they can’t do it alone.  in most cases, opioid addicts will accept help if it offered – if they are willing to admit to their opioid addiction in the first place.

Opioid addiction, like any other addiction is a disease and is the only one that literally tricks the brain into thinking there is no problem. Opioid addicts use a number of excuses for their addiction, mostly regarding pain they experience in one place or another.  If an opioid addict’s addiction has taken him/her to intravenous opioid use, often excuses begin to turn toward a friend or family member who wronged them in some way or doesn’t love them enough.  Excuses for opioid addiction vary and when an opioid addict is approached about his/her addiction, they may demonstrate severe denial of their addiction and require an intervention. 

Opioid addiction interventions have a very high rate of success in getting an opiate addict to agree to addiction treatment. An opioid addiction intervention is performed on an opiate addict in denial of his/her addiction.  All loved ones and friends of the addict meet with him/her and interventionist who is specialized in family addiction counseling.  The family confronts the addict in a loving and respectful way, asking for addiction treatment by describing how the addict’s opioid addiction has make their life unmanageable in the eyes of the loved ones.  Once opioid detoxification and addiction treatment are offered, no more than a few hours go by before the addict is on their way (often with a nurse, the interventionist, or a representative from the addiction treatment center) to detoxification and addiction treatment.  Despite an opioid addict’s initial hesitation and resistance to addiction treatment, intervention serve as very powerful weapons to get an addict into opioid addiction treatment.

Opioid Detoxification

Opioid detoxification (detox) is a necessary first step to opioid addiction treatment.  Since opioids cause a physical addiction that is impossible to avoid, and is said by opioid addicts to make them want to jump out of a window, opioid detoxification has become required for admission to many opioid addiction treatment centers. During opioid withdrawal, the addict will experience many severe effects such as fever, insomnia, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, muscle pains, and muscle spasms.  Opioid detoxification is often done under medical supervision and with the assistance of minor tranquilizers like Klonopin and Valium to take some of the edges off and help the addict to sleep during the detox process.  Usually, the process of opioid detoxification takes anywhere from 7-10 days with a period of mid-grade sickness and lethargy that can last several months, depending on the length and severity of the opioid addiction. Once opioids are removed from the body, the addiction treatment can begin to work on the psychological addiction.

Opioid Addiction Treatment

Opioid addiction treatment can range in length of time, type of treatment, methodology of treatment, and special preferences.  Opioid addiction treatment time can range from 30 days to several months, depending on the determined length required for proper adjustment to life without opioids. Although the most common length of stay in an opioid addiction treatment center is 30 days, it is not the most effective for opioid addicts with a long history of opioid abuse.  Longer lengthen addictions require more time to dissolve from everyday life for the recovering addict.

Addiction treatment centers vary in the types of treatment they offer.  Some treatment centers offer outpatient addiction treatment programs, rarely recommended for opioid addicts, which offers meetings and classes a few hours a week.  More intense and effective is inpatient addiction treatment, most commonly sought after. Inpatient opioid addiction treatment can vary in lengths from 30 days to several months.  Another type of addiction treatment is partial hospitalization for those opioid addicts who need medical staff and equipment close by.

Since different things have been proven to work for different people, varying methodologies of opioid addiction treatment have emerged. From holistic to religious, gay/lesbian, women, teens, men, seniors, dual diagnosis patients, chronic pain patients, and the original 12-step model.  Depending on personal preference, opioid addicts today have a choice of what kind of path they would be most pruned to follow on the road to recovery from opioid addiction.  Many of addiction treatment methodologies like these are offered from privately owned addiction treatment centers and have an average cost of $20k per month.  For some people who look for specifically private and secluded addiction treatment, there are options in the much higher price range for that kind of specialized opioid addiction treatment.

Depending on the length and severity of the opioid addiction, the addict, his/her general health, beliefs, and lifestyle should all play large roles in determining the best opioid addiction treatment program for recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, please call now for immediate help from a caring professional who will help you to find the best addiction treatment available.  We are here to help.