Opiate Addiction – Causes, Withdrawal, and Help

When doctors prescribe opiates – also known as opioids in some cases – they generally do so to help patients get some measure of relief from chronic pain. Opiates are drugs derived from the opium poppy plant; drugs with certain psychoactive effects that relieve pain and discomfort. As good as these drugs are when used under the supervision of a doctor, the risk of opiate addiction is always a factor when prescribing them.

Some of the more common opiates prescribed by doctors are morphine, codeine and thebaine. Synthetic opioids that mimic the effect of legitimate opiates include oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and methadone. The medical community often draws a distinction between weak and strong opiates for the purposes of determining their use for relieving pain and their potential for abuse.

The most important thing for you to know is that opiates are addictive regardless of their classification. They work by modifying opioid receptors in the brain in order to interrupt normal signals sent throughout the central nervous system. This is how they reduce pain. If opiates are taken long enough, they can actually alter brain chemistry to the point where physical and psychological dependence occurs. By the way, opiate addiction is just another name for dependence.

How Opiate Addiction Develops

A fair number of opiate addictions are the direct result of taking prescription medications either longer than intended or in doses stronger than recommended by a doctor. Things start out innocently enough, with the patient taking the medication as prescribed. But for whatever reason, the patient decides to take the medication more frequently or in higher doses. This is usually because the patient doesn’t feel as though the drug is offering enough pain relief when used according to the doctor’s original instructions.

As soon as the patient increases his/her dosage or frequency, the process leading to addiction begins. It only takes a certain amount of time for the body to get used to having more opiate in the system, leading to a condition known as ‘tolerance’. In simple terms, tolerance results when your body no longer feels the same kind of effect from the same dosage. One must increase the dosage in order for the medication to work.

Tolerance further advances the move toward dependence by encouraging the patient to take more medication. If the cycle of tolerance continues escalating over time, the result is addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Opiate Abuse

A person may be abusing opiates (that is, taking the drug more frequently or in higher doses than prescribed) without being an addict. But long-term abuse that is not interrupted almost always leads to addiction. Are you concerned you or a loved one might be abusing opiates? If so, the following signs and symptoms indicate a potential problem:

  • Reduced pain sensitivity (analgesia)
  • Frequent feelings of sedation or euphoria
  • Shallow breathing/respiratory depression
  • Frequently constricted pupils
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed and/or itchy skin
  • Routine constipation
  • Frequently slurred speech
  • A tendency toward confusion or poor judgement.

Any of these signs or symptoms observed on a routine basis may indicate the person is abusing opiates. To be sure, there’s one more tell-tale sign that virtually guarantees abuse, if not addiction. That sign is the emergence of withdrawal symptoms between doses. Withdrawal symptoms are numerous and can include the following:

  • Abdominal cramping and diarrhoea
  • Nausea, vomiting and excessive salivation
  • Runny nose, nasal congestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tremors, excessive yawning
  • Drug cravings
  • Anxiety and irritability.

The emergence of withdrawal symptoms between doses is evidence that the body and mind are dependent on whatever drug is being taken. It should be a red flag. If you or a loved one exhibits these withdrawal symptoms, you need to get help for opiate addiction right away.

Withdrawing from Opiates

Opiate addiction is never a good thing regardless of one’s station in life. However, if there’s any silver lining here, it is the fact that withdrawing from opiates is not nearly as dangerous as some other kinds of drugs. Rarely is withdrawal from opiates a life-threatening situation. That said, addicts should still not attempt to withdraw on their own.

Withdrawal symptoms can be agonising and temporarily debilitating, making it very easy for the addict to abandon his or her attempt and quickly return to taking the drug to relieve the symptoms. By undergoing withdrawal in a medically supervised setting, patients are more likely to complete the process.

All of the private rehab clinics we work with offer medically supervised detox in a safe, secure environment. We believe medical supervision is absolutely necessary regardless of the drug a person is trying to overcome. Medical providers monitor the patient’s health, make the patient as comfortable as possible and, when applicable, administer medications that help take the edge off withdrawal symptoms.

Please understand that a person addicted to opiates can never overcome that addiction without first going through withdrawal. The reasoning here is simple: it’s not possible to break physical and psychological addiction without first separating the body and mind from the drugs influencing it. And the only way to accomplish separation is through detox and withdrawal.

What Happens after Detox

Once opiate withdrawal is complete, the patient undergoes additional counselling therapies that can take anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks to complete. This is known as psychotherapeutic treatment. It is designed to help patients understand the mechanism of addiction, what triggers it, and what can be done to avoid it in the future.

While it is possible to overcome opiate addiction through detox only, a patient’s chances of long-term success are significantly increased when psychotherapeutic treatment follows. You see, detox only addresses the physical aspects of drug addiction. It does nothing for the mental and emotional side of things.

As a referral service, we can connect you or your loved one with a local rehab clinic offering treatment for opiate addiction. Our devotion allows us to locate and refer you to the clinic that best suits your needs and budget. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you or a loved one has an opiate problem.

Consequences of Opiate Abuse

Should you recognise an opiate addiction but decide not to get treatment, there are some things you need to know regarding the consequences of your choice. Opiate abuse is not simply a bad habit that will go away by itself. If you end up addicted to opiates, you could lose everything you hold dear.

It is very common for opiate addicts to experience:

  • Loss of Employment – It becomes very difficult to do one’s job correctly if addicted to opiates.
  • Financial Ruin – Without steady employment, an opiate addict can run out of money and prospects very quickly.
  • Loss of Relationships – Family members and friends may walk out on the opiate addict because he or she is unbearable to be around.
  • Poor Health – Opiates can do serious damage to one’s health if abused long enough. They can also seriously harm mental health as well.

In a worst-case scenario, opiate addiction could leave you isolated, confused, and suffering from clinical depression or anxiety. You could find yourself in a place where you no longer see any purpose in life. That is a dangerous place to be. Please know and understand that no good can come of opiate abuse, no matter how strong you think you or your loved one might be. Don’t take any chances with opiates. If there is any chance of abuse or addiction, get help right away.

How We Can Help

Our 24-hour helpline is available if you are ready to talk to someone about your opiate problem. Our primary goal is to connect clients with treatment providers capable of helping them overcome addiction. When you contact us, we will provide a free and comprehensive assessment of your circumstances followed by treatment recommendations in your local area.

You ultimately have the final say about if, when and where you seek treatment. Rest assured that all of our private clinics operate to the highest standards and are certified and licenced by the proper authorities. Should you determine that private treatment in a residential clinic is not right for you, we also have access to programmes offered by outpatient clinics, counsellors, and even the NHS.

Don’t try to deal with opiate abuse or addiction on your own. There’s no shame in needing help. If you are willing to take the first step in contacting us on our 24-hour helpline, we will help you take the next step in finding and accessing treatment. Just taking one step at a time will carry you down that road that eventually leads to complete recovery.