If you’re worried that you or a loved one may be suffering from opioid addiction, you are right to be concerned. With what has been called “the deadliest drug crisis in American history”, more than 42,000 people in the U.S. died from overdosing on opioids in 2016 alone, while another 2.1 million people became addicted to these drugs. Even as national awareness of this drug crisis continues to increase, opioid overdose still claims the lives of more than 115 Americans every day.
If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, there are effective opioid addiction treatments available. The first step toward recovery is educating yourself on opioid addiction and what options may be available to help.
What Are Opioids?
The name ‘opioid’ is derived from the word ‘opium’, which is a chemical naturally found in poppies. Naturally occuring opium has been used as a painkiller for thousands of years and has a long history of being used and abused recreationally, as well. These days, some opioids are still made using the poppy plant, while others are synthesized in a laboratory.
Regardless of how they are derived, opioids are highly addictive substances. These drugs activate the reward and pleasure centers of the brain to produce a euphoric or “high” feeling. They also are very effective at disrupting the brain’s response to pain, which is why some opioids are still commonly used as painkillers today.
Individuals who abuse opioids or use them for long periods of time are at risk of developing both physical and psychological dependence to the drug. This is due to the fact that repeated opioid use can actually alter the circuitry and chemistry of the brain, resulting in the individual needing the drug in order to feel “normal” .
Prescription Versus Illegal Opioids
One thing that makes recognizing and treating opioid addiction challenging is that some opioids have legitimate medical use and can be prescribed by doctors as medication. In the United States, opioids such as morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone can be prescribed by doctors as pain killers for people suffering from chronic pain or while recovering from an accident or surgery. Until recently, codeine (another opioid) was an active ingredient in many over-the-counter cough medicines, but is now only available by prescription.
Some common prescription opioids include:
- Oxycodone: OxyContin® and Percocet®
- Morphine: Kadian® and Avinza®
- Tramadol: Ultram® and ConZip®
- Fentanyl: Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®
- Hydrocodone: Vicodin®
- Oxymorphone: Opana®
Some common street names for prescription opioids include:
Misuse of Prescription Opioids
Since opioids can be both physically and psychologically addictive, it’s important to use them only as prescribed by a doctor. Consequently, if you or a loved one is using prescription opioids in any way that is not prescribed by a physician, this is a cause for concern.
Some common ways people misuse prescription opioids include:
- Taking higher doses of the medication than prescribed by a doctor
- Taking another person’s prescribed opioids
- Using the medication with the goal of “getting high”
- Crushing the pills to snort or inject the medication
Heroin is also part of the opioid family, but unlike the opioids listed above, it is strictly illegal in the United State. Heroin is derived from morphine, which is extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants. Pure heroin is a white powder, but is often “cut” with substances such as sugar, baking soda, and laundry detergent before being sold. Heroin being sold on the street ranges in color from white to brown. “Black tar” heroin is another variety of heroin. It’s a dark, sticky substance that’s named for its resemblance to roofing tar and contains more impurities. Although many typically associate heroin with being injected, heroin can also be smoked or snorted.
Some common street names for heroin include:
- Hell dust
- Brown Sugar
- Big H
When to Seek Treatment
Since some opioids are in fact legal when prescribed by a physician, how do you know when opioid use has become a problem? This answer is different for everyone, but because of their highly addictive properties, using opioids in any way other than prescribed by a physician is a cause for concern. If you’re worried that a loved one may be suffering from opioid addiction, there are different treatment options available that can meet their personal needs.
Opioid Addiction Treatment Programs
Some people may feel that if their loved one really wanted to quit using opioids, they could just stop at any time. Realistically, it’s not that simple. To get sober and maintain long-term sobriety, many opioid addicts need to enter a professional opioid addiction treatment program. As each person’s circumstances are unique, there are options in regards to what type of opioid addiction treatment is best for every individual. However, many opioid addicts go through a process of detox, followed by participating in an inpatient or outpatient opioid addiction treatment program, and then transition into an aftercare program.
Detox and Withdrawal Treatment Centers
When an opioid addict stops using opioids, they will most likely experience symptoms of withdrawal. Depending on the drug and the dosage the person has been taking, withdrawal symptoms can occur just hours after stopping the drug and may last for a week or more.
Common symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
- Muscle pain and cramping
- Fast heart rate
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Excessive sweating
- Watery eyes
- Drug cravings
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be severe and extremely uncomfortable. For some opioids, such as heroin, they can even be life-threatening. Without professional treatment, an opioid addict going through opioid withdrawal may be more likely to relapse. For many people, entering a professional, medically managed detox program helps decrease the chance of relapsing, and often is the first step toward long-term sobriety.
In a medically managed detox program, withdrawal can be supervised by addiction specialists and treated with medication. This process is called Medication-Assisted Treatment or MAT. Medications used during MAT can help ease physical symptoms of withdrawal, prevent serious complications, and reduce drug cravings for the opioid addict.
Some common drugs used during MAT include:
Inpatient Opioid Addiction Treatment
For the majority of those suffering from opioid addiction, detox is only the first step. To continue on the road to recovery, many opioid addicts enter into a treatment program that incorporates psychological work (including individual, group, and family therapy) along with continued Medication-Assisted Treatment.
For those whose addiction is severe or who have relapsed in the past, inpatient opioid addiction treatment may be the best option. In an inpatient or residential recovery program, individuals are in a controlled environment where they can be monitored and supported 24-hours a day. With constant medical care and supervision available, relapse is less likely.
Most inpatient opioid addiction treatment programs also offer a variety of services to support the opioid addict’s mental and emotional health, as these can be primary factors that contribute to opioid addiction. These services, which may include individual, group and family therapy, 12-step groups, and alternative therapies such as yoga or meditation are all important ways for the opioid addict to process their thoughts and feelings, repair relationships with family members, and learn behavioral tools to help them maintain long-term sobriety.
Although every inpatient addiction treatment program is unique, opioid addicts tend to stay in the program anywhere from 3 months to a year.
Outpatient Opioid Addiction Treatment
Outpatient treatment for opioid addiction is another option for those whose addiction is less severe or who have recently completed an inpatient treatment program and want to continue care in a less controlled, but still intensive, environment.
In outpatient opioid addiction treatment, participants can live at home or may opt to stay in sober living housing. Depending on the intensity of the program, some people may continue to work and continue to be a part of regular family life. Most outpatient opioid addiction treatment programs still offer psychological treatment and emotional support along with Medication-Assisted Treatment from addiction specialists and physicians.
The amount of time participants stay in outpatient opioid addiction treatment programs varies. Most individuals suffering from opioid addiction can expect to be at the outpatient facility anywhere from one to seven days a week, with treatment typically lasting three months to a year.
For many people suffering from opioid addiction, continuing to abstain from opioids is a lifelong process. For some opioid addicts, having consist medical support and accountability through lifelong aftercare treatment is vital to maintaining long-term sobriety. This may be accomplished by attending regularly scheduled group meetings facilitated by a substance abuse counselor or continuing to attend 12-Step groups or other non-12-Step alternatives. Many inpatient and outpatient opioid treatment programs offer aftercare support. If you’re seeking opioid addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, be sure to ask about their aftercare options.
If you’re concerned that you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, don’t wait for the worst to happen. Speak to a trusted Nexus recovery advisor today. They’re here to answer questions and can give input as to what type of opioid addiction treatment program may be best for you or your loved one.