Have you ever heard of the opioid epidemic? Most likely, you have. Also called the “opioid crisis”, the phrase is often used as related to substance abuse or dependence. Before we talk about the U.S. opioid epidemic, though, let’s think about drug and alcohol misuse for a minute.
Some people believe that drug dependence or addiction is a choice. They feel that people who are suffering from substance abuse are in that condition because they choose to be. Many feel that addiction people can stop being dependent on drugs if they simply try hard enough. They believe that individuals can overcome substance abuse with mere willpower. But, this is far from the truth. Most people do not intend to become dependent on opioids when they first use them. Doctors may prescribe opioid painkillers to individuals who deal with pain on a regular basis. The main goal when taking these medications is, of course, to ease and manage the recurring, chronic pain. Patients rarely seek to become dependent on their prescriptions. On the other hand, some individuals might seek to experiment with illicit opioids.
Although the initial use is a choice, people who decide to use illegal drugs don’t usually intend to develop substance abuse or dependence problem. The opioid crises is truly an epidemic. The meaning of that word does not involve the word “choice”. It doesn’t involve the word “intentional”. No one plans to become a victim of an epidemic, which is the spreading of a disease. Here in the States, the effects of the opioid epidemic are definitely seen in the lives of many individuals. And education is the best way to fight against the spreading of this disease. In other words, the most effective weapon we have against this epidemic is knowledge about the problem.
So, you have heard about the opioid epidemic. But maybe you are wondering, “what are opiates and opioids?” In order to better understand the opioid and opiate crisis, it is helpful to know exactly what these drugs are. Often, you may see the terms “opiate” and “opioid” used interchangeably. However, there is a distinction between the two. An opiate drug is derived from a plant called the opium poppy. The word “opioid” is more like an umbrella term, covering the category of opiates and other drugs. Opioids work by binding to certain receptors within the brain of the user. When a person uses an opiate or opioid drug, he or she will experience some changes in various areas of the body. Often, users feel pain-relieving and stress-relieving effects when they use opioids. This is because these drugs bind to the receptors in the brain which are responsible for controlling pain.
Some commonly used legal and illicit opioids include:
Heroin is one of the most commonly used illegal opioid drugs. Sadly, it has caused very serious problems for individuals and families all across the United States of America. This drug is extremely powerful and harmful. When people misuse it, they feel its euphoric effect which is known as a “rush” or “high”. It is usually a pleasurable feeling. But, after this effect wears off, users are left feeling drowsy and losing much of their cognitive awareness. Many users experience difficulty operating and functioning as normal. Heroin often affects the way people speak and think. Medically used opioids, including OxyContin and Percocet, produce pain-relieving effects. But, they can also cause drowsiness and other negative side effects.
Despite their negative effects, opioids are often the cause of substance dependence in people’s lives. Individuals become dependent on the opioids they are using and, eventually, may begin to abuse the drugs. Thus, they may become victims of the epidemic.
One of the best ways to learn the truth about something is to first debunk the falsehoods about the matter. So, first things first, let’s address the belief we mentioned earlier. The idea that substance dependence is a choice is not at all true. Many people actually consider it to be a disease. It is classified as a disorder (substance use disorder) or even a chronic disease. In either description of the condition, substance abuse is something that should be treated medically and taken very seriously. Opioid dependence is often assumed to be the abuse of illicit opioid drugs. But, the truth is that people can also become dependent on prescription opioids. Thus, the opioid epidemic extends affects both people who are involved in legal and illegal substance use. And, when a person is suffering from an illness or disorder, it is critical that he or she receives care and help from people who understand what they are experiencing.
Sadly, opioid use has often lead to opioid overdoses in the lives of many users. Again, those who use these substances may not be doing so illegally. They could be well-meaning individuals who began taking opioid medications as instructed by their doctors. But, as a result of this drug use, they could have developed a dependence problem.
Countless individuals throughout the United States are currently suffering from the effects of the opioid epidemic. Not only are individuals struggling with this problem, but their loved ones are also feeling the negative effects of this problem. It is extremely challenging to end substance abuse without proper treatment. An epidemic is a spreading or outbreak of a disease or illness. Opioid misuse is classified as a disease and many people all through the United States are currently struggling with this issue. Thus, we call the spreading of substance abuse “the opioid epidemic”. Unfortunately, far too many individuals and families have been impacted by the spreading of this drug use issue.
The opioid epidemic affects families in very different ways. In some families, drug use causes financial hardship. This might happen because people are dependent on drugs sometimes lose their jobs due to an inability to keep up with work responsibilities. Sometimes, people who are abusing drugs use their financial resources in order to buy more drugs. Many individuals have used their funds to buy drugs even though the money is needed to take care of home responsibilities. It’s difficult for them to avoid doing this because their bodies and minds are dependent on the substances they have been using. In other homes, substance abuse creates separation and distance between loved ones. Harmful drug use habits can cause people to isolate themselves from their family members or friends. Or, it can cause loved ones to push farther and farther away from their addicted loved ones. Sadly, this happens in many families.
This kind of lifestyle can also change the way people behave. Once kindhearted individuals can become irritable and agitated because of their physical and physiological dependence on opioids. These changes can cause loved ones to drift apart. Unfortunately, some homes where opioid abuse has taken hold also deal with physical abuse. But, in just about every home to which the opioid epidemic has spread, there is emotional wreckage. Everyone who is affected by this spreading condition experiences the true pain that comes with substance dependence.
The only way to stop the opioid epidemic from spreading and impacting even more families is to fight against it. You may have heard about the war on opioids and efforts being made by the government. But, there are things you can do in your own life in order to stop this situation from getting worse. If you know someone who is suffering from a substance problem, you can help. You can refer them to a recovery facility that will help them overcome drug use for good.
If you are dealing with opioid dependence in your own life, there is no time like the present to ask for help. It’s not easy to reach out for assistance. It can make you feel ashamed, embarrassed, and guilty. But, the best way to overcome substance dependence is to avoid trying to do it alone. With the right kind of help and guidance, you’ll find yourself living free from the bondage of opioid abuse! Whether you or a loved one needs help, it’s time to look for drug detox programs that can help. Please contact us here at Diablo Valley Drug & Alcohol Services. Our goal is to help each of our clients work towards a new and healthier way of life. Please reach out to us to find out how we can assist you and your family. Through our various drug detox programs, we will work to help end the opioid epidemic’s effects on your family.
**Originally posted on September 6, 2018. Updated on March 20, 2019.