Opioid abuse and dependence are seriously threatening problems for the people in our nation. But, while the death toll number keeps increasing, doctors keep prescribing these potent drugs for various levels of pain. While opioids are effective in helping patients deal with high levels of pain or symptoms of chronic pain, long-term use of these prescriptions almost always turns into dependence or addiction. And, dependence on these medications can and does often lead to the use of illicit opiates or opioids to ward off withdrawal symptoms.
Prescription opioid abuse doesn’t usually happen intentionally. The biggest problem with using opioid medications for pain is that they not only eliminate symptoms of pain, but they offer other effects like relaxation and euphoria. Like other drugs which offer the same effects, experiencing these reactions means a greater chance to use these substances to feel good. Additionally, they alter the way brain chemicals are secreted and affect the natural reward system, leading to developed cravings and altered behaviors.
While opioids reach areas of the brain responsible for pain, they also reach the area of the brain responsible for the reward system. This reward system is why we do what we do to survive like eat, sleep, and even reproduce. When we do these things, we’re rewarded with surges of dopamine and serotonin, which naturally produce effects like relaxation and euphoria. So, those who utilize opioids for pain eventually associate taking opioids as a positive experience due to the mirrored effects of the body’s own reward system. Additionally, once receptors get used to stimulation brought on by opioids, they may not release regular amounts of dopamine or serotonin when usually rewarded behaviors are performed unless opioids are present. All too often, opioid users will fall into a continuous cycle of using, craving, withdrawal, and using again–otherwise known as opioid dependence.
If you think that you may be struggling with opioid dependence there are a few warning signs you can look out for which may help to determine if you need additional support. Signs of opioid dependence may include:
Opioid dependence can happen to anyone. While people who get hooked on substances are stereotyped to be weak or easily influenced, even the biggest and baddest can succumb to opioid dependence. Developing a dependence is physical, it’s not a matter of willpower or even life experience. Even the individuals who our society glorifies as heroic way-makers such as doctors, lawyers, medical professionals, judges, police officers, firefighters, and war veterans, can all get hooked on opioid medications. No profession, creed, religion, gender, sexual preference, or place of origin gives an individual the “willpower” to prevent dependency on opioids if they’re misused. So, basically, anyone who uses opioids is at risk for developing an addiction. However, studies show that there are a few cases in which people may be at an increased risk for an opioid dependence. These cases include:
The words tolerance, addiction, and dependence are commonly thrown around like they’re all the same thing. However, there are distinctions between the three. In fact, they signify different stages of drug abuse disorder. And, the type of treatment which should be sought out may depend on whether or not a person has developed tolerance, dependence, or addiction. Characteristics of each
Opioid Tolerance: As soon as an individual starts using an addictive substance, the body starts to gain tolerance. This is when the brain starts to identify a chemical which interacts with neurotransmitters. Once the transmitters recognize the substance, they aren’t as responsive as they once were. And, individuals don’t get the same effects as they once did. For example, when an individual first starts taking their opioid medication, they may need to only take one pill to experience effects. But, with prolonged use, individuals will find that one pill doesn’t offer the same effects–this is tolerance. And, is one of the defining characteristics of dependence. Once tolerance forms, it’s common that individuals will up their dose of opioid prescription medications without doctor consent so they can experience the effects they desire.
Physical Opioid Dependence: Dependence to opioids is not only when the body recognizes the drug and needs more to give off desired effects, but when it needs opioids to function properly. Without the presence of opioids, those dependent will experience negative side effects known as withdrawal symptoms. Basically, this happens because the brain produces its own kind of opioids (dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins) which are released as a part of the reward system. A non-dependent body will usually regulate these chemicals on its own. But, with increased tolerance and opioid use, the body no longer has the ability to manually regulate these chemicals or release them when needed. So, when opioids aren’t present, the body reacts negatively by offering agitating withdrawal symptoms like nausea, seizures, vomiting, cold sweats, muscle cramps, and much more. Obviously, experiencing these symptoms is not a walk in the park. The reason many individuals find it so hard to kick their physical dependence on opioids is not due to willpower, it’s due to physical dependence. When individuals who are dependent stop taking opioids, they either have to wait out the withdrawal period (which could be weeks) and experience these dangerous symptoms or use opioids. Unfortunately, without needed treatment, those physically dependent will continually use opioids to ward off withdrawal and physical dependence ensues.
Opioid Addiction: While dependence and addiction are terms which can be used synonymously, they’re actually different. While dependence usually refers to physical dependence listed above, addiction is about behavior. And, it’s a disease whereas dependence is not. Addiction is characterized by uncontrollable use, strong cravings for a substance, and experiencing consequences of addiction and continuing to use. Cravings and behaviors brought on by addiction are said to be the result of altered brain chemicals due to physical dependence. So, even when individuals are aware that they are experiencing consequences due to their drug use, they’re still compelled to abuse opioids. Consequences of addiction can include financial issues, broken relationships, job loss, legal issues, failing out of school, and health problems. If you or someone you know is experiencing the consequences of drug use and still portrays addictive behavior, addiction is likely and treatment is necessary.
Here at Diablo Valley Medically Assisted Treatment, we aim to help individuals struggling with opioid dependence. That’s because our method of treatment is offered on an outpatient basis and includes less supervision than a residential or even partial hospitalization program. If individuals are diagnosed with opioid addiction, it’s usually suggested by our doctor they seek treatment more in-depth and expansive than medically assisted treatment alone.
Fortunately, not all individuals succumb to the horrifying overdose statistics which are reported each day in America. In fact, many individuals who find they are dependent on opioid pain medications and opiates find recovery. Dependence may differ from patient to patient based on experience, medical history, personal needs, etc. And, since there are different dependence experiences, there are many methods of treatment. One method proven to successfully help individuals recover from opioid dependence is medically assisted treatment.
Because withdrawal symptoms occur when dependent individuals stop taking opioids, it’s hard to focus on recovery while the substance detoxes from the body. Incorporating medically assisted withdrawal allows for a reduction or even elimination of withdrawal symptoms altogether. And, they help to reduce cravings of opioids so that the process of recovery can be made a bit easier. Combined with individualized and group therapy sessions, individuals who utilize medically assisted treatment to help with opioid dependence have a great chance of obtaining a successful recovery.
There are going to be pros and cons to every medical treatment. But, the thing about substance abuse disorder is that treatment may differ for each individual. It’s important that each individual struggling with dependence to opioids find the method of treatment which works best based on their needs and recovery goals. Here at Diablo Valley MAT, we understand what is important to you in regard to your care, and we believe that medicated assisted treatment for opioid dependence can have a number of benefits including:
Long-term care: Getting better from an opioid dependence isn’t something that happens overnight, or even a 30 day stay at a residential facility. It’s something that happens over years. Medically assisted treatment is a gradual, medically guided approach that allows for the steady healing of dependence from opioids. Dependence is usually paired with chemical imbalances of the brain, brought on by the continued cycle of used opioids. And, as a result, it takes the brain a while to get back to producing the correct amount of chemicals it needs to function as it one had. Furthermore, it takes time for individuals to develop healthy thinking patterns which aim to prevent relapse and maintain sobriety. Overall, medically assisted treatment is a method which utilizes a gradual approach to recovery rather than a rushed approach.
It works: Perhaps one of the best benefits of medically assisted treatment for opioid dependence is the overwhelming amount of evidence that it is successful. That’s because relapse happens mostly to keep withdrawal symptoms from occurring. But, with medically assisted treatment, individuals don’t experience withdrawal symptoms so they don’t feel the incredible need to use opioids. Some research even states that if medically assisted treatment weren’t available, opioid overdose numbers of today would be doubled.
Outpatient: When individuals think of recovery from any type of addiction, they may imagine a residential facility. Well, medically assisted treatment for opioids allows individuals to detox from home, rather than a medical or residential facility. While medications will be managed by our doctor and therapy options are available for patients to take full advantage of, individuals can also live and sleep in their own homes while receiving treatment. This makes it possible for individuals to continue with their daily lives like attending school or work while concurrently getting the help they need!
If you’re looking for more information on opioid dependence or medically assisted treatment for opioids, there are a number of proficient organizations dedicated to helping those affected by the opioid epidemic including:
If you’re struggling with a dependence on an opioid medication or have found yourself using opiates as a way to off opioid withdrawal, help is available today at Diablo Valley Drug and Alcohol Services. Contact us today to start your journey of recovery and be free from your opioid dependence once and for all.