If you are struggling with an addiction to opioids, understand that you’re not the only one! We can help. There are many treatment programs out there but it can be difficult to know where to look for help when you or your loved one is experiencing a substance abuse problem. One of the most important things you can do when making this decision is to get some rest and relax because stress inhibits our thinking abilities, which is exactly what we don’t want when it comes down to deciding on which type of drug addiction treatment works best with your specific needs. Luckily, NuView Treatment Center has all of your bases covered and specializes in providing evidence-based treatment for people struggling with opioid addictions!
Individualized Treatment for Opioid Addiction in Los Angeles
NuView Substance Abuse Treatment Center Los Angeles provides services for individuals who have become dependent on narcotics. As a treatment center, we specialize in helping people with their addictions to the aforementioned drugs. We make every attempt to provide nonjudgmental and caring care in our comfortable facility that allows clients to develop more effective coping skills. Everybody forms these habits for different reasons, which is why you can count on us to take the time it takes to create individualized strategies that fit your needs as a client.
Evidence-Based Outpatient Programs for Opioid Use Disorder
Our counselors discern what the underlying causes of our clients’ substance abuse habits are. Our treatment experts next develop an individualized plan that works for each client, aiming to help them address all of the issues they need to resolve while in rehabilitation. By using a combination therapy approach of group counseling and one-on-one counseling, we address the situations our clients were in before they became addicted to drugs as well as whatever issues may continue to crop up repeatedly in their daily lives between sessions. This allows us to zero in on underlying issues behind their substance abuse habits.
Uniquely Flexible Rehab Programs for Opioid Addicts
Our outpatient programs allow patients to continue living their lives without disruption. Evening programs provide addiction recovery help for those who have commitments in their day-to-day lives. Programs are run so that the challenges addicts face in their professional and personal lives don’t hold them back from getting better. All of the resources provided by our outpatient clinic work to help addicts make a smooth transition upon returning home or while developing new routines post-treatment. We know each person has a unique addiction story, which is why we give it all we’ve got to help each patient reach his or her goals with counseling and treatment that’s right for them. Our team won’t rest until those goals and dreams have been attained!
Affordable and Insurance-Covered Addiction Treatment
Opioid addiction treatment can be complicated at times. But there are effective ways to help treat the disease and the vast majority of treatment programs are covered by health insurance plans. Nuview Treatment Center is dedicated to helping you achieve long-term sobriety as quickly and affordably as possible. Contact us today and let us take care of things, so you can just focus on getting better!
What is Opioid Addiction?
Opioids are a class of drug that includes both legal prescription medications (such as OxyContin, hydrocodone, or Percocet) and illicit street drugs like heroin. These illegal opioids are well-known among recreational users but many people don’t know the difference between a legal opioid and an illegal one – though they can seem very different in terms of terminology, they essentially do the same thing: control pain by suppressing the brain’s perception of it. Opioid addiction is a public health issue that is only getting worse as time goes on and more people become addicted to both prescription and street drugs alike.
Opioids were first derived from a naturally occurring plant, the poppy. These natural psychoactive drugs have been used for thousands of years throughout the world for medicinal, religious, and recreational purposes; but as drug technology in general has developed, more potent lab made versions have become all too common. These man-made opiates are not only more powerful, they can lead to more powerful forms of addiction and cause fatal overdoses.
Some common types of prescription opiates include:
While heroin remains the most notorious culprit for opioid addiction, the fact is that most heroin users start off becoming addicted to prescription painkillers. Current studies indicate that 75% of illicit opioid users started off having a legitimate prescription for a prescription opioid. It is thus critical to recognize that opioid addiction can stem from proper usage of a drug just as easily as it can come about from deliberate misuse and abuse.
How Does Opioid Addiction Happen?
Painkillers may function as powerful pain relievers, but they are also highly addictive drugs. Because people like the high they experience when using these drugs, they will likely keep turning to them even though they know they cannot use them responsibly without negative consequences in terms of their health and quality of life. It’s critical to look into the underlying cause of the behavior in order to understand why people get dependent on prescription opioids when using them is so risky.
When people consume opiate drugs, the drugs activate opiate receptors in the brain. Opioid receptors are located in all mammals’ brains (as well as their spinal cords and digestive systems) and control feelings of pleasure as well as pain. When a drug has activated one’s opioid receptors, these receptors cause pain signals to be blocked. During this process, our brains also release high quantities of a neurotransmitter known as dopamine.
When made, dopamine is commonly referred to as the “brain reward’ chemical. The same neurotransmitter that proves so important in helping us take action and make progress towards our goals is also known to be released when we eat delicious food or engage in sexual activity with a partner. Though there are many functions of dopamine throughout our brain (primarily in our motivation and decision making centers), neurologists agree that dopamine is the driving factor behind physical addiction. Because opioids release such large quantities of dopamine all at once, after just a single use a person is likely to be motivated to repeat the behavior.
Opioids cause the brain to release more dopamine than almost anything else, which means any associated behaviors are reinforced and very difficult to give up. When people feel a desire for opioids again, they may think they’re doing it because they like the feeling, but the underlying reality of their subverted brain activity indicates otherwise.
With regular use, people can become habituated to the effects of opioids. Opioid tolerance refers to when the brain and body become accustomed to a specific dose of morphine or other narcotics. Too much morphine can prevent the brain from producing endorphins naturally, so the person will require stronger and stronger doses – or more potent opiates – to achieve the high they are accustomed to.
When people become physically dependent on opioids, the opioid withdrawal symptoms are very intense and make them want to continue their addiction. This can make attempts to quit extremely difficult for those affected. Those individuals experiencing withdrawals will start having impossibly strong feelings of desire for drugs when they stop taking them, which can make quitting quite difficult without the help of a treatment program.
What are the Signs of Opioid Abuse and Addiction?
The medical term for heroin addiction is “opioid use disorder,” and is also known as substance use disorder. A person can be diagnosed with this mental health condition from a psychiatrist or other clinician by using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Opioid use disorders are classified into three different levels depending on how many symptoms the individual is experiencing at that time. Mild opioid use disorder consists of 2-3 symptoms, moderate consists of 4-5 symptoms, and severe opioid use disorder consists of greater than 5 symptoms.
The 11 symptoms of opioid use disorder, as outlined by the DSM-5, include:
- A person often takes opioids in greater amounts or over a longer length of time than they want to
- A person has a consistent desire to reduce or control their opioid use, but they are unsuccessful each time they try
- A person devotes a significant portion of their time in activities necessary to obtain opioids, use opioids, of recover from the effects of opioid abuse
- They experience regular cravings, or a strong desire to use opioids
- Their regular opioid use results in failures to fulfill obligations at school, work, or home
- Opioid use continues despite the regular occurrence of social or interpersonal problems caused by or worsened by the effects of opioids (or recovering from opioid abuse)
- They give up important activities in order to engage in opioid abuse
- Using opioids in situations where it is physically hazardous, such as driving while under the influence
- Continuing to use opioids despite knowing that one has a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is caused by or exacerbated by opioids
- Developing a tolerance, causing one to require greater quantities of opioids to achieve the desired high
- Suffering from any opioid withdrawal symptoms when one stops taking opiates
Do I Have an Opioid Addiction?
Addiction is extremely prevalent in the United States. Although addiction is commonly associated with recreational drugs, it can be problematic regardless of substance. If you find yourself increasingly experiencing physical and psychological consequences as time goes on, or if you find yourself trying to obtain a steady supply of opioids primarily for non-medical use, there is a good chance that you are addicted.
If you find it necessary to visit numerous doctors for different prescriptions of the same type, then you might have an addiction. Oftentimes this behavior is known as “doctor shopping,” and it can be a sign that something’s not right. You could very well need an addiction treatment program.
How Can I Help Someone with an Opioid Addiction?
If a family member, friend, or loved one is abusing opiates in a recreational or chronic manner, they are likely to be experiencing some very harmful side effects that either affect their mood or behavior on a daily (or near-daily) basis. You can tell if someone is abusing opioid pain medication because their moods will often switch from euphoria to severe depression or because they will engage in desperate drug-seeking behavior. But you should know that help is available at NuView’s Los Angeles outpatient rehab!
The best thing you can do for your friend suffering from addiction is to be a genuinely supportive listener. It’s okay to speak up if there’s a negative consequence that you see as clear as day, but use “I” statements instead of “you” statements; for instance: “I’ve noticed… You seem…” or “I see that…” Before talking about the consequences of their addiction, take another moment to really listen and try to understand where they are coming from! If possible, find out what the problem has been in their lives that has led them down this path. Our loved ones will always be more inclined toward taking action once we get to the source of their problems.
The second way you can help is by encouraging them to seek professional medical advice so they can be evaluated as to whether or not a medically supervised drug detox program would be beneficial. No matter how severe a person’s opioid abuse is, it’s important to understand that getting sober requires acting on the advice of reputable addiction treatment professionals.
How Is Opioid Addiction Treated?
Both prescription and illicit opioid drugs are extremely powerful, addiction-causing substances that can lead to heavy dependency as well as serious health issues. One cannot overcome dependence on these substances and regain balance in one’s life without the help of a licensed drug rehabilitation center. Different facilities offer different types of services, with prices ranging depending on the level of care provided.
NuView Treatment Center focuses its offerings on outpatient treatment programs in order to make them more accessible for those who may only be seeking help with their addiction during the evenings, weekends, or other times that do not interfere with professional duties, social obligations, and everyday activities. Apart from aiming to ease their financial burden, outpatient treatment programs allow you a level of flexibility when pursuing recovery so that you have the ability to make improvements gradually over time instead of simply jumping into an intense rehab program out of the blue.
We know how hard it can be living a normal life while trying to live an addiction-free one; but we also want to remind you that things will get better as long as you are willing to accept assistance.
When treating an opioid addiction, physical dependence is the first thing to tackle. At sufficient doses of opioids, simply stopping “cold turkey” may lead to painful withdrawal symptoms, and even relapse isn’t uncommon. Staff members and trained clinicians at NuView Treatment Center who specialize in this area know that clients who experience extreme withdrawal symptoms should be put in touch with supervising physicians who can help to decrease their dosage with very small tapers over a period of time as painlessly as possible.
Opioid addiction is a lot more than just a physical affliction. It’s also an emotional and interpersonal condition as well. Overcoming it requires more than just meeting the physical requirements of removing the substance from the body. Recovering requires dealing with the underlying reasons why one started abusing opioid drugs in the first place, as well as understanding how maintaining healthy lifestyle choices, positive mental attitude and positive relationships can relieve an individual from feeling the need to continue abusing opioid drugs altogether!
How Do Outpatient Programs Help Opioid Addicts?
There are many options available for people who are addicted to opiates. These programs vary in their intensity, resources offered, and flexibility. In choosing an opioid addiction treatment program, it is generally a good idea to assess the severity of your own addiction and what sort of services you need.
Factors that determine what kind of program a person needs include the severity of their addiction, their level of functionality in terms of completing everyday tasks, and whether or not they suffer from comorbid mental and physical health problems. As people progress in their recovery and become more functional, most tend to move on to less acute treatment programs.
The two primary types of addiction treatment programs are inpatient programs and outpatient programs. Inpatient programs are residential treatment programs that offer an intensive level of care. These residential programs offer 24-hour nursing staff monitoring, intensive therapy, and supervised detox for opioid withdrawal.
Inpatient programs are generally ideal for individuals who have reached a point in their opioid addiction where they are unable to function at all in their daily lives. They are also beneficial for people whose lives have fallen apart to such an extent that they have no home or social support system. Inpatient programs allow these individuals to build a basic foundation for sobriety.
However, people can only attend inpatient programs for a limited period of time. The goal of any residential treatment program is to prepare clients for enrollment in longer term outpatient treatment programs. Inpatient programs are also significantly more expensive than outpatient programs
Outpatient treatment programs are addiction treatment programs that meet for several hours a day on multiple days a week. Clients live in their own personal homes, where they can benefit from their existing social support system. This allows clients to continue to learn valuable tools, strategies, and coping mechanisms for staying sober and to continue addressing any underlying issues behind their addictions. Moreover, due to the outpatient nature of these programs, clients can take advantage of daily opportunities for rebuilding their lives in the outside world.
The treatments we provide at NuView Treatment Center include many distinct, research-based techniques so each client can benefit from the most suitable methods for them individually, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Methods. Other treatment methods include:
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
- Medication monitoring
- Individual therapy
- 12-step programs and 12-step alternatives
- Drug education
- Relapse prevention training
- Fitness and health education
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Mindfulness, yoga, and meditation activities
- Career and education planning
- Urine tests to ensure abstinence
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
Complementary and Alternative therapies
Should you or a loved one develop an addiction to drugs, NuView Treatment Center is here to help. A key ingredient in successfully overcoming such a powerful dependency is self-care, as self-care helps make your transition into recovery as gentle and smooth as possible. We understand how hard this really is, which is why our team of professionals will help treat the root cause of your illness rather than simply dealing with its symptoms; giving you time and space to heal from the inside out. And for those reasons we invite you to contact us today about our holistic assessment process!
The more holistic and experimental approaches we offer include but are not limited to:
- Nutritional programs
- Fitness programs
- Art therapy
- Sound therapy
Generally, when we use drugs like prescription opioids and heroin, they chemically mimic the feel-good chemicals that our brain produces and can therefore trick the neurons into sending false signals of satisfaction. If a person has been taking opioids for a long time, these neurons may not be able to fully bounce back! However, by using holistic therapies that increase the production of dopamine, we can simulate an antidepressant or anti-anxiety response and encourage the repair of neurotransmitter imbalances by targeting implicated neural pathways.
Who Should Enroll in Outpatient Rehab for Opioid Addiction?
Outpatient treatment programs provide quality evidence-based treatment for individuals suffering from opioid addiction. Outpatient rehabs are beneficial as first line treatments for individuals who have never attended any formal treatment program.
They are also often utilized to help clients make a smoother transition into the outside world after finishing a more acute program. To determine whether an outpatient program is right for you, it is important to assess your addiction severity, your level of flexibility, and your existing level of support.
Outpatient treatment programs are recommended for:
- People who require flexible treatment programs so they can meet work, school, or family obligations
- People who want a cost-effective treatment program
- People with comorbid mental health disorders, such as depression, eating disorder, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder
- People who have finished a residential treatment program and want continued support as they rebuild their lives
- People who have relapsed often and want a stronger foundation of sober skills
- People who have a home to return to each night, and ideally a strong existing support system
- People who want to be able to choose from a wide range of levels of care
- People who want help rebuilding their lives in the outside world
- People who want to expand their sober social support networks
What Types of Outpatient Programs Are Offered for Opioid Addiction?
A wide variety of outpatient treatment programs for opioid addiction exist to meet different levels of addiction severity. Understanding which type of outpatient program is right for you involves assessing your current state.
Important factors include how functional you are in your daily life, how strong your existing social support system is, how flexible you are, whether you have any comorbid mental health disorders, and of course how much and how often you took opioids.
Keep in mind that many people benefit from making use of multiple opioid addiction treatment programs, transitioning from a more intensive program to a less acute level of care as they progress in their recovery. In fact, research shows that people who make use of addiction treatment programs for longer periods of time are far less likely to relapse over the long term.
Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)
Partial hospitalization programs, often known as PHPs, are by far the most acute level of care offered among outpatient treatment programs. Partial hospitalization programs are often held in hospitals, medical clinics, are addiction resource centers. They employ physicians, psychiatrists, and other medical professionals who work to meet the diverse needs of clients.
Partial hospitalization programs are generally recommended for individuals whose opioid addictions have reached a level of severity that makes it nearly impossible to function in their everyday lives. PHPs can also be very beneficial as a transitional program to individuals who have recently graduated from a residential treatment program.
Partial hospitalization programs generally meet for the majority of each day most days of the week, providing clients with an acute level of care while also enabling them to practice their newfound skills in the outside world.
Partial hospitalization programs are prepared to address the needs of clients who suffer from comorbid mental or physical health disorders. They are also ideal for people who are undergoing difficult or dangerous opioid detoxes.
On-site physicians can set up a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) plan, which means they will prescribe medications to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Meanwhile, PHP clients benefit from behavioral therapy, skills training, and group therapy, which enables them to develop an initial foundation for their sobriety.
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)
Intensive outpatient programs, or IOPs, are the second highest level of care offered by outpatient programs. They are designed for people whose addictions impede their functioning and who have had struggles with relapsing before.
Like PHPs, IOPs are also often recommended as transitional programs for people who have finished residential treatment programs are partial hospitalization programs, though IOPs are also excellent first line treatment programs for individuals who have never attended any kind of addiction treatment program.
Intensive outpatient programs meet for approximately half the day several days a week, providing clients with a great deal of support as they begin to rebuild their lives in the outside world.
Intensive outpatient programs work to ensure that clients develop the skills and coping techniques they need to get sober — and stay sober. Much of this involves learning to recognize personal triggers and developing plans to handle them without relapsing on opioids.
Clients also work daily to address underlying issues that may be motivating their substance abuse habits. Intensive outpatient programs provide a wide variety of treatment methods, ranging from group therapy and individual therapy to support groups and skills workshops.
Moreover, staff work with clients to help them develop more structured and fulfilling lives in general, supporting them as they begin to figure out new employment goals and heal damaged relationships with family members.
Evening Intensive Outpatient Program (Evening IOP)
At NuView, we also offer a unique evening IOP that offers the same high-quality clinical practices as our traditional IOP, but with the flexibility to be attended in the evenings after work or school. Many people seeking treatment for drug addiction have hectic schedules, requiring them to balance demanding careers and a responsibility for their family’s health and wellbeing. Our evening IOP affords clients the chance to attend recovery sessions when it suits them best and allows them time to put their own lives first during this stressful time while they seek help with recovering from their addiction.
Outpatient Treatment Programs (OPs)
Outpatient programs for opioid addiction are the most fundamental level of care available. Most outpatient programs meet once or twice a week for a few hours. In many ways they are similar to IOPs, but they meet less frequently.
For this reason, outpatient programs are ideal for individuals who require a great deal of flexibility so that they can meet work or family obligations. Outpatient programs are best for clients who are fairly functional in their lives but nonetheless require support for continued addiction recovery. They are excellent first line treatments for addiction, and they are also often recommended to people who have finished a PHP or IOP.
Outpatient programs employ highly trained and compassionate staff. Clients in outpatient programs benefit from a range of evidence-based addiction treatment methods. Group therapy is generally emphasized, though individual therapy is also often used to help clients address underlying issues.
Clients in outpatient programs spend most of their time in the outside world, so much of the focus of outpatient programs is in helping clients meet the challenges they face and supporting them as they develop sober lives.
Aftercare plans are plans that are designed to help individuals stay sober and continue to receive support after having graduated from a formal treatment program. Case workers and treatment teams at outpatient programs generally work with clients before they graduate to set up an aftercare plan that meets their own individual needs. This ensures that graduating clients don’t feel like they’ve suddenly been tossed into the outside world without any support.
However, aftercare planning is about far more than just helping graduates make a smooth transition. Most people who stay sober continue to make use of aftercare services years after graduating from a formal treatment program. In fact, continued use of aftercare services is associated with a far lower risk of relapse over the course of a person’s life.
People who stop engaging in aftercare services have likely not understood one of the primary lessons that treatment programs try to teach. The lesson is: addiction cannot be cured, but it can be managed. Like other chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, opioid addiction can be put into remission as long as a person continues to follow their treatment regimen.
However, it should also be mentioned that aftercare services are rarely a chore for people; in fact, most individuals find themselves drawn to aftercare services, which enrich and add joy to their lives.
Aftercare treatment programs can include a diverse array of elements, ranging from individual therapy to addiction support groups. Among support groups, 12-step based programs are the most popular.
For opioid addiction, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is the most obvious choice, though many benefit from attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. At NA or AA meetings, individuals can meet other people who are recovering from the same conditions, benefiting from their experiences, strength, and hope.
Not only can people learn new ways of coping in these meetings, but they also benefit from expanding their sober social support group, which is crucial for staying sober — and crucial for staying happy.
How Can I Afford Opioid Addiction Treatment?
Rehab for opioid addiction is not free. However, it is generally a good investment in one’s financial future. After all, buying heroin, oxycodone, and other opiates is an expensive habit. Additionally, the consequences that people face during active addiction often include serious financial wreckage. It is common for people to lose their jobs, accumulate debt, and face expensive legal difficulties.
Even in the rare circumstance that a person does not suffer severe harms from their opioid addiction, it is unlikely that they will be able to advance much at their job. Achieving sobriety unlocks many doors and enables one to live a prosperous life, which means that paying for addiction treatment is likely to be a sound investment.
Outpatient treatment programs are less expensive than residential treatment programs. Clients are able to get all of the treatments they would normally receive from an inpatient program, but because they do not have to pay for a bed, outpatient programs are far more affordable.
However, given that most people have limited financial resources available after years of opioid addiction, paying for addiction rehab can often seem intimidating. Fortunately, there are many options available.
Insurance companies will often lighten the financial burden, often paying for the entirety of addiction treatment. In fact, under the Affordable Care Act, addiction treatment is considered an essential health benefit. This means that health insurance companies are legally obligated to pay for addiction treatment.
While this does not guarantee that any particular outpatient treatment program will be covered, it does ensure that you can get the treatment you need without draining your bank account.
If you have chosen an outpatient treatment program that is not covered by your health insurance plan, other options are still available, including loans, scholarships, and payment plans. In many cases, family members who are eager to see their addicted loved one recover are more than willing to lend a hand.
How Does NuView Treatment Center Support Families?
NuView Treatment Center understands how deeply family and friends of those suffering from opioid addiction can be affected. This process is exacerbated by the fact that opioid addiction isn’t rooted in waywardness or indolence – it stems from a genetic predisposition as well as a host of the confounding, complex emotional matter that affects so many people during their upbringing. NuView treats those sick and damaged by the disease of opiate addiction with support, education, and transformative change. This includes extended family members.
We encourage family members of addicts to participate in our meetings and workshops. While the addict is going through the recovery process, a family member can use the meetings to learn how to deal with addiction and develop a better support system for themselves. We recognize that just because someone struggles with an addiction doesn’t make them an unredeemable person. During these meetings, experts and staff educate those present on substance abuse so they are well-versed on ways they can help create a healthy environment for their loved ones as well as themselves!
Life After Opioid Addiction in Los Angeles
While abusing prescription drugs, there may be a lot of factors that get in the way of one’s ability to imagine living life sober again. You may wonder how you will have fun or relax without pharmaceuticals to use as a crutch during difficult times. At NuView Treatment Center’s outpatient programs, we not only help our patients learn how to avoid relapsing and developing new coping mechanisms for themselves – but also introduce them to people who provide them with social support. This can be done by participating in activities within their network of peers who are recovering from substance abuse such as spending time at game night, going out on field trips, or attending family events!
We support clients when they want to get a job, or even if they want to go back to school! We help them navigate different social circumstances and discover new pursuits. In the end, we want them to live lives that make all of our efforts worthwhile. When clients are not using alcohol and drugs, they tend to be more productive at work and have a deeper emotional connection with their family, friends, spouses and children.
We have a great international alumni community, thanks to our outpatients program in Los Angeles. A vast majority of graduates stay in touch with each other and offer informal support. Some from these past client programs even continue their sobriety through their own personal recovery channel by becoming mentors or group leaders themselves. Through this informal extension of our Los Angeles outpatient program, we are able to give current clients access to our inspiring alumni community so that they can be fulfilled, prosperous and joyful in their sober lives for years to come.
Addiction doesn’t end when you stop taking pills or take some time off. Recovery is a lifelong process that involves learning about your triggers and how best to manage them and prevent relapses. However, with treatment and support, not only is it possible to gain control of your opioid use disorder – it is possible to live a better life.
Frequently Asked Questions
Opiates are a type of drug that is derived originally from the opium poppy. Natural opiates have been used for thousands of years for medical, religious, and recreational purposes. In the last few hundred years, semi-synthetic and fully synthetic opiates that are far more potent have been developed. These synthesized opiates are called opioids, and users often need to seek an opioid treatment program to successfully overcome their addiction.
While addiction has always been a problem with opiates use, the potency of these lab-produced opiates has led to skyrocketing addiction rates in the United States – and throughout the world.
The most infamous opioid drug is probably heroin. Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid that is extremely potent, leads quickly to physical dependence, and causes approximately 15,000 overdose deaths every year. The dangers of heroin are so well-known and popularized by the media that it may come as a surprise that people ever try heroin at all. Why do so many people turn to heroin? In fact, the majority of heroin users begin by using prescription opioids – but they eventually discover that heroin is cheaper or more easily accessible.
So-called “street drugs” like heroin are not the only opioid drugs. In fact, opioids have significant medical uses. Opioids are analgesics, otherwise known as painkillers. Prescription opioid painkillers are oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl are actually considered essential medications, and they are widely prescribed to treat severe and chronic pain.
Many people assume that these drugs, by virtue of being legal, must be safer than “street drugs” like heroin. The reality is that legal prescription opioid painkillers are just as addictive and risky as any other opiate.
In fact, the amount of people who die every year from prescription opioid overdoses is more than double the number of people who die from heroin overdoses, with approximately 31,000 deaths from synthetic opioids occurring each year. The vast majority of people who begin using heroin do so after developing an addiction to prescription opiates.
The most common opiates include:
- Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet)
While opioids function as painkillers, they also produce strong feelings of euphoria. This experience, known as a “high,” is the primary reason people turn again and again to opioids. It may be obvious, but the fundamental reason most people take opioids is because they like how these drugs make them feel. However, it is important to examine the underlying causes of this feeling to understand why people become so helpless over time when it comes to opioids.
When people consume opioids, the drugs activate opioid receptors in the brain. Opioid receptors are located in the brains of all mammals, and they control feelings of pleasure and pain. When a drug has activated a person’s opioid receptors, the result is that pain signals are blocked. At the same time, these receptors cause the brain to release high quantities of a neurotransmitter known as dopamine.
Dopamine causes people to experience intense pleasure. It is the same chemical that is released when people have sex, make a slam dunk in basketball, or complete a personal goal. It is the brain’s way of rewarding itself. Dopamine plays an essential role in the brain’s motivation and decision making centers, and neurologists recognize dopamine as the neurotransmitter that is responsible for reinforcing behavior.
Opioids cause the brain to release more dopamine than just about any other activity, which means drug-taking behaviors become reinforced and almost impossible to say no to. When people feel a desire for opioids again, they may think they’re doing it because they like the feeling, but the underlying neurological reality is that their brains have been hijacked.
With regular use, people develop a tolerance to opioids. What is opioid tolerance? Opioid tolerance when the brain and body become accustomed to a specific dosage of opioids. Once a person has adapted to a specific dose of opioids, that same dose will no longer produce the same “high” that the individual has previously gotten.
In order to get high, they have to either take opioids more frequently, increase their dosage, or switch to a more potent opiate. As a result, the phenomenon of tolerance causes people to consistently increase their dependence on opioids.
Alongside physical dependence comes withdrawal effects. When people become physically dependent on opioids, the result is that when they stop taking them they experience severe opioid withdrawal. The symptoms of opioid withdrawal are known to be excruciatingly painful and debilitating.
As symptoms progress, cravings for opioids can become almost impossible to ignore. For this reason, even individuals with a strong desire to stop taking opioids are often unable to quit.
It is possible for a person to withdraw from opioids completely, at which point they are no longer physically dependent, but they may still suffer from an opioid addiction. Opioid addictions are mental in nature. Even after withdrawing from opioids, people with opioid addiction continue to experience obsessive thoughts and cravings having to do with opioids.
They may recognize the harms that opioids have inflicted, and they may understand how irrational it is to use opioids after having made it through the detox period, but individuals who suffer from addiction are helpless to say no.
It is important to understand that physical dependence on opioids is a major impediment to recovery, and withdrawal is difficult, but opioid addiction is a distinct condition. Opioid addiction is often far more difficult to manage, since it is caused by a wide variety of underlying factors.
The nature of addiction makes it impossible for a person to control without outside help. However, it is possible for a person to manage their addiction and live happily without opioids, as long as they seek outside help.
The initial symptoms of opioid withdrawal generally begin within the first day of quitting opioids. They can also occur when a person has simply cut down their dosage while continuing to use opioids. These mental and physical effects of opioid withdrawal include:
- Muscle aches
- Lacrimation (eyes tearing up)
- Yawning very often
- Inability to sleep
- Excessive sweating
- Runny nose
- Cravings for opioids
After two or three days, symptoms of opioid withdrawal generally reach their peak intensity. The earlier symptoms can become more severe, and many people experience a range of additional acute symptoms. These acute symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Nausea and vomiting
- Goose bumps on the skin
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Blurry vision and dilated pupils
- Extreme cravings for opioids
After approximately a week, the vast majority of these symptoms will have decreased in severity and continue to fade over time. However, most people continue to experience cravings for opioids over the coming weeks and months, and some people continue to experience withdrawal symptoms – a condition known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). For these reasons, the risk of opioid relapse remains high even after a person has withdrawn from opioids. It is therefore essential for people to receive addiction treatment during the detox process and during the aftermath of that process.
Many people with opioid addiction also have accompanying mental health disorders. These individuals are often known as “dual diagnosis” clients. The relationship between opioid addiction and mental illness goes in both directions. Many people find that they develop symptoms of anxiety or depression as a result of the lifestyles they lead while addicted to opiates.
However, it also bears mentioning that mental health disorders themselves can also spur people to abuse opiates, especially when these mental health disorders are untreated or undiagnosed.
It is common for people to turn to opioid abuse to get temporary relief from the emotionally distressing symptoms of mental illness. Ultimately, this tends to worsen the underlying mental illnesses. The result is a vicious cycle, during which both the substance use disorder and the mental health disorder reinforce each other and get steadily worse.
Common conditions that are often associated with opioid addiction include:
- Anxiety disorder
- Major depressive disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Eating disorders
Opioid addiction can be a deeply debilitating condition, affecting a person’s ability to engage in everyday tasks. The consequences of continued opioid addiction can be catastrophic, harming one’s relationships, finances, legal standing, stability, physical and mental health, and even sometimes resulting in death.
Whether a person is addicted to street drugs like heroin or prescription opioid painkillers like fentanyl and oxycodone, it is important to understand that addiction is a legitimate mental health condition that cannot be managed through individual will power alone. Fortunately, opioid addiction is highly treatable.
A wide variety of treatment options are available for opioid addiction. The treatment approach that works best for a particular individual depends on a wide range of personal factors unique to that individual. For this reason, it is best to investigate all options so that you can get the help you need. Life without opiates is possible. It’s just a matter of finding the right addiction treatment program.