What are Opioids and Opiates?
Opioids are a class of drugs that are naturally found in the opium poppy plant and that work in the brain to produce a variety of effects, including the relief of pain with many of these drugs. Opioids can be prescription medications often referred to as painkillers, or they can be “street” drugs, such as heroin.
Many prescription opioids are used to block pain signals between the brain and the body and are typically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. In addition to controlling pain, opioids can make some people feel relaxed, happy or “high,” and can be addictive. Additional side effects can include slowed breathing, decrease in blood pressure, constipation, nausea, confusion, and drowsiness.
Because of the way that opioids and opiates make you feel, and the euphoric sensations they cause, they can be highly addictive and abused often. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.” This national crisis needs to be addressed so that those that are suffering can get the help they deserve.
Types of Opioids
Also known as opium alkaloids, opioids are a naturally occurring chemical found in opium, that are derived from poppy seeds. Although there are approximately 20 opioids found in the opium plant, only 6 are found in large amounts. Of those 6, the most used are:
The most well-known opioids and most frequently used are morphine and codeine, of which are used for pain relief and prescribed by doctors.
Man-made chemicals that come from naturally occurring plants form semi-synthetic opioids. Some examples of opioids are oxycodone and hydrocodone. Heroin is the most common name for, Diacetylmorphine and is another example of a semi-synthetic opioid. Heroin is made from boiling morphine and acetic anhydride together.
The types of opioids include:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
- Oxymorphone (Opana ER)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
- Tramadol (Ultram, Ultracet)
- Fentanyl (Duragesic)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
The word “narcotic” also refers to opioids, which was once used to describe any type of drug that relieved pain and caused relaxation; now it is commonly used to describe opioids.
What is Opioid Addiction?
Opiate addiction is a long-lasting (chronic) disease that can cause major health, social, and economic problems. Opioids and opiates are a class of drugs that act in the nervous system to produce feelings of pleasure and pain relief. Some opioids are legally prescribed by doctors to manage severe and chronic pain. Opiate addiction is a serious and long-term condition of drug misuse. It occurs when there is a person hooked on a drug. The problem is that the moment that you stop using the medication, the pain goes away, but it returns to normal. People who have suffered from cancer have been known to have a higher likelihood of misusing opioids, to help manage the pain they endured while going through specific cancer treatments.
There is great deal of data that shows an increase in overdose deaths from opioid and opiate misuse. According to the CDC, “From 1999–2018, almost 450,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids.” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020)
The way that opioids and opiates work is by changing aspects in the brain and increasing the amount of dopamine, which is an opiate receptor. These compounds also slow down the body in times of stress or when being under extreme strain and help with all the sensations that occur. Because of the overwhelming feelings that opioids cause, it can be highly addictive, leaving the body wanting more and more.
Symptoms of Opioid Addiction
Opiate addiction is characterized by a powerful, compulsive urge to use opiate drugs, even when they are no longer required medically. Opioids and opiates have a high potential for causing addiction in some cases, even when the medications are prescribed appropriately and taken as directed. Many prescription opioids are misused or given to others. If you become addicted, you start to prioritize getting and using drugs over other important activities in your life, often negatively impacting your professional and personal relationships. It is unknown why some people are more likely to become addicted than others.
Opioids change the chemistry of the brain and lead to drug tolerance, which means that over time the dose needs to be increased to achieve the same effect. Taking drugs over a long period of time produces opioid dependence, such that when you stop taking the drug, you develop physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal (such as muscle cramping, diarrhea, and anxiety). Opioid dependence is not the same thing as addiction; although everyone who takes opioids or opiates for an extended period will become dependent, only a small percentage also experience the compulsive, continuing need for the drug that characterizes addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
There are several signs and symptoms that could indicate that you have a problem with opioids. These can include:
- Needle marks on arms and legs from drug use
- Flushed, itchy skin
- Pupils that are constricted and look “pinpoint”
- Withdrawing from social activities that were once enjoyed
- Having trouble staying awake, or falling asleep at inappropriate times
- Lack of impulse control and poor decision making
- Sudden or intense mood swings that seem out of character
- Visiting multiple doctors to obtain more prescriptions
- Engaging in risky behaviors, such as driving and driving
Health Risk Factors for Opioid Use
There are factors that can increase your risk for becoming addicted to substances. Some include a genetic component, while others are behavioral characteristics. Some of the major risk factors for using opioids include:
- Prior history of drug use
- Younger age
- Severe pain from injury or surgery
- Co-occurring mental disorders
- History of criminal activity
- Genetics or history of substance abuse
- Risky behavior
- Previous drug or alcohol rehab
Because women are more likely to have chronic pain than men, they are more likely to misuse opioids/opiates. They are also more likely to be prescribed opioids, have a higher dosage, and take for a longer period. There are also biological components that may lead women to be more susceptible to opiate/opiate drug misuse than men.
Most data and research is performed on adults, and there is very little information to show how opioid use in children for surgeries or procedures will later affect them. What we do know is that it’s important to eradicate the trends of addiction to opioid use in the United States, in hopes to slow the trend of the epidemic.
How Long Does It Take to Recover from Opioid Abuse?
Opioids and opiates are the most frequently abused and dangerous drugs in the country. The recovery process for opiate addiction varies from person to person. There are many things that influence recovery and sometimes the recovery process can take longer than others. Therefore, a doctor will be necessary to monitor your progress and provide necessary treatment to you as you proceed through the stages of recovery.
Opiate addiction can cause life-threatening health conditions, including the risk of overdose. There have been known to be deaths that occur due to taking large amounts of opioids. Overdose occurs when high doses of opioids cause breathing to slow or stop, leading to unconsciousness and death if the overdose is not treated immediately. Both legal and illegal opioids and opiates carry a risk of overdose if a person takes too much of the drug, or if opiates are combined with other drugs (particularly tranquilizers called benzodiazepines).
Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms from opioids can be moderate to severe. The severity of withdrawal is dependent upon the type of opiate used, but there is a general set of symptoms. Anxiety may return and a drop in the level of dopamine after stopping the drug.
There are different types of withdrawal symptoms, depending on the type of medication that you take. Common symptoms include
- sleeping problems
Most people who experience withdrawal symptoms experience them for about three days. The symptoms begin to disappear when the person heals, and the dependence begins to subside, so the drug needs to be stopped. Withdrawal symptoms from the drug can continue to persist for at least a week.
Unfortunately, you will find there are numerous drugs that are known to cause severe withdrawal symptoms. This could range from body aches to hallucinations. It is especially important that you are safe and comfortable during this time, as the body is highly likely to be thrown off without any drugs that have been in your system for quite a long time.
The drug naloxone has been used to reverse an opioid or opiate overdose by acting as an opioid antagonist. It can bind to the opioid receptors and reverses and blocks the effects of other opiates or opioids. Although it is not common, naloxone can cause some side effects such as changes in blood pressure, headache, rapid heart rate, nausea, sweating, tremors and vomiting.
Helping a Love One through Withdrawal
Although you or your loved one might be feeling physically sick at times, it is best to encourage them. By taking care of them, you can prevent them from experiencing the worst withdrawal symptoms and really ease their pain. Medications prescribed by your doctor to help with your withdrawal symptoms may help in providing relief.
There are some men and women who find the psychological withdrawal quite overwhelming. It may be hard to deal with the fact that someone you love is struggling with addiction. On the other hand, some people are so worried about how their life will be without drugs that they go to a dark place and contemplate suicide. Seeking the perfect treatment program is important in preventing both problems.
Getting Help for an Opioid Addiction
There are a lot of steps you may take to help someone who is addicted to opioids. Most people who are addicted to opioids are afraid to leave their family and friends but know they need help. There is no doubt that having chronic pain puts a damper on an individual’s life. It is quite difficult to be active once you suffer with such pain. The alternative is to make the decision to go into drug treatment and rehab.
When someone has an addiction to opioids you can almost feel the dependency. They really are addicted to the drug, and they’ll do anything to find it and they won’t stop until they get it, no matter the consequences. I’ve seen some cases where addicts tried to poison themselves with the opioids so they could not feel the withdrawal symptoms. It doesn’t work when they cannot experience the physical symptoms.
The first step in helping someone with opiate addiction is to begin your own research on the best way best to assist someone with opiate addiction. There are numerous resources that you can use. The first step is to understand what it is you want to accomplish. Once you know that, you can search for a treatment center for them or psychologist in the area that can help them get better. Remember that you must give yourself permission to do whatever it takes to help your loved one get better.
Help from Loved Ones or Friends
Your first step should be to get assistance from your friends and loved ones. Everyone has a role to play in your own recovery. Your loved ones should encourage you. This means that they need to let you know that they know how much you need to get better. It may be difficult for them to do this if they are concerned about the addiction that you have.
You may realize that you need to tell them the right way to support you. One way to do it is to tell them that you have an addiction and that they are a key component in helping you during your recovery. This will allow them to understand the severity of the situation, and how important it is for you to get better.
Addiction effects the entire family unit, and everyone has a role to play in your recovery. If you don’t have the support of your family or loved ones, it will make it much more challenging to get better. It’s also important to understand that things will be changing, including who you choose to hang around and be friends with. You will no longer be able to be around others that are using drugs as it will make it much more difficult for you to quit.
Helping Your Loved One with Their Addiction
People with substance use disorders (SUD’s) have a brain disease that can alter their behavior and potentially affect their overall personality. Often, if you suffer from this you will act in a way that is alienating or destructive to your family and friends. People may go to extreme measures to obtain drugs such as stealing money to purchase drugs or theft of property. If family members don’t understand that addiction is a disease, they may end up being lied to, cheated, manipulated, or even worse, threatened. There are different opinions and thoughts on how to handle a family member who is addicted. They may be described as:
Tough Love or Not Enabling the “Addiction”
There is a common belief that a “tough-love” approach will help a family member to avoid enabling the person to use drugs inappropriately. In this situation, the person is forced to find their “bottom” by not allowing them to continue using by giving them money for other essential items such as food, rent or other necessities. Otherwise, essentially, they would go hungry, and would start to understand the distinction between their drug use and their hunger.
With the way things are going right now, someone using opioids and “hitting their bottom” could ultimately overdose or even lead to death. A common, less expensive, street drug called “fentanyl” has been flooding the streets and is often mistaken for heroin and can be deadly. If you are addicted to opioids and are looking for a cheaper option, you may turn to using fentanyl and suffer from serious side effects.
Nurturing and Support Through Addiction
A more nurturing and supportive response will usually boast the tough love approach, allowing the person to feel more comfortable with their struggles and failures by enabling them to get help on their own. There is also a better understanding that addiction is a disease, rather than a failure and it needs to be addressed in a kind, empathetic way. Instead of a tough love mentality, people are using plain old love to address their family members feelings and encourage them to go to treatment for the best outcome.
If a slip or relapse happens, it is met with love and support, because people are aware that with addiction comes relapse and chronic setbacks. Most people would agree that this is the safer and more humane way to respond to addiction.
Well-Being of Family Members in Addiction
It is important to consider the well-being of the family members involved during the treatment process. It not only affects the person going through addiction, but the whole family. Having a family member with an addiction problem can be traumatic, stressful, and disruptive to a person’s life.
Relying on a support group and the community can help you go through the process of helping your loved one with their addiction. Many people find it helpful to join a support group such as Al-Anon or Nar-anon due to the nature of being around others going through the same thing. One of the biggest struggles for family members is feeling alone. It can also be beneficial to see a counselor or family therapist who specializes in addiction.
One of the toughest things that families face is knowing how to handle a family member that is actively using opioids or opioids. With the current epidemic in the U.S. it is increasingly more common to see people misusing these drugs. It’s important for family members to think about themselves during these situations along with their loved ones.
How to Overcome Opioid Addiction
The hard truth is that most real drug addicts do not realize that they are addicted. They get themselves into situations that they do not realize are harmful to their life and aiding in their addiction. It really does not matter what the drug is, or what its strength is, the dependence does not require the chemical properties of the drug, it depends on how the person who takes the medication feels. It’s that simple.
Knowing how to overcome an opiate addiction is a question a lot of people want to know the answer to. The brain is like a muscle, it is working hard and when it must work exceptionally hard, it tends to get more stressed. Unfortunately, many opiate addicts don’t realize that when they get to that state of high stress and are dependent on opioids, using them frequently can cause the brain to lose oxygen. When the brain is deprived oxygen, it can cause dangerous effects on the body that can potentially be life-threatening.
How do you get through an Opiate Addiction? You could probably try plenty of things and the only one that really worked for me was to reach out for help. Many people can get help from a 12-step, detox, or an inpatient/outpatient treatment program.
People often forget that a lot of the things that they believe are providing them the answers they need, are not really the right answer. That is not to say that the things they believe are not true, in fact sometimes it’s the very truth that’s giving them the answer. Getting help from a treatment program can give you the confidence and support you need to help with your addiction problem.
Think for a minute about what you’ve been doing. Think about how much you’ve been using the medication. Think about the situations where you’ve done it and what you felt like at the time. And now think about how you can be positive about your use and about yourself.
Side Effects and Withdrawal of Opioids
Stress is another common side effect of the use of opioids. When you take any type of substance, it does have a plus side, but you also need to consider the health issues related to it. This includes things such as hepatitis, seizures, heart disease, lung disease, and respiratory issues.
The fact that there is always a risk involved is something that you need to be aware of. While there are some men and women who do not experience withdrawal symptoms, others do. Therefore, you will need to know how to get help for opiate addiction. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should seek out a doctor:
- Feeling sick or nauseous
- Constant urges to use drugs
- Feeling out of it or numb
- No longer able to feel the effects of the medication
- Not able to control your cravings
- You stop engaging in healthy routines such as eating, bathing, or sleeping
- Feeling extremely irritable and hungry
- You feel depressed and tired of life
Some addicts experience headaches, diarrhea, muscle aches, and depression. These can be just temporary issues because you will realize that they usually subside after a while. These indicators are really the body’s way of telling you that you will need to be engaging in healthier activities such as drinking more water and exercising. When you are addicted to opioids, this becomes difficult.
Physical symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and changes in body temperature. You’ll also notice that your skin becomes pale and the way that you feel about yourself affects your confidence.
How to be Happy after Opioid Addiction
It may seem difficult to continue life when going through an opiate addiction. If you are suffering, be sure to take advantage of all the resources available. This will allow you make wise decisions throughout your recovery. Many individuals have had success by going through drug addiction treatment.
It’s important to make sure that you find the right treatment professionals to help you through your drug addiction recovery. There are numerous options, including support groups, treatment centers, 12-step programs and so forth. It’s vital that you find the right program that either fits your budget or takes your insurance and understands your personal circumstances, catering to what your individual needs are.
Treating Your Opioid Addiction
The first step in treating your addiction is to get diagnosed by a medical professional or doctor. This will determine the extent of your substance use and what type of treatment will be best for you to have a successful outcome in your recovery.
Diagnosing Opioid Addiction
There is no clear-cut way to diagnose someone with an opiate addiction according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Most experts will agree that someone who has an intense urge and craving for a drug or substance despite the negative consequences and continues to use may have a substance use disorder.
Most physicians and medical professionals will perform a detailed diagnostic test and assessment to determine if you have a problem with substances. Most people who are dependent on opioids will not seek out help on their own but will be encouraged by someone else to get treatment for it.
“The risks of dependence and addiction are higher if you misuse the medicines. Misuse can include taking too much medicine, taking someone else’s medicine, taking it in a different way than you are supposed to, or taking the medicine to get high.” (Medline Plus, 2020)
After you are diagnosed by a doctor and believe you have a problem with misusing opioids, the next step is to find the proper treatment with multiple levels of care to support you in your recovery.
Types of Treatment
If you’re addicted to opioids, then you probably know exactly what drugs are used to treat opiate addiction. Keep in mind that the medication must be taken to decrease the negative impacts of the physical and psychological distress that you are experiencing. The primary focus should be to make you comfortable, but not continue to take more drugs.
There are different forms of medications that can be useful for someone trying to detox from a particular substance. The most common medications used to treat opioid misuse and addiction are methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. These drugs work by managing the symptoms that are associated with your opioid addiction. They sort of “trick” your brain by giving into the cravings, but not continuing to overuse the drug. Usually, these medications include drugs such as naltrexone, which may help block the sensation of pleasure, which leads to the use of the medication.
Methadone- works to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, along with improving your quality of life. It can be used indefinitely, and the dose is gradually reduced to ensure the person feels comfortable during withdrawal.
Buprenorphine -a safer opiate option for you to take when going through detox. It is the preferred drug to use during detox because it is considered a partial opioid antagonist, only partially stimulating the opioid receptors, making it much more difficult to overdose.
Naltrexone– does not help with withdrawal symptoms or cravings. It takes away the “high” feeling that someone gets when taking opioids. This helps prevent relapse, but you need to be off opioids for at least 7-10 days before you can take it effectively.
Behavioral Therapies and Counseling
Behavioral health and counseling for opiate use disorder can:
- Provide education around addiction and help you build healthy skills and habits
- Change your attitudes that are associated with drugs and drug use
- Allow you to continue other forms of treatment and encourage healthy behaviors
Individual counseling– allows you to talk about your feelings around your drug use, set goals, discuss setbacks, and celebrate successes. You may also talk about other concerns with your family, legal problems or other issues pertaining to relationships.
Family counseling– counseling that includes spouses, partners or other family members that may be involved in your sobriety that you are close with. This can help you repair and maintain healthy relationships.
Group counseling– help so that you don’t feel alone and the ability to relate to others going through a similar situation. You have an opportunity to hear the struggles and successes of others who are in the same position as you.
Counseling also helps by referring you to other specialists such as:
- 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous or other peer groups
- Testing for HIV or Hepatitis
- Case or care management
- Spiritual and faith-based groups
- Groups that can help you find housing or transportation
- Employment or educational supports
Outpatient or Residential Care
Outpatient care may be an option depending on the severity of use and what the needs are of the patient. Some of the services included in this could be assessments, 12-step program philosophies, individual/group counseling, medications, or other modes of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Residential treatment centers have specialized programs that are designed to treat different types of substance use disorders. The programs are individualized to help each person with their own case and provide the necessary tools for them to get better. Knowing why they began using drugs will help determine the right form of treatment and strategies to use.
Treatment for opioids and opiates is available in all the states. We hope to be a guide to help you find a treatment clinic near you. The main reason to seek out treatment is to treat your addiction plus to have the support of staff members by your side while you do it. If you feel like you or someone you know has a problem with opioids/opiates it’s important to get help right away.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, March 19). Understanding the Epidemic. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html
Medline Plus. (2020, Sept 18). Opioid Misuse and Addiction. https://medlineplus.gov/opioidmisuseandaddiction.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, May 27). Opioid Overdose Crisis. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis