Opioids and opiates are great for relieving pain, but they can be highly addictive, leading to many problems with a person’s health and well-being. In fact, nearly 130 people die each day from opioid overdoses in the United States. Painkillers have a euphoric effect, but they do not actually resolve the pain; they simply cover up the symptom. Because of the euphoric experience and the effective relief of pain, people can become addicted to painkillers, sometimes taking higher and higher doses and taking them for much longer than prescribed by a doctor.
Opiates vs. Opioids
While these terms are often used interchangeably, opiates and opioids are developed differently and affect the human brain differently. Opiates come from the poppy plant, which produces opium alkaloid compounds, from which the drugs are developed. Some opiates include heroin, codeine, morphine, and opium. Opioids, however, can be synthetic, natural, or partially synthetic and mimic the effects of opiates. They attach to the opioid receptors in the brain to give the same euphoric effect as opiates. Types of opioids include Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet.
Prescription painkillers are much different from the typical over-the-counter drugs people use for aches and pains. These highly addictive substances are prescribed by doctors to help a patient manage their pain after surgery or a major accident. Because these drugs are so strong, it’s extremely dangerous to misuse them. While the use of these drugs is considered safe when they are used as directed, abuse of these drugs is not uncommon.
Addiction is difficult enough for those who suffer from it, but even more dangerous is the risk of dying of an overdose. Opioid overdose deaths are not uncommon; two-thirds of all U.S. overdose deaths involve an opioid. These drugs can be injected and snorted, making accidental overdoses easier than for those who simply ingest the pills. Signs of a drug overdose can include dilated pupils, unsteady walking, chest pain, difficulty breathing, a blocked airway, blue lips or fingers, nausea/vomiting, high body temperature, violent or aggressive behavior, confusion, paranoia, convulsions or seizures, and/or unconsciousness.
Because the symptoms of withdrawal are painful and difficult to deal with, it’s generally recommended that an addicted individual should wean off of opioids instead of quitting cold turkey. Those addicted and wishing to quit should consult their doctor for help with tapering off the drugs. During the withdrawal period, an individual might experience symptoms ranging from mild to severe, including sweating, chills, stomachache, and diarrhea.
Because relapse is not uncommon, it’s important for those who are withdrawing from drugs to have support throughout the process and afterward. Addicted individuals become dependent on the drugs to cope, and when that is taken away, they need to find a different way to cope with the woes of everyday life. Counseling and therapy along with the support of family and friends can be very important for helping to keep a recovering addict on track.
Many individuals feel ashamed of their drug abuse and worry that the people treating them will judge them for their addiction. It’s important to know that the people who work with the addicted are there to help, not judge. They offer support and help through the difficult transition. Individuals who go into careers to work with addicted individuals do so to help them, not judge them. These individuals do everything they can to help people work through a difficult time and come out on top at the end of their program. They work with individuals to instill motivation and confidence in returning to a life without addiction.
For long-term painkiller addiction, individuals are often checked into residential treatment centers that require them to stay for an extended amount of time in order to go through withdrawal and find a new normal. While there are similarities in treatments between individuals, each individual has their own emotional and physical needs that need to be met before returning to their normal life.
The process of addiction recovery typically starts with withdrawal. This includes tapering off of the drug and detoxing. Once this is complete, the individual can begin to process the emotional aspects of the addiction. Because relapsing is common, counseling is incredibly important for addressing and coping with the emotions surrounding the painkiller addiction and withdrawal. These counseling sessions can help teach the individual to control their addiction by recognizing and managing triggers and cravings.
- Prescribed a Painkiller? If It’s an Opioid, Read This First
- Opioid Addiction Facts and Figures
- A Guide to Safe Use of Pain Medicine
- What Drugs Are Opioids?
- Are Opioids and Opiates Different?
- The Truth About Painkillers
- Opioid Overdose Crisis
- Tapering Off Opioids: When and How
- Opiate Withdrawal: What it Is and How to Cope With It
- Painkillers Fuel Growth in Drug Addiction
- Opioid Addiction
- Opioid Addiction: What Are Opioids?
- The Truth About Painkiller Addiction
- Successful Pain Management for the Recovering Addicted Patient
- Opioid Use Disorder
- Prevent Opioid Abuse and Addiction
- Acute Opioid Withdrawal: Identification and Treatment Strategies
- Medications for Opioid Addiction
- Opioid Abuse
- Opioid Crisis Fast Facts