Have you or a loved one become dependent on opiates? Whether you use opiates because they were doctor-prescribed or you started another way, realizing that you’re addicted can be a confusing and frightening experience. It may be overwhelming to think about overcoming dependence on opioids because of fear of withdrawals and going through detox.
One of the first things you can do to help someone, including yourself, is get educated on what makes opiates so addictive. This article will educate you on what opioids are, why they’re addictive, how long the withdrawals last, and where to get help.
What Are Opiates vs. Opioids?
People often use the terms opiates and opioids interchangeably.1,2 The difference is that opiates such as Opium, Heroin, Codeine, and Morphine, are natural, derived from the poppy plant. On the other hand, the term opioids refer to natural opiates and synthetic copies like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet, which produce the same effects.1,3
Doctors generally prescribe opioids to treat pain because they relax the body and relieve discomfort. People also use opioids like OxyContin and opiates for non-medical reasons because they experience bliss or euphoria as one of the side effects. Heroin is one of the most dangerous opiates and only available as an illicit street drug.2
Over 800,000 people reported using Heroin, and over 11 million people used opioids without a prescription in 2018.3
Whether it’s Heroin, OxyContin, Vicodin, or another opioid, one thing they all have in common is that they are all highly addictive, and when you try to quit, you go through withdrawals.3 In general, prescription opioids are safe to use for a limited time, as prescribed. The danger of getting addicted to prescription opioids lies in long-term usage to treat chronic pain.1,2
People misuse opioids by taking more than prescribed or using someone else’s prescription to get high. They might also use opioids in a way other than prescribed, such as crushing pills or opening capsules and using the powder to snort or breaking it down with water to inject.2
Opioid misuse can cause hypoxia when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. This reduction of oxygen can have short and long-term effects, inducing a coma, permanent brain damage, and even causing death.2
Your Tolerance Increases Over Time
Physicians prescribe opioids to help reduce pain; however, taking pain killers can lead to tolerance and dependence over time. When a person needs a higher dose to induce the same response, their tolerance is going up. The higher the tolerance to opioids, the larger dose is needed to get the same relief. This cycle causes dependence on opiates.4
Additionally, side effects intensify with higher doses, such as slowed breathing, extreme drowsiness, nausea, and confusion.4 It’s essential to understand that continuously increasing the dose can cause overdose and death.3,4
Dependence Leads to Addiction
Once a person’s body adjusts to regular opioid use, they’ve developed a dependence on the drugs and will experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using. Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) results from addiction because the drugs’ continuous use makes it difficult to take care of social obligations, go to school and work, and practice self-care.1,2
Repeated use forces the brain’s neurons to adapt, so the drug’s absence causes physiological reactions that can even be potentially life-threatening. Ultimately, opioid addiction is a chronic disease. Addiction is defined by the need to seek drugs compulsively and using them regardless of the consequences. And it doesn’t matter if it’s prescription or illicit drugs.4
What Makes Opioids Addictive?
Whether it’s natural opiates or opioids, the drugs interact with human brain chemistry to produce the effects that help ease the pain. Opioids cause an overall euphoria that involves chemically signaling the body’s natural neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, a pleasure-chemical in our brain that reinforces behaviors.4
Opioids bind to and activate opioid pleasure receptors. This action reinforces taking the drug by making the brain want a repeat experience.4
That’s because dopamine is part of the brain’s reward circuit. Its activation signals to the brain that something good is happening. And this good thing needs repeating. As a result, the neural connectivity makes it easier to repeat drug use, leading to an opioid habit.5
What’s more, the drugs can cause more significant surges of neurotransmitters than the much smaller bursts that the brain produces naturally to reinforce other habits such as eating, listening to music, or social interactions.4 Thus, as a person’s addiction deepens, they lose interest in things that used to give them pleasure.
The pleasure of using opioids combined with the pain of withdrawals makes OUD a vicious cycle.
Signs of Withdrawal: How Long Does it Last?
Some opioids cause withdrawals to set in sooner than other types of opioids. Not only that but some opiate withdrawals last longer than others. Other withdrawal factors include how severe the symptoms are, the dose, and the time between doses.2
Some people go through opioid withdrawal for a couple of days. Others may take weeks or even months to get past withdrawals. The timeline varies due to the type of opioids, whether you use other drugs in addition to opioids, and how long you’ve used opioids.11
Opioid withdrawal symptoms are often highly uncomfortable. Withdrawals can be difficult to manage without a medical detox program that can help you detox more safely and comfortably through opioid withdrawal.11
Short-Acting Opiates vs. Long-Acting Opioids
The onset of short-acting withdrawal symptoms in opiates such as Heroin comes on about 8 to 24 hours after last use and can last anywhere from 4 to 10 days. Methadone and other long-acting opioids have withdrawal symptoms within 12 to 48 hours and continue for 10 to 20 days. Withdrawal symptoms for opioids are all similar to a varying degree.6
- Pain in the muscles and bones
- Racing heart
- Problems sleeping
- High blood pressure
- Cold flashes and chills
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- High blood pressure
- Severe cravings
Many people find it tremendously difficult to stop taking opioids because the withdrawals are so intense.2 Additionally, opiate withdrawal symptoms may be dangerous and potentially life-threatening, depending on the drug, length of use, and the person’s overall health.6,11
What Kind of Help is Available?
The good news is that there is help available. Tapering, medication-assisted detox, therapy, and counseling are all ways to overcome opioid use disorder.6 When you get help, you’ll have nurses, therapists, and physicians who will closely monitor you to ensure that you are safe and comfortable during withdrawal.7
What is Tapering?
Tapering is an option to reduce dosage and ween you off of opioids. You should taper off if you’re not experiencing at least 30 percent improvement on the 3-item PEG scale. The PEG scale assesses pain intensity and interference with regular activities and the ability to enjoy life.7,8
Another instance where tapering makes sense is when opioid use disorder signs show up, such as having difficulty with work and relationships. You may have taken a prescription for a while without realizing that it is affecting your life.11
And tapering is essential if your dosage is high enough to show warning signs of overdose risk, including confusion, extreme drowsiness, and slurred speech.7 Opioid overdoses caused over 46,000 deaths throughout the U.S. in 2018.9
Each Person Requires a Plan to Fit Their Needs
OUD causes more than physical dependence. Over time, addiction changes the brain. It affects emotions, behavior, thought processes, the senses, and how the person experiences life.9
An individualized plan to taper use helps to minimize opioid withdrawal symptoms. The plan can include pain treatment with therapies and nonopioid medications. If you’ve used opiates for a few weeks or months, tapering off 10 percent per week is the general plan.7,11
However, if you’ve used opioids for more than a year, tapering will be slow, with a likely decrease of 10 percent per month.7,11
A physician supervises medical detoxification. The doctor may prescribe an opioid maintenance drug such as Buprenorphine or Methadone to help with cravings as you taper off opiates. Likewise, they might prescribe Clonidine for anxiety or Loperamide for diarrhea.7,9
Buprenorphine and Methadone bind to the same opioid receptors as opiates, thus reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, physicians use Naltrexone because it blocks opioid receptors.2
Getting past withdrawals to detoxification is the first step to recovery. After that, what you do to stay clean makes all the difference in long-term addiction recovery. Counseling and therapy also play essential roles.7,9
Many studies show that patients with OUD will start using opioids again. It’s the cycle of chronic illness. Psychosocial treatment can reduce dropout from treatment, opioid use because of withdrawals, and relapse after detoxification.7,9
Mental Health and Opioid Use Disorder
Studies have also shown that people who have experienced mental health disorders may struggle with substance abuse. Anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, depression, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, and panic disorders all show high substance abuse rates.10,11 It goes both ways, as well, because OUD causes mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.7,9,10,11
OUD is a chronic condition like diabetes. Treatment is often ongoing because relapse is common. Much like a person with diabetes must manage their illness, a person addicted to opiates often requires an ongoing combination of medical and psychosocial therapies.11
Behavioral therapies help people modify and adjust their behaviors related to drug use. It helps them regain healthy life skills and continue treatment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy also helps you learn how to relieve stress in healthy ways and manage triggers that instigate drug use.2
You Deserve Harmony in Your Life
At Harmony Place, we understand the challenges of Opioid Use Disorder. Our personalized drug addiction detox services meet your needs with individualized recovery plans. We work with people who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and we can help you prepare for detoxification with tapering and medical detox interventions.
Detox is challenging because you crave the drug, and it’s easy to give in when you have physical symptoms that make you feel sick. Not only that, but everyone’s body and mental health is different and plays a part in recovery. If you go back to using once the pain is over, it will make detoxification and cravings that much more tough to get over the next time around.
The truth is going through withdrawals and detox is only the beginning of your road to recovery. But you can do it with the right help. You deserve harmony in your life.
Opioids affect brain chemistry. And many other aspects, such as mental health, can contribute to OUD. Holistic treatment considers not only physical dependence. It’s a concept that addresses mental health issues and the spiritual disconnection of substance abuse. Proper nutrition also plays a factor as people who are addicted to opioids often lose motivation for self-care.
In addition to tapering for withdrawals and medical detoxification, holistic care is continuous and helps rebuild those parts of yourself that addiction ravages. For example, stress is a critical component of relapse. Mindfulness, acupuncture, massage therapy, and energy work are all tools to reduce stress. Additionally, Mindful Meditation helps you learn how to focus your attention and regulate your emotions, rather than being driven by them.
Get Help Now
Harmony Place offers an integrated approach, with expert clinical care, evidence-based therapy, and alternative holistic methods that treat the whole person, not just the addiction. Our detox program offers a safe environment with experienced staff to help you every step of the way with medical supervision during withdrawals and detox to reduce the risk that you’ll relapse.
Even if you’ve tried and failed, your life is meaningful. You can get help today through Harmony Place.