We’re currently experiencing an epidemic of opioid addiction in America and an estimated 130 people die each day due to an opioid overdose.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), this is a serious crisis that impacts those dependent on opioids, as well as the general public health.
NIDA cites some alarming statistics about opioids:
- An estimated 21 to 29 percent of legal opioid pain prescriptions are misused
- Approximately 8 to 12 percent of users will advance to an opioid use disorder
- Roughly 5 percent of those will move on to using heroin
- Nearly 80 percent of heroin users first started using opioids
There are many public misconceptions about the opioid epidemic and it’s unfortunate that we’re still a long way from properly educating the public about the nature of addiction.
But our biggest concern at the moment is treating the disease so that people can successfully recover. That is our goal at Pure Recovery California.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are a type of narcotic drug derived from the poppy plant, or synthesized in a laboratory. They’re a broad group of pain-relieving drugs typically prescribed for dealing with serious pain following surgery or severe, ongoing condition, such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
There are three main types of opioids:
- Natural opiates (codeine, morphine, thebaine)
- Semi-synthetic opiates (hydromorphone, hydrocodone, oxycodone/OxyContin, and heroin, which is made from morphine)
- Fully synthetic opiates (fentanyl, tramadol, methadone, demerol)
Natural opiates are base chemical alkaloids containing nitrogen, which occurs naturally in plants like the opium poppy.
Semi-synthetic opiates are made in labs using naturally-occurring opiates like morphine.
Finally, fully synthetic opiates are completely manmade and produced in labs.
How Do Opioids Work?
In some ways, opioids are perfectly made to interact with the human body. That’s because our bodies have a system designed to handle compounds similar to opioids.
We have opioid receptors located in the brain and throughout the body. These are involved in a number of physiological and pathophysiological functions from immune function to respiratory and cardiovascular control to emotional response regulation.
Opioids work by activating opioid receptors on nerve cells. This triggers a chemical response in the brain’s reward center similar to the process that occurs when we experience deep pleasure.
Typically, this reward response is used to reinforce acts like eating, drinking, having sex, or caring for babies. All of these are normal and natural activities that are vital to the survival of humans as a species.
Chemically speaking, the brain can’t tell the difference between a response to having sex and taking opioids. The real difference lies in the excess.
When someone takes opioids, it triggers a rush of dopamine that far exceeds what is needed to provide pleasure or keep us alive.
All the brain knows is that something important has happened, it feels good, and it needs to be repeated. It’s the classic reward system behind addiction and addictive behavior patterns.
Why Opioids are So Dangerous
Because of the way opioids work in the brain and body, it makes them remarkably effective for treating pain. At the same time, it also makes them incredibly dangerous.
Opioid receptors are scattered throughout the body, and they control many diverse functions. They help regulate pleasure, but they also affect certain automatic functions such as breathing.
At higher doses, opioids can slow down breathing and heart rate to dangerous levels. Many opioid overdoses are fatal because excessive use of opioid drugs can literally stop the heart or lungs from working.
Symptoms and Side Effects of Opioid Addiction and Dependence
The first step to recovering from a dangerous opioid addiction is recognizing that there is a dependence to the drug. Not everyone who uses opioids becomes addicted, but opioids do have a high potential for abuse, which is why the DEA lists many opioids as Schedule II drugs.
If you suspect that you or someone you know may be abusing opioids, it’s imperative to seek professional help early before the problem escalates.
The first stage is recognizing the warning signs of opioid abuse and knowing how to respond.
Here are some of the most common signs of opioid dependence to watch for:
Drug abuse can have a catastrophic effect on the brain and body, and opioid abuse is no exception.
The first thing to watch for is slow or shallow breathing. Remember, opioid receptors affect respiratory and cardiovascular function, which means that any opioid use can affect breathing.
Learn to recognize poor coordination and slurred words that are often related to interference with muscle control. Opioids can have a numbing effect, which is a main reason they work so well as painkillers.
Other physical symptoms can include:
- Decreased sex drive
- Unusually small pupils
- Flushed skin
- Weight changes (either weight loss or weight gain)
Alongside physical symptoms are the more critical psychological changes that become apparent from opioid dependence and addiction. They may be subtle at first, but they usually worsen as time goes on.
In fact, behavioral changes are the first obvious signs of drug addiction. It’s quite common for a person to go through abrupt, inexplicable changes in their energy levels, as they exhibit signs of being drowsy or constantly agitated. They may experience rapid mood swings between sudden hostility and euphoria, as well as nervousness and irritability.
They will also become more secretive as time goes on, either because they are hiding their drug use, or also from the shame of using drugs. They often neglect personal responsibilities and, when questioned, offer evasive explanations for their use of time.
This is in part due to drug-seeking behaviors and in part, because opioid abuse creates memory problems. They may seem confused, disoriented, and disconnected, struggling to focus and remember appointments or daily responsibilities.
This almost always creates issues at work or at school, as well as serious issues with personal relationships.
It can be difficult to remember that a loved one with an addiction needs support when their behavior is so deeply aggravating.
Always remember that addiction is a disease, not a personal character flaw or moral failing. Everyone in this situation needs help in overcoming addiction the same way a cancer patient needs treatment from a doctor.
Repairing the hurt they inflicted as an addict is a much longer process that requires commitment on both sides, but the best place to start is support from family and friends. It’s as much a part of recovery as inpatient treatment or detox.
Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can vary greatly depending on the type of opioid a user is dependent on, and the amount, and length of time they were using.
Generally, opioid withdrawal can be very painful and uncomfortable, but usually not fatal like withdrawal from alcohol or benzodiazepines.
Still, opioid detox should be supervised by an experienced team of doctors and therapists who will keep the patient safe, comfortable and on track throughout the detox process.
Here are some of the most common opioid withdrawal symptoms:
- Muscle Pain
- Diarrhea, Vomiting, or Nausea
- Restlessness or Sweating
- General Discontent or Anxiety
- Dilated Pupils and Watery eyes
Opioid Addiction Treatment
Opioid addiction treatment is the starting point in the process of recovery. With the help of a proper treatment program, it’s possible for anyone to recover and return to a life without drugs.
That’s where we come in. At Pure Recovery California, we provide a state of the art evidence-based opioid addiction treatment program.
Our staff includes the top professionals in the areas of addiction, neurology, pain management, and psychology, and we offer an extremely high staff to client ratio.
The first step in the treatment process is opioid detox. Opioid detoxification isn’t usually as dangerous as detoxing from alcohol or benzos, but it is extremely difficult and painful. Our main goal during opioid detox is to ensure the safety and comfort of our clients as they progress through the stages of eliminating the drugs and their toxic effects from the body.
After detox has been completed in approximately a week, our clients transition to the formal residential treatment program. We offer 30, 60, and 90-day inpatient programs or longer, depending on the person and the nature of their addiction.
Our program is individualized for each of our clients, and our doctors and therapists tailor the program to their appropriate needs as outlined after completing a thorough assessment.
We offer a wide range of evidence-based treatment therapies specifically proven to be successful for treating opioid addiction including:
- Behavior Modification
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy
- Relapse Prevention
- Biofeedback Cognitive Programs
In addition, our comprehensive program is specifically designed to support those with traumatic brain injury to improve overall brain health that is integrated with emotional support.