The Road to Recovery with Opiate Addiction

Drug and alcohol abuse and addiction happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes drug abuse arises out of a painful health condition that requires the use of prescription pain medication. Drug abuse can also occur from a desire to escape, experiment, or fit in with peers. Opiates are drugs that come from opioids, which come from the poppy plant. Opiates are narcotics used to treat pain. With the highly addictive nature of these narcotics, addiction to opiates is common. With addiction comes both psychological and physical dependence to the drug, but recovery is possible with treatment.

Drugs Considered Opiates

A number of prescription drugs are included in the opiate group. In its weakest form, codeine is an opiate used to relieve pain. Other prescription opiates used for pain relief include hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and fentanyl. Heroin is an illicit drug in the opiate group, typically occurring in powder form. Users dissolve the white or brown powder in water and then inject it into the bloodstream with a needle. People who use prescription opiates illegally engage in diversion of the drugs for extra-medical use. Diverted use of opiates may involve taking the drugs orally or dissolving the powder in water to inject it.

How Addiction Occurs

In early stages of opiate use, the user has control and makes a conscious choice to use. It’s typical for users to enjoy the high that comes from opiates immensely, because it creates a strong euphoria and sense of wellbeing. After the initial rush from the drug, the brain and central nervous system become depressed. Feelings of peace and tranquility follow, with the user falling into a drowsy and relaxed state. Addiction occurs as people repeat the usage to achieve the same feelings. With repeated use, users develop a tolerance to opiates, which necessitates higher dosages of the drug to achieve the same feelings. Use of these narcotics even alters the brain, creating an urge to use that is so intense that it controls behavior.

Risks of Using Opiates

As tolerance to the effects of opiates increases, people must use higher dosages. Although the body develops a tolerance to the psychological effects of opiates, it does not develop the same tolerance to the dangerous physical effects of the drug. The physical effects include slowed breathing and heart rate. People also experience nausea, vomiting, impaired motor abilities, and reduced mental abilities. Walking and talking becomes difficult for a person high on opiates. As a person increases a narcotic dosage to achieve the desired high, it’s easy to overdose. An overdose could lead to loss of consciousness and eventual death from the depressed central nervous system.

Opiate Use Statistics

Addiction to prescription pain killers is rising in the United States. With these rising numbers, overdose deaths are also increasing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a 300 percent rise in prescription drug sales in the United States since 1999, which correlates to the dramatic rise in overdose deaths. In 2008, 14,800 overdose deaths occurred from prescription painkillers. In 2009, 475,000 emergency room visits occurred stemming from prescription drugs. People age 26 and older use opiates with the most frequency. However, 2006 data estimates that about 20.4 million Americans age 12 and up had used opiates illicitly. The CDC also estimates that roughly 100 Americans died from an opiate overdose each day of 2010.

Recognizing Opiate Use and Addiction

The effects of a single dose of opiates generally lasts between three and six hours. While under the influence of opiates, the user may show physical symptoms that include sweating, nausea, constricted pupils, slowed reflexes, slurred speech, fatigue, and drowsiness. As tolerance grows and increased use occurs, signs of addiction usually become evident. The user may begin wearing long sleeves at all times to cover needle marks in the arms. Drug paraphernalia often appears among personal belongings, including items such as paper bundles holding the drugs, prophylactics for the injections, and bloody tissues. The intense physical and emotional dependency leads to an obsession with using the drug. Users may take risks and make unwise choices in a quest to get high. Personal relationships and school or job performance can suffer as a user prioritizes opiate use over everything else.

Treatment for Addiction

Although recovery is challenging, a person addicted to opiates can receive treatment to stop using these narcotics. In contrast with alcohol withdrawal, which can actually be physically dangerous for the addicted person, opiate withdrawal is not life-threatening, but people find it intensely uncomfortable and unpleasant. While going through withdrawal, the addicted person may show symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, runny sinuses, hot and cold sweating, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping. The symptoms associated with withdrawal from opiates may last up to one month. Recovery treatment is available at centers that offer both inpatient and outpatient care, including treatment and therapy. Physicians may recommend treatment that involves administering a mild form of opium combined with another medication that counteracts the opiate. This treatment option can help a patient get through the intense withdrawal period.


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