Understanding Opioid Addiction

An opioid addiction can be a severe problem with devastating side effects. Although it is incredibly widespread, opioid addictions are still widely misunderstood. Understanding the cause of opioid addiction, how to spot them and how to treat them can be helpful. Armed with the right information, it may be possible to overcome an addiction or even prevent one from taking hold in the first place.

Spotting the Signs of an Opioid Addiction

Opioids come in many different forms. Along with drugs like heroin, which are always illegal, opiates can include prescription drugs. Medications like Vicodin or codeine can be used for pain relief, and use doesn’t inherently mean addiction. Since use can become abuse or addiction quickly, it is important to know the physical, emotional and behavioral signs.

The physical signs are often the most obvious ways to spot an opioid addiction. You might notice that a person has visibly constricted pupils. This means their pupils will look very small, almost like pinpoints.

A person addicted to opiates will also likely appear drowsy at unusual times. They may appear to be awake and functioning, but then fall off into a sleep quickly. Or, they may seem very drowsy for prolonged periods of time. Opiates can impact sleep and increase lethargy, which explains these symptoms.

A person struggling with an opioid addiction may also regularly complain of constipation. Abdominal cramping, nausea and a reduced appetite all commonly accompany this gastrointestinal symptom of opioid use.

Not all signs of opioid addiction are physical. In fact, some of the most telling can include changes to behavior or personality. A person that abuses opioid drugs may become violent, or they may sink into a depression. A friend or family member can usually notice these differences brought on by drug use.

Opiate addiction can also be identified by doctor shopping. This is when individuals go to more than one doctor, clinic or pharmacy in order to get multiple prescriptions of opiates at a time. An unusual number of doctor’s visits, driving a long way to get to a pharmacy and seeing lots of bottles of the same medication are all clear warning signs.

The Role of Prescription Drugs in the Current Opioid Epidemic

The majority of people addicted to opiates started by using prescription opioid drugs. Often, they were prescribed these medications for legitimate reasons. Unfortunately, improper use or insufficient supervision can result in dependencies.

The opioid epidemic is caused, at least in part, by too many prescriptions. Doctors are prescribing drugs when they aren’t necessary, and this happens for a number of reasons. Sometimes, physicians offer patients prescription opiates rather than more intensive, costly treatment. Sometimes, patients lie about symptoms in order to access the drugs.

Whatever the reason for the overprescription, it floods every town and city with excess pills. This means that it is easy to access the medications even if you don’t need them. Many people have extra pills in their purses or in their medicine cabinets.

Sometimes, a person who follows every medical recommendation can still become addicted. Even taking a medicine prescribed by a doctor at the right time and at the right dose can lead to a dependence. When the prescription runs out, individuals might feel renewed pain or discomfort. This encourages continued use of the opiates, worsening the dependence and continuing the cycle.

Factors That Contribute to Opioid Addiction Development

The abundance of prescription opioid drugs is definitely a major factor in the opioid epidemic. Of course, also critical is the addictive nature of opiates. Opiates can change the function and reward structure of the brain, creating an incredibly strong dependency very quickly.

On a personal level, however, there are many things that contribute to the development of an addiction. These factors help explain why some people develop addictions quickly and others don’t.

There is a genetic component to the development of an addiction. Certain individuals may be prone to an opioid dependency. This trait gets passed down from one generation to the next. If addiction runs in the family, then individuals have to be especially careful when using prescription medications.

Other factors can include availability, social acceptance of substance abuse and mental health. If a person is surrounded by people who abuse prescription drugs, they are more likely to use old pills or take double doses. These actions can quicken the development of an opioid addiction.

Withdrawal and Detox for an Opioid Addiction

In order to overcome an opioid addiction, individuals have to go through the withdrawal process. This involves ceasing consumption of all opiates. The goal is to end the chemical and physical dependence on the drug. While necessary, it can be accompanied by unpleasant side effects.

An opioid withdrawal can involve diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, cramping, and headaches. Anxiety and even paranoia are possible. It may also be difficult to sleep well or feel rested. Fortunately, the withdrawal typically lasts just one week.
While withdrawal symptoms may not be pleasant, it is a crucial step. Once individuals are free from the influence of opioid drugs, they can start working toward meaningful recovery.

Addiction Treatment and Relapse Prevention

After detox, the real work toward recovery can officially begin. Patients will need to get to the root causes of their addiction, establish coping mechanisms and be prepared for the risk of relapse.

It is not enough to stop consuming opiates. Individuals in recovery also need to learn why the addiction developed in the first place. The reasons are different for every individual, but they are always important. Once they are identified, people can work to ensure that addiction is never again an issue.

There are many types of therapy and treatment that can help achieve these addiction recovery goals. Behavioral therapy can change negative behaviors into positive habits. Group therapy can offer accountability and support from peers. Fitness or art therapy can establish a healthy routine with an emphasis on relieving stress.

Opioid addictions are complex. A better understanding of opioid addiction can pave the way to more meaningful, lasting and successful addiction treatment.