The opioid epidemic is causing nationwide upheaval in the number of people struggling, the amount of money it’s costing the government, and how many individuals are overdosing. Currently, 115 people die as a result of opioid overdose each day, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This number has steadily grown over the past five years and shows no signs of slowing down.
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Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease. Known professionally by the medical and mental health community as a substance use disorder (SUD), tens of millions of people struggle with it in the United States alone. This has become a very serious social issue in the last decade, impacting the lives of millions of individuals across the United States. Both the numbers correlated to substance abuse and substance abuse related deaths have had a massive increase, and show no signs of slowing down.
An estimated 21.5 million people (according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health) currently battle a substance use disorder. With it becoming such a widespread health issue in this country, it’s important to understand the disease and the symptoms associated with a substance use disorder.
Substance use disorders are recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V). There are certain criteria that an individual must meet in order to be given an official substance use disorder diagnosis. The criteria listed by the DSM-V that characterize an individual with a substance use disorder are:
- Taking the drug in larger amounts and for longer than intended
- Wanting to cut down or quit but finding yourself unable to do so
- Spending copious amounts of time to obtain the substance
- Using the drug after continual physical/psychological difficulties
- Finding yourself incapable of performing obligations
- Continuing to use the substance despite consistent issues
- Cessation of important activities
- The habitual drug use in physically dangerous situations
- Experiencing cravings for the drug
- Building a physical tolerance to the drug
- Undergoing withdrawal symptoms when drug use is stopped
You or a loved one must only demonstrate at least two of these criteria in order to qualify for a substance use disorder diagnosis. Possessing two to three will indicate a mild substance use disorder. Having four to five will demonstrate a moderate substance use disorder. Meeting six to seven qualifies you for a severe substance use disorder.
Opioids themselves are one of the most physically and mentally addictive substances in the world. Developing an opioid addiction can happen to anyone and can cause great physical, mental, and financial stress to the opioid addict and their loved ones. Learn more about opioids, signs of an opioid addiction and what goes into opioid addiction treatment.
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What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a classification of drug that applies to both illicit and prescription medications. Opioids all act upon the brain and body in the same manner and cause serious physical and psychological addiction.
Opioids are among the most addictive substances in the world and can actually change the chemical makeup of the brain.
Opioids work in the brain and body by acting on what’s known as the opioid receptors in your brain. Opioids can be either prescription or illicit, meaning obtained from illegal sources.
Prescription opioids are used for certain functions in health care, as they are excellent pain relievers, anesthetics, and can act as diarrhea suppressants in people with chronic digestive disorders. Each opioid possesses its own unique chemical makeup. Certain opioids are more powerful or effective than others. This means that with more potent opioids, smaller doses are necessary to get the same effect as taking a larger dose of other opioids. Man-made or synthetic opioids are typically more potent than opioids fabricated from natural sources like the poppy plant.
HOW DO OPIOIDS AFFECT THE BRAIN?
Opioids, despite being such a broad category of drug, all work upon the brain and body in a similar fashion. Opioids will bind to the opioid receptors in the brain upon consumption. Opioids can be taken by mouth, intravenously, inhaled, or snorted. So long as they make it into your system, the opioids interact with your body in a similar way.
The opioid receptors are located throughout various areas of the brain and body. Some are located on the neurons in both your central and peripheral nervous system while others are located throughout your gastrointestinal tract.
Opioids assist in the treatment of pain by reducing or slowing down the transmission of pain message from the brain to the body.
By altering the manner in which the brain perceives and receives the pain signals from the nerves in the body, it also affects the user in a different way. Users report experiencing sensations of pleasure and euphoria when under the influence of opioids. It is the feelings of pleasure and euphoria that make opioid use and abuse so desirable among addicts.
Since the brain has stopped or changed its natural dopamine production in light of the mass amounts provided by the opioid, when the drug is no longer active in the system, the brain becomes chemically unbalanced. Opioid withdrawals are the physical and psychological symptoms which manifest as the brain attempts to regulate itself once more.
These symptoms can range from mild to severe in light of different contributing factors such as age, type of opioid being abused, the frequency of opioid use, the amount taken in each dose, and how long you were taking the opioids. Having both a physical and psychological dependence on these drugs are the signs of an opioid addiction. To prevent encountering opioid withdrawals, many opioids addicts will continue to use the drug, even if they don’t want to.
Having an opioid addiction can present many serious consequences. While the disease of addiction has no cure, it can be successfully treated and brought to a manageable level through undergoing opioid addiction treatment.
Opioid overdose deaths are on the rise, making receiving proper opioid addiction treatment more vital than ever.
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What Are the Opioid Addiction Symptoms?
Are you concerned that you or a loved one may be suffering from opioid addiction? Identifying opioid addiction symptoms quickly can be the difference between life and death. Opioid addiction tends to progress to dangerous levels fairly quickly in comparison to other drugs, making this form of addiction even deadlier.
What’s worse is that many people cannot recognize opioid addiction symptoms until it’s too late. Time is of the essence when dealing with an opioid addiction, so understanding and spotting the signs early on is crucial. Many addicts are dying at an accelerated rate due to the presence of Fentanyl (a highly potent opioid analog) in batches of heroin.
Fentanyl is more than 100 times more potent than heroin in some cases. This leaves addicts at risk for inadvertently overdosing from mistaking the Fentanyl for heroin. Since they believe they understand their tolerance for heroin, they mistakenly take too much of Fentanyl and subsequently overdose.
Luckily, there are several opioid addiction symptoms that will present themselves to help you spot an opioid addiction in yourself or your loved one before it’s too late. These symptoms of an opioid addiction are variable in the sense that you or your loved one may have all of the following symptoms or only a few.
There are certain opioid addiction symptoms that are unique to this type of drug. While the criteria associated with the DSM-V diagnosis of substance use disorder was mentioned earlier, there are specific tell-tale signs of an opioid addiction.
Addiction is not a cookie-cutter disease. The way that it presents itself varies from person to person. An opioid addiction is as unique as each individual who struggle with it. Check out some of the more common opioid addiction symptoms to look for in yourself or others:
- Sudden changes in weight
- Withdrawing from activities/obligations
- Mood swings
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Changes in social circles
- Financial difficulties
- Lying and/or stealing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Red eyes
- Pinned pupils
- Cravings for opioids
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Unable to stop taking opioids
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above opioid addiction symptoms, it’s time to consider getting help. Opioid addiction is a serious condition that can have deadly consequences if left untreated. Today, there are many different opioid addiction treatment options readily available to help you get your opioid addiction under control.
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What Is Involved in Opioid Addiction Treatment?
Getting proper opioid addiction treatment is important. There are many different routes you can take when it comes to addiction treatment. There’re outpatient programs or inpatient programs, detox hospitalization or private detox, public programs or private programs, long-term drug rehab, and 12-step programs or dual diagnosis programs.
With so many different options, it’s important to understand just what goes into alcohol rehab and drug rehab. One particularly crucial facet pertaining to your success is undergoing the full continuum of care.
The full continuum of care refers to completing each different level of care sequentially. There are higher levels of care and lower levels of care. The differences between the level are primarily the amount of direct clinical and medical intervention that is offered at each stage.
You start the full continuum of care at the highest level of care and slowly progress to lower levels of care. The benefit to completing opioid addiction treatment in this manner is that you will be able to spend the necessary time you need away from outside distractions to focus on treatment and slowly gain personal freedoms and responsibility to your life and recovery as you become capable of handling it without becoming overwhelming and risking relapse.
The first step in the full continuum of care is medical detox or simply detox. This stage has the highest amount of clinical and medical intervention and has a hands-on approach to opioid addiction treatment. The primary goal of detox is to provide you with medical stabilization, guide you safely and comfortably through the withdrawal process, and to prepare you for ongoing addiction treatment and therapy.
When you arrive at detox, you’ll be given a complete medical assessment performed by the medical team made up of doctors, nurses, and medical support staff. They’ll take a look at the severity of your opioid addiction, what your medical needs may be, and your overall physical health is.
After your assessment, an individualized detox plan will be created and implemented that meets all of your personal needs. This plan will be comprised of different detox medications, which combat any detox side effects you may encounter during your stay. The goal is to safely, quickly, and comfortably get the opioids out of your system so you can focus more solely on the therapeutic aspect of opioid addiction treatment.
You will also be under the supervision of the clinical team. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can also be emotional or psychological. Many people experience depression, anxiety, and other negative emotional side effects during their detox. The clinical team of therapists, case managers, and support staff will help you deal with the emotional aspect of detox while also providing you the beginning stages of actual addiction therapy.
After inpatient or residential treatment, you’ll move onto the next phase. This stage is known as intensive outpatient or IOP. It is very different from inpatient/residential. Instead of living at the facility you’ll need to find alternative housing. This may come in the form of moving back home or heading off to a sober living facility or halfway house. Sober homes are helpful for newly recovering addicts and alcoholics because they provide a structured approach to living that has different rules such as curfew and maintaining complete abstinence to provide a recovery-oriented environment.
Regardless of your housing choice, you will still need to commute to IOP for each session. Therapy drops down to only part-time, with IOP sessions usually occurring for several hours at a time, multiple days per week.
While in IOP, you’ll still undergo intensive therapy sessions and be provided medication management if necessary. IOP helps ease the transition from the sequestered conditions of inpatient/residential treatment as you begin to acclimate to life within the community at large as a sober person.
IOP is helpful in also keeping you accountable for your recovery even during your off hours. You will be administered weekly random drug tests to ensure you’re abstaining from all drugs and alcohol.
Following detox, you should continue your opioid addiction treatment. Detox only addresses the physical aspect of an opioid addiction, not the psychological. This means that only half of the problem has been treated. In order to avoid putting yourself at an increased risk of relapse, or returning to active opioid addiction, you must continue on in the full continuum of care.
Inpatient or residential treatment is the next step. Here, you’ll live on-site at the facility and undergo full-time, rigorous therapy.
Each facility offers a different curriculum of addiction therapies and features different amenities. Different types of addiction therapy will be offered, and they may have options for different programs like dual diagnosis treatment, alumni programs, men’s programs or women’s programs, or even religious-based programs like Christian rehab. It’s important to consider what you’re looking for when it comes to opioid addiction treatment.
Regardless of what different features and amenities you may have, the general idea of inpatient or residential treatment is the same. You will do the majority of the therapeutic heavy lifting during this stage, spending most of your time in therapy sessions.
Here you will learn different coping mechanisms, life skills, and relapse prevention techniques that you can take with you even after treatment ends. Since recovery is a lifelong process that continues even after you complete rehab, these are important concepts designed to set you up for success in long-term recovery.
The final stage of opioid addiction treatment is routine outpatient or outpatient. The main difference between outpatient and IOP is the amount of time spent in sessions each week. Rather than commuting several days per week, outpatient generally occurs once per week for about an hour-long session.
At this stage of your recovery, you will be fairly self-sufficient and able to handle the majority of the responsibility for your life and recovery with only minor clinical intervention. Outpatient programs last for several months at a time, allowing for lingering clinical help throughout your last stage of addiction treatment.
You will still be required to take random drug tests as well, to ensure you’re on track in your recovery and outpatient program. By completing the full continuum of care for opioid addiction treatment, you can help solidify your foundation in recovery and set yourself up for long-term success.
How Dangerous are Opioids? / Opioid Overdose
Opioids are notoriously dangerous due to the propensity for accidental overdose, as well as their high potential for addiction.
Below are some of the reasons why opioid addiction should be taken seriously:
- Highly addictive
- High potential for accidental overdose
- Easily accessible
- Both physically and psychologically addictive
- Fairly affordable
- High relapse rate
- Difficult withdrawal process
Opioid Abuse Statistics
The statistics surrounding opioid abuse are also terrifying. The current trend regarding opioid abuse statistics is ever increasing—meaning the number of people using/abusing opioids and sustaining injury from opioid use is increasing. It’s important to understand the reality and severity of opioid addiction.
Here are some of the current opioid addiction statistics in the United States:
Start Your Journey to Recovery Today
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- SAMHSA. (2015, September). Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from
- DSM 5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018
- Opioid. (2018, April 14). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from
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