Opioids, primarily used to relieve pain, work by decreasing the force of the pain signals sent by the body to the brain. By attaching themselves to opioid receptors in the body, the opioids reduce the perception of pain and bring about a sense of well-being in a person. Most often prescribed to relieve pain from injuries, surgeries, dental procedures and chronic painful conditions, opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, Oxycodone, codeine, fentanyl and morphine.
When used as prescribed, opioids are safe and effective. However, when misused, opioids can lead to dependence, overdose and addiction. As per the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), in 2014, of the 21.5 million Americans with a substance use disorder (SUD), 1.9 million had the disorder that involved prescription pain relievers and 586,000 had the problem involving heroin. It is also estimated that 23 percent individuals using heroin develop an opioid addiction.
Opioid abuse, symptoms and effects
Due to their ability to affect regions involved in the brain’s reward system, opioids produce a sense of well-being and pleasure that also leads to their abuse. Individuals may start abusing opioids by taking them in forms and quantities other than those prescribed in order to enhance its euphoric effects. One can take opioids by crushing, snorting or inhaling them.
Some of the common signs of opioid abuse include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mood swings
In case of opioid overdose, one needs immediate medical attention. Opioid overdose may occur when it is taken in larger quantities or when it is combined with other substances, such as alcohol. Some of the common symptoms of opioid overdose include:.
- Erratic pulse
- Slow breathing
- Loss of consciousness
When used for a prolonged period, opioid use might lead to drug tolerance and dependence. With drug tolerance, a person requires higher quantities of the drug to achieve the same effect. In addition to causing tolerance, long-term opioid use can also lead to drug overdose and drug dependence. Drug dependence is characterized by changes in the way the body works due to a longer use of the drug. The changes cause one to experience withdrawal symptoms when one abruptly stops using the drug. Some of the withdrawal symptoms include:
- Nausea or vomiting
Withdrawal symptoms can be easily managed by gradually reducing the dosage of the drug until it is no longer required. During detoxification, withdrawal symptoms can be managed by taking certain medications, such as methadone, buprenorphine or a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone.
In addition to causing drug dependence and tolerance, long-term opioid use can also lead to addiction. The primary cause of drug addiction is the inability to limit the drug use beyond its clinical requirement. Addiction to opioids can force an individual to obsessively seek opioid medications even when its use causes problems related to relationship, health and behavior.
Treatment for opioid addiction
As the treatment for opioid abuse and addiction depends on the duration, frequency and the amount of drug abused, treatment plans often differ from person to person. Individuals seeking treatment for opioid addiction should seek treatment from trained medical health professionals in a certified opioid addiction treatment center.
Treatment for opioid addiction can be obtained at both inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities. An inpatient facility offers round-the-clock monitoring in a sober environment, while treatment at an outpatient facility suits individuals who cannot opt for regular treatment due to professional and personal commitments.
Addiction treatment in opioid drug rehab centers involves a holistic combination of detoxification and behavioral therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), individual, group, or family counseling. During treatment for addiction in an opioid addiction rehab, an individual undergoes detoxification to gradually reduce opioid dependence and to flush out the toxins from the system. In addition, therapies and counseling sessions help in treating any underlying mental conditions that may be a cause of opioid addiction and abuse.