Opioid Addiction and Abuse

Opioid addiction is a devastating problem impacting people worldwide, especially in the United States. The leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States is drug overdose, and the majority of these deaths are connected to opioids such as heroin and fentanyl. In 2016, 64,000 deaths in the United States were caused by drug use, in addition to 300,000 deaths around the world. That same year, more than 11 million Americans abused medically prescribed opioids, with another 1 million abusing heroin. An estimated 26.4 million to 36 million people are opioid addicts across the world.

Commonly used opioids include:

  • Oxycodone (can be found in OxyContin or Percocet)
  • Hydrocodone
  • Codeine
  • Demerol
  • Dilaudid
  • Tramadol
  • Morphine
  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone

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What Causes Opioid Addiction?

Opioids are synthetic substances derived from opium. Drugs such as Vicodin are highly effective pain killers and are widely used to numb pain felt from a variety of medical conditions. Opioids work by activating receptors in the body’s central nervous system and the brain, specifically by attaching to opioid receptor proteins. This suppresses pain signals, but it also releases endorphins (“feel-good chemicals”) into the body, creating feelings of pleasure. This leads many users to abuse opioids recreationally. This situation is made worse by the fact that opioids are easily available in many areas.

Opioid use changes the chemistry of the brain, which eventually adapts to their presence. Both prescription and recreational users of opioids find that they will have to take increasing doses of the drug to get the same effects, a process known as developing a tolerance. As users take greater and greater amounts of opioids, they become increasingly dependent on them. At this point, a full-blown addiction has developed. Even patients who experience chronic pain may be at risk for addiction, even though they are prescribed opioids for treatment.

Because opioids are chemically similar, many abusers will switch to a different opioid when their primary drug of choice is not available to them. Most commonly, individuals who become addicted after using prescription opioids such as Oxycodone will eventually start to use more dangerous and illegal drugs such as heroin, many of which are even more addictive. Eventually, users will become so addicted that their sole motivation is maintaining their habit, ignoring every other aspect of their life in the process.

Certain opioids are more addictive than others, although all present some risk. Heroin in particular has an extremely high addiction rate, capturing nearly everyone who tries it. Morphine is also widely abused for its similar effects. Those who have a high tolerance for opioids are at higher risk of an opioid addiction.

The Effects of Opioid Use and Addiction

Opioid use and addiction causes a number of physical, mental, and behavioral/emotional effects in sufferers.

Physical effects of opioid use and addiction include:

  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Severe itching
  • Fading in and out of consciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Slowed/stopped breathing

Mental effects of opioid use and addiction include:

  • Anxiety
  • Anti-social behavioral tendencies
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Dependence for stress relief

Behavioral/emotional effects of opioid use and addiction include:

  • Excusing opioid addiction
  • Lying about opioid use
  • Moodiness without opioids
  • Dependence
  • Feelings of shame and guilt about opioid use
  • Neglecting daily responsibilities
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Increased dependency/addiction for opioids

Opioid Withdrawal

Eventually, opioid addiction becomes so severe that the mind and body cannot function “normally” without the presence of these substances. When they leave the system, the addict’s mental and biologic systems go into a state of shock, known as withdrawal. During withdrawal, the body struggles to adapt to it’s new state, causing a wide range of symptoms. Opioid withdrawal is known to be one of the most painful and dangerous of all withdrawals, and can even be fatal in severe cases.

Symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Goosebumps
  • Muscle cramping
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Intense cravings
  • Trouble with sleep
  • Hypertension
  • Fever
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart beat

A Prescription For Opioids Representing Opioid Addiction

Who Opioid Addiction Effects

2.1 million Americans currently suffer from addiction to prescription opioids. Roughly 23% of people who use heroin are highly likely to develop an opioid addiction, and even first-time heroin users are extremely likely to become addicted. Addiction to heroin and other opioids, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and other narcotics cause issues across all demographics. Even children can be opioid abusers.

Women and Opioid Addiction

Women are more likely to have chronic pain and are prescribed pain relievers for longer time frames compared to men. Women also may become more strongly dependent on prescribed opioids. 48,000 women in the U.S. overdosed on pain reliever prescription drugs in 2016. Sadly, heroin overdoses have increased in women by over 400% between 1999-2010, compared to an increase of 237% in men during the same time frame.

Families and Opioid Addiction

Substance abuse not only directly impacts the health and wellness of the user, but it also impacts the wellbeing and relationships of loved ones. Experiencing a loved one in the midst of an opioid addiction can create tension and concern in the entire family. Studies show couples in relationships with substance abuse report a higher level of unhappiness, and couples where at least one partner is addicted to drugs argue more than couples who are not involved with an addiction.

Teenage Opioid Addiction

0.3
percent

0.3% of 8th graders use heroin, a figure that rises to 0.4% of 12th graders.

0.8
percent

0.8% of 8th graders use Oxycontin, as do 2.7% of 12th graders.

0.7
percent

0.7% of 8th graders use Vicodin, as well as 2% of 12th graders.

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Signs of Opioid Addiction

It is possible to use opioids and not develop an addiction. However, many opioid addicts use this as a defense to hide their addiction. This is especially true of opioid addicts who have a prescription. Opioids are supposed to induce a number of mental and behavioral effects, and those who are treated with opioids often have significant injuries or health issues. Because of this, it can be very difficult for friends and family, and even the abusers themselves, to identify an addiction, especially in the early stages.

In general, addiction is characterizedn by a heavy reliance on the opioid of choice, harming one’s self or others, a lack of self-regard, an inability to control one’s use, and a disregard for daily activities. Other traits can develop with prolonged use, marked differences in body (weight loss), or mental health, including:

  • Feeling shame or guilt with use
  • Physical discomfort when the drug is not taken
  • An increase of opioid tolerance
  • Spending increasing amounts of money on opioid use
  • Having loved ones show concern for drug use
  • Showing behavioral inconsistencies
  • Showing physical, mental and emotional side effects, such as drowsiness or depression
  • Using the drug to cope with daily stressors

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Find Treatment for Opioid Addiction

While attempting to take control of an addiction is a noble feat, it is not advisable to attempt detox alone, especially opioid detox. Withdrawal from opioids (e.g. anxiety, muscle aches, insomnia, agitation) produces painful symptoms that should be professionally monitored in an inpatient rehab facility. In some instances, opioid detox can even be deadly.

Treatment for each type of opioid can vary. In treatment facilities, patients can experience detox programs to restore the patient to optimal health. Patients will also be assisted based on unique psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs. Therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, art therapy, and physical therapy compliment medical treatment to ensure healing of the mind, body, and spirit.

Patients also restore relationships with themselves, talking with clinical therapists to discover underlying causes of addiction. Inpatient rehab centers also allow patients to connect with staff and others in recovery to establish support and friendships along the way to sobriety. Some facilities also allow partners of patients to be present to rebuild relationships. Contact a treatment expert now to find a treatment center that suits your needs.

Last Edited: April 5, 2018

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