Opiate and Opioid Addiction
Opioids are basically any drugs that work on the nervous system to treat moderate to severe pain. They are prescribed for cancer patients, those who have just gotten into a serious accident, and those who have just underwent surgery.
This type of drug can be either a prescription medication or a street drug. There are many different options available from heroin to hydrocodone to methadone.
Opioids work quickly. They easily provide a sense of euphoria. As a result, they are highly addictive. In fact, they’re so addictive that America is currently facing an opioid epidemic. Many Americans have an opioid addiction and dependence.
The Difference Between Opioids and Opiates
Many people struggle with the differences between an opioid and an opiate. In fact, both words are often used to mean the same thing. While opiates and opioids are chemically quite similar, there are some small differences.
Chemically, both of these drugs are derived from opium. Opiates are chemical derivatives of the opium poppy. This means that it’s a natural product. Opioids are made in a lab, and are a synthetic creation.
Types of Opiates
As opiates are derived from opium, they are usually street drugs. Common types of opiates that Americans are addicted to include:
Types of Opioids
Since opioids are synthetic products made in lab, they are usually prescription medications. These medications treat moderate to severe pain. Due to their addictive nature, they are controlled substances. Popular types of opioids include:
Classic Signs of an Opiate Addiction
Opiates are some of the most addictive drugs out there. In 2015 alone, 2 million Americans had an opioid addiction. Unfortunately, these numbers are rising each year. More and more people are getting addicted due to pill mills and prescription misuse.
Some common signs of an opiate addiction include:
- A craving for opioids
- A strong desire to get high
- An inability to control or even reduce use
- Financial difficulties from buying opiates
- Poor work or school performance
- Risky and dangerous behaviors
- Tolerance to the drugs
- Withdrawal symptoms from quitting
It can be difficult for many addicts to come to terms with their addiction. Many people are in denial about the severity of their addiction. If you suspect that you have a problem, check out one of our addiction quizzes.
Opioids and opiates are both highly addictive because they alter neurotransmitter levels in the body. Neurotransmitters are molecules in the brain that cause feelings of pleasure and euphoria.
The main neurotransmitters affected are dopamine and serotonin. When opioids are injected, dopamine levels in the brain can jump 200% in only 8 seconds. This causes users to feel a rush of pleasurable sensations.
These sensations are responsible for the addictive properties of opioids. Addicts often chase the high.
Unfortunately, the body will develop tolerance to the drugs. Over time, the body produces less and less dopamine and serotonin. It relies more on artificial stimulation. This increases the body’s need for opioids. It is also the reason why addicts go through withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit.
Without opioids in their system, addicts begin to feel depressed. They need opioids to reach normal dopamine and serotonin levels.
Dopamine imbalances are responsible for a lot of side effects and symptoms. When dopamine levels in the brain are low, the body reacts by causing users to:
- Experience depression
- Feel fatigued
- Get anxious or feel panicked
- Have a poor memory or loss of memory
The larger the dopamine imbalance, the more difficult it is to get sober.
Opioids also cause a dip in natural serotonin production. This has a negative effect on memory, sleep, emotions and learning abilities. Low serotonin levels can cause mood swings, confusion and nausea.
It is much easier to recover from a dip in serotonin levels than a dip in dopamine levels.
Effects of Opioid Use
Due to the chemical changes in the body, opioid abuse will have devastating physical, mental and emotional effects.
Some of these effects are short-term. They will disappear once the opioids are cleared from the body.
The time that it takes the body to remove opioids will differ based on the drug type. Hydrocodone, for example, has a half-life of about 3.8 hours. As a result, it will be cleared from the body within 20.9 hours.
Opiates, like heroin, stay in the body for an even shorter amount of time. Heroin has a half-life of about 3 to 8 minutes, so it will stay in the body for less than an hour.
Long-term use of opioids, however, will result in long-term effects. Some of these effects may be permanent. The narcotics are capable of causing irreversible damage to various organs.
Upon ingesting the opioids, some side effects will appear quite soon afterwards. Common short-term effects of opioid abuse include:
- Impaired cognitive function
- Increased irritability
- Mood swings
- Poor coordination
- Poor decision making skills
- Poor sleep
- Shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
In most cases, these symptoms will subside once the drugs exit the body. These symptoms are not permanent, and are completely reversible.
Long-term opioid use will completely cause dopamine and serotonin levels to go haywire. It can take the brain a long time to recover. In fact, many addicts end up struggling with relapses.
Long-term opioid abuse can lead to effects like:
- An increased risk of infections
- Bladder dysfunction
- Bleeding ulcers
- Brain damage
- Cardiac conditions like low blood pressure
- Hormonal changes that result in poor libido
- Increased pain sensitivity
- Kidney damage
- Liver damage
- Poor memory
- Poor psychomotor abilities
- Sleep disturbances
On top of all this, different opioids also side effects that are unique to them only. For example, hydrocodone abuse can cause hearing loss. Surgery is needed to repair the damage caused by hydrocodone use.
Withdrawal Symptoms of Opioid Abuse
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to deal with. They can be quite intense depending on the length of the opioid use, as well as the dosage.
Withdrawal symptoms can be so unbearable that addicts will turn to drugs once again.
Common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Cold sweats
- Dilated pupils
- Goosebumps and chills
- Intense cravings
- Muscle aches
- Mood swings
- Profuse sweating
- Runny nose
Medical detox is often recommended in both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. The detox will help lessen the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms. It can also curb cravings.
The withdrawal timeline for various opioids and opiates will differ. Due to the differing timelines, it’s best to seek treatment at a rehab center. Medical professionals will watch your condition and vitals to tailor your treatment plan.
For example, withdrawal symptoms of methadone will start to peak in 72 to 96 hours. These withdrawal symptoms can last as long as 14 days. Heroin withdrawal symptoms, on the other hand, will peak in 36 to 72 hours. These symptoms can last anywhere from 7 to 10 days.
In most cases, painkiller withdrawal symptoms will begin to emerge after 8 to 12 hours from last use. These symptoms begin to peak in 12 to 72 hours, and takes a total of 5 to 10 days to subside.
Even when the physical withdrawal symptoms subside, you still have to watch out for psychological ones. It takes months for psychological withdrawal symptoms to subside.
Psychological symptoms are also known as Post-acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). This syndrome affects about 91% of all addicts who are attempting to get sober. In short, it’s a common problem that many addicts face.
PAWS cause addicts to relapse. It is associated with psychological and emotional symptoms like:
- Desensitized emotions
- Intense depression
- Sleep deprivation and disturbances
Addicts who are looking to get sober should seek a long-term therapy that addresses this issue.
As the symptoms are more mental than physical, learning how to identify triggers can help. Addicts should rely on a strong support group to get through these difficult times. Keep in mind that it can take months, if not years, for PAWS to subside.
Signs of an Opioid Overdose
As all opioids and opiates work in similar ways, they cause the same overdose symptoms. Heroin overdoses are eerily similar to hydrocodone overdoses.
During an O.D., the addict’s cardiac and respiratory system shuts down. They fall asleep and stop breathing.
This is what makes an opioid overdose incredibly dangerous. Often times, those nearby simply think that the addict is sleeping or taking a nap. They don’t realize that they are actually overdosing until it’s too late.
Common symptoms of an opioid overdose include:
- Bluish skin around the fingertips and lips
- Cold, clammy skin
- Loss of consciousness
- Pinpoint pupils
- Respiratory arrest and depression
Lack of oxygen to the body can cause permanent neurological damage even if the addict is saved.
It’s easy to overdose on opioids. That’s because the body builds tolerance to the drug. There’s a fine line between getting high and taking too much and overwhelming the system. In fact, the difference may only be several micrograms.
An overdose can appear anywhere from 1 to 3 hours after last taking the drug. If you are with someone who has taken opioids, pay special attention to him or her during this period of time. Make sure that he or she is conscious.
Fortunately, there’s an “antidote” to opioid overdoses. It comes in the form of a drug known as naloxone. This is an overdose-reversing drug, and is available in many pharmacies.
In fact, you can get naloxone kits for free in some states.
This antidote reverses the effects of an opioid overdose by blocking receptors in the brain. The drug molecules can no longer attach to the receptors and trigger a response. This essentially saves the affected individual, and gives him or her a second chance at life.
Naloxone comes in the form of either an injection or a nasal spray. Both are equally as easy to administer. This antidote should reverse the overdose effects within 5 minutes. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to administer a second dose.
Even if naloxone is administered, it’s wise to call 9-1-1. First responders can confirm that the addict is indeed safe. They can also take the addict to a hospital should their condition worsen.
Treatment for an Opioid Addiction
Getting sober will be much easier once the withdrawal symptoms are less severe. To do this, many rehab centers recommend Opioid Replacement Therapies (ORTs).
ORTs use substitute opioids that are weaker to fool the brain. These substitutes have a similar effect, and will be able to block cravings. While some of these medications are antagonists, others are agonists. They all work in different ways to treat withdrawal symptoms.
There are many different types of medications used in a medical detox. Some of the most popular and common types include:
Each medication has its own beneficial property. Some are prescribed as tablets, whereas others are injected. Speak with a doctor to see what option will work best for you.
Break Free from an Opioid Addiction
It’s not unusual for many addicts to move on from prescription pills to hard drugs like heroin. Don’t let an addiction take over your life. Free yourself by taking the steps needed to get sober.
Contact one of our counselors to get a customized treatment plan. We’ll find something that’s tailored to your needs while still being affordable.
Our team will work with you to help you break free from an opioid addiction. We offer many different resources and treatment plans that will surely help. The intimate environment lets you focus on nothing else, but your health.