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Opiate Addiction

What is Opiate Addiction?

Opiates are chemical substances derived from the opium poppy plant. They are used to manufacture narcotic painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and morphine that effectively suppress moderate-to-severe pain, but are also highly addictive if used too long or in excessive quantities. Heroin is an illicit street drug that also belongs to the opiate family, and it is just as addictive as its legal counterparts.

These drugs, which are also referred to as opioids, bind with receptors that are indigenous to the human brain, and in addition to their potent painkilling capacities they also produce feelings of euphoria, calm, and relaxation. Opiates are used to reduce pain, but they are also consumed recreationally, even when manufactured in medicinal form.

Whether they’ve been using opiate painkillers or heroin obtained on the black market, men and women who continually abuse opiates are putting their futures and their lives at risk.

Symptoms of Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction symptoms can vary somewhat based on the substances being used. While addiction to prescription opiates often develops gradually and may require sharp observational skills to detect in the early stages, the symptoms of heroin addiction usually manifest more rapidly, possibly in a matter of weeks. Heroin abuse also causes physical changes in the body that are impossible to miss.

The signs of prescription opiate addiction and abuse include:

  • Persistent drowsiness

  • Nodding off at odd times

  • Frequent nausea

  • Slowed breathing and/or heart rate

  • Constipation

  • Constricted pupils

  • Mental confusion, slower thinking processes and reaction times

  • Mood changes following consumption of the drug (from depressed or irritable to mellow and relaxed)

  • The onset of cravings for the drug that become worse as tolerance builds

People abusing heroin may exhibit any or all of these symptoms, while also showing additional physical signs of heroin addiction, including:

  • Needle marks (which often become infected) surrounded by bruises

  • Dry, itchy, flaky skin

  • Constant runny nose and flu-like symptoms

  • Open sores on the skin that are slow to heal

  • Collapsed veins around injection sites

A developing opiate addiction can leave sufferers desperate to secure sources of the drugs they crave, and the list of opiate addiction signs also includes behaviors that reflect that desperation, such as:

  • Visiting different doctors to get multiple painkiller prescriptions

  • Using more than one type of opiate, depending on what’s available

  • Stealing drugs or the money to buy them

  • Social isolation, secretiveness, and withdrawal from family life

  • Chronic neglect of responsibilities (work, school, parental, etc.)

  • Loss of interest in grooming and personal appearance

  • Shifting from opiate painkillers to heroin

To diagnose an opiate addiction, clinicians must identify the presence of distinctive symptoms that indicate opiate abuse.

There are 11 symptoms in total used to define opiate addiction, and there are three types of diagnoses that may be provided depending on how many opiate addiction symptoms are in evidence (2-3 symptoms=mild addiction, 4-5 symptoms=moderate addiction, six or more=severe addiction).

These symptoms include:

  1. Excessive dosages of opiates taken for longer periods than expected

  2. Repeated failures to quit using these drugs

  3. Opiate use that has become a time-consuming activity

  4. Powerful and persistent cravings

  5. Work, school, and family responsibilities are neglected

  6. Continued use of opiates despite ongoing social and relationship problems

  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are abandoned

  8. Opiate use linked to physically hazardous situations

  9. Recurrent physical or psychological difficulties connected to opiate use

  10. Tolerance for opiates continues to increase

  11. Withdrawal symptoms experienced when opiates are not consumed

One of the gravest risks for opiate addicts is overdose, which is a side effect of the tolerance for opiates that builds up over time. Long-term opiate abusers must consume more and more drugs chasing after the same effects, and beyond a certain level of consumption the chances of overdose become significant.

The current epidemic of drug overdose deaths in the United States is almost entirely related to the explosion of opiate use and abuse. Of the more than 64,000 Americans who lost their lives to drug overdose in 2016, opiates were implicated solely or in combination with other drugs (usually alcohol or benzodiazepines) in more than 53,000 of these cases.

When a person exhibits the signs of opiate overdose, medical assistance should be summoned immediately. The symptoms of opiate overdose include:

  • Extreme drowsiness, to the point of unresponsiveness

  • Significant respiratory distress

  • Slow heartbeat and a weak pulse

  • Nausea and continuous vomiting

  • Severely dilated pupils

  • Bluish lips and fingers

  • Significant mental confusion and disorientation

  • Complete loss of consciousness

Reach for Recovery, LLC offers treatment for opiate addiction with medications and care coordination for behavioral modification. Buprenorphine is a FDA-approved, highly studied and regulated medication used to help individuals recover from opioid addiction in a Medication-Assisted Treatment Program. It acts as a stabilizer in the body rather than as a narcotic. When taken as prescribed, buprenorphine helps patients function physically, emotionally and intellectually without impairment. Furthermore, it helps patients engage in counseling to set goals and achieve positive health, mental and behavioral outcomes.

Buprenorphine sticks to the opioid receptors in the brain, so those who take other opioids while on buprenorphine will not experience a high. This is because there are so few open brain receptors for them to bind with. When taken as directed and not combined with other drugs like benzodiazepines, buprenorphine reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and carries a low risk of overdose.

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