Opioid Addiction, Symptoms and Treatment Information

Chances are that, if you live in America or pay attention to U.S. news outlets, you have heard the term “opioid epidemic” used quite a bit recently. Opioid addiction has become prevalent in the United States. As the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) reports, in 2015 alone, there were about 12.5 million Americans who misused opioids. Of this number, about 2.1 million were estimated to have misused opioids for the first time. So, what is it that makes opioids so potently addictive to some people? Let’s first dig our heels into what opioids are composed of.

What Are Opioids?

Originally derived from the opium poppy plant, opioids are a class of both legally-prescribed (such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, which are more commonly known as Oxycontin and Vicodin) and illicit drugs (including heroin). These drugs all interact with your brain’s opioid receptors. The job of your entire opioid system is to exercise control over rewards, pain sensations, and addictive behaviors. These receptors are switched on by endogenous peptides that are emitted by neurons.

When you take an opioid, it binds to three opioid receptors (delta, kappa, and mu), which have all been genetically replicated. Since they create inhibitory reactions, physical pain is dulled within your body. It also seems to impact emotions and even cause mood irregularities in the forms of anxiety and depression. However, chronic pain and depression tend to be comorbidities, so depression could already be present.

Why Are They Addictive?

Opioids are addictive because they create endorphins. Endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers. When your body doesn’t produce enough endorphins, you are going to feel sluggish and probably somewhat miserable. You might also find yourself in a good deal of physical pain. Since some opioids are capable of producing far more endorphins than the human body, they can become a go-to solution for pain relief.

Opioids can alleviate pain; there is no denying it. However, the fact of the matter is that opioids don’t treat the root cause of pain symptoms. Once you start taking them, you might find that the small dosage you started out on simply doesn’t work well enough after a period of time. Your body can build up an opioid resistance even when you follow the proper dosage. This is what leads some people to abuse opioids, although it is possible to build up an opioid resistance without becoming addicted.

Who is At Risk?

It can be difficult to wrap your mind around why only some people become addicted to opioids while others don’t seem to ever abuse them. There are some risk factors that you should pay attention to in case you suspect that you or your loved one might have an addiction to opioids. The greatest risk factors for developing an addiction to opioids are, 18 and 25

Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

  • Having a history or substance abuse or currently abusing other substances
  • Being between 18 and 25 years of age
  • Having untreated psychiatric illnesses (such as, but not limited to, anxiety and depression)
  • A genetic predisposition
  • Environmental factors (such as exposure through another opioid addict in the circle of family and friends or enduring psychological trauma)

So, how exactly are you supposed to know whether you or your loved one are addicted to opioids? There is a pretty long list of symptoms that result from opioid addiction, and these symptoms can be broken down into three main categories, as follows:

  1. Mood and Psychological
  2. Physical
  • Decreased or a lack of motivation
  • Elevated anxiety and/or anxiety attacks
  • Feeling irritable or irate
  • Intense feelings of euphoria
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Elevated self-esteem levels
  1. Behavioral
  • States of extreme arousal and/or hypervigilance
  • Heightened alertness
  • Feeling physically agitated
  • Feeling heightened awareness of sensory stimuli
  • Constriction of the body’s blood vessels
  • Elevated sexual arousal
  • Increased heart rate and/or palpitations
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unusually high levels of energy
  • Taking opioids in too high of a dosage and/or for longer than recommended
  • Spending a significant amount of time trying to get ahold of the drug, use it, or recover from using it
  • Foregoing formerly enjoyable activities
  • Experiencing unsuccessful attempts to quit using the opioid

Not everyone will experience all of these symptoms. Also, those who cease opioid usage might experience some rather unpleasant withdrawal effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, muscle tensions, and bodily shakes or jitters.

Outpatient Treatment For Opioid Addiction

Quitting opioids cold turkey can be downright difficult and even dangerous. Not only will you likely experience some moderate physical side-effects, but withdrawal can trigger emotional/mood issues, such as heightened depression and anxiety. This is why it is important for anyone attempting to quit opioids to consider seeking medical and psychological treatment. Those who quit cold turkey are exponentially more likely to relapse. Outpatient therapy through therapist-guided detoxification has shown to be successful for those with mild to moderate addictions.

Opioid replacement therapy is a common solution for addiction treatment. Outpatient detox usually involves the clinician placing you on buprenorphine/naloxone (Bp/Nx) to stabilize you, which you will be weaned off of over the course of several weeks. A clinician might then place you on an opioid antagonist and conduct a urinalysis to make sure that you have not taken any opioids since starting your detox journey.

Inpatient Treatment For Opioid Addiction

Inpatient treatment for addiction to opioids is a bit more complicated and involves an addicted individual making the commitment to stay in a rehabilitation facility. While there, you are monitored by a team of doctors and therapists as your body detoxes. You might need to undergo opioid replacement therapy to help you stabilize and detox. You will also be guided through your recovery by a licensed therapist who specializes in addiction treatment, and you will likely get the chance to interact with other opioid addicts during group therapy.

Addiction to opioids is a serious matter, and there is no wonder that it is being hailed as an epidemic in the United States. While legislation is in the works to help decrease addiction to opioids, it is important that you seek professional help for yourself or your loved one. Trying to quit cold turkey can be ineffective and hazardous, and you or your loved one should be provided with the utmost in care and support through the recovery journey.