Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction is currently an epidemic throughout the US that over the past decade has grown worse and worse. In terms of prescription opiates, the more these drugs are becoming readily available for medical use the more these drugs are being abused by addicts on the streets and throughout homes.

In order to really understand the full effect of opiate addiction, it is necessary to understand what these drugs actually are and how each one can vary from the next.

As a basic fact, opiates are pain killing substances. In addition to this they also produce a feeling of euphoria, both on a physical and mental level.

Other side effects of this type of drug include sleepiness, concentration difficulties, slowed breathing, blurry vision, slight anxiety, nausea, constipation, vomiting, etc.


There are three different types of opiates:

  • Natural
  • Semi-synthetic
  • Synthetic

Naturally occurring opiates include drugs like morphine and codeine. Semi-synthetic or opioids include heroin, hydrocodone, hydro morphine, oxycodone, etc. Synthetic opioids include fentanyl, methadone, propoxyphene and pentazocine.

All opiates have similar affects, just in varying degrees from drug to drug. Now you might think that the “naturally” occurring opiates would be less harmful; however morphine is in fact one of the most addictive opiates that exist, behind only heroin.

What Is Opiate Addiction:

Individuals using opiates can become physically and psychologically addicted to the drugs in a very short period of time.

A person starts using opiates, like any other drug, to solve a problem. It doesn’t matter whether the problem is physical pain, emotional pain and discomfort, boredom with life, to fit in with peers or as a further need to escape uncomfortable feelings that other drugs don’t seem to handle any longer. Regardless of what problem the person is trying to solve, when they begin using opiates as a solution they enter what can be called the opiate cycle of addiction. This means that there are definite manifestations and phenomena that will occur during their progressively worsening drug use.

Firstly, opiates are physically addictive to the degree that there is some substitution of brain chemicals as well as other physical changes that occur when the person is using the drug, and when they cease using them they experience tremendous physical and emotional pain until either the withdrawal runs its course or the person uses more opiates.

Opiates cause the body to burn up nutrition as it metabolizes the drug. These nutritional stores are normally there to provide the energy and nutrients needed to feel good and function well. As the nutrition is depleted a person can wind up with poor health ranging from feeling lethargic and miserable to fundamental physical disorders. Of course a person under the influence of an opiate based drug is likely not going to recognize that they feel bad since these drugs are strong pain relievers and mask the symptoms. It is when the person stops taking the opiate that they often realize they feel really bad or are even sick. Unfortunately the person, having become used to taking drugs to solve this and other problems, will usually end up taking more of the drug, which “handles the pain” and “solves the problem”. This causes more nutritional burn up, more masked symptoms and a worsening physical condition which will require more drugs. This is one of the major chains in the cycle of opiate addiction.

Opiate based drugs also break down in the body during the metabolic processes of the body and can form residues known as metabolites which have the characteristics of being able to adhere to the fatty tissues of the body. These residues can stay in the fatty tissues of the body for a very long time and when released due to physical exertion, stress or anything that causes the heart rate to increase and the body to go to the fat stores for energy they can travel to the brain and trigger a craving for the drug. This process can cause the individual to seek and use more opiates which in turn deposit more drug residues into the body which later can be released and trigger cravings to use more drugs …. Needless to say this is definitely a major component of the opiate cycle of addiction.

As with addictions to other drugs, opiate addicts of every kind inadvertently do things under the influence or as a result of using drugs that later they feel guilty about. These things of course vary from person to person. Issues like missing work due to drug use or withdrawal, neglecting familial duties, neglecting children or spousal abuse/neglect, infidelity in a relationship or worse. All these things and more can result in feelings of guilt, shame and resentment for the addicted individual. Again, the person is accustoming to handling negative feelings by using more drugs so that is often what occurs. With more drug use comes more negative transgressions and more guilt, shame and resentment leading to more drug use….

Finally, in a broad general sense, a person suffering from opiate addiction will become weaker and weaker at confronting and handling life. Part of the key reasons a person uses drugs like opiate based drugs is to avoid pain and discomfort. It is an attempt to solve a problem. However, every time the person uses drugs instead of confronting and handling the problem they are presented with the weaker they become regarding that area of life and the less they are willing to confront it. A person takes a painkiller to stop the pain of an aching leg. They soon begin taking the painkiller for a headache, any muscle ache, inability to sleep etc. As the addiction progresses the person can find themselves in a position where they are hard pressed to confront anything without being under the influence of the drug. Otherwise the stress is just too much. Of course all this means that the opiate addicted person will often feel guilty and ashamed of how miserable they have become and may even feel a lack of self-esteem about seemingly being very weak and not being able to handle things in life that others seem to handle every day. These are negative feelings and discomfort which they are accustom to handling with- the use of more opiates.

So, opiate addiction, like any other drug addiction, results in the use of the drug itself actually creating continual damage to the person’s life which in turn will result in more reasons to take more of the drug. This is the vicious cycle of opiate addiction.

Opiate Addiction Statistics:

Over the years, various drug and health agencies have conducted studies to determine the extent and affects of opiate addiction and abuse.

The following statistics represent an overview of the problems that the US is facing in terms of opiate addiction and abuse.

  • Since 1990 drug overdose deaths have tripled and most of those deaths were from prescription drugs [1].
  • Almost 3 out of 4 prescription drug overdoses are caused by prescription painkillers or opiate based drugs.
  • More than 12 million people reported using prescription painkillers nonmedically in 2010
  • On average, abusers of heroin have a $150 to $200 per day drug addiction.
  • From 2000-2005, overdoses from the use of methadone (a synthetic opiate used to treat opiate addiction in some facilities) increased by over 500%, and were cited as being involved in 4,500 deaths during this time period.
  • A recent survey conducted in high schools across the US found that 13 percent of the high school seniors had misused prescription painkillers.

Statistically, prescription type opiates have seen the greatest increase in misuse and addiction over the past ten years. The dramatic increase in abuse has been attributed by many professionals in the field to the ease in which some of these drugs can be obtained.

Families throughout the country now have medical insurance that cover these types of drugs and many have their medicine cabinets stocked with these types of drugs. That in turn is leading to the children in these families taking these types drugs without the proper prescription but just to get high.

Signs of Opiate Addiction:

The signs of opiate abuse can be difficult to spot at times in the user due to the fact that you can’t see some of the obvious signs right away. Often times the user will mask the signs of their addiction in ways that make it very difficult for loved ones around them to spot and handle them.

On the other hand, by having a good grasp of what the telltale signs of opiate abuse are, one will be able to detect it easier when it is happening. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Excessive sleeping – many opiates will cause excessive drowsiness in the user which can lead to excessive sleeping.
  • Heroin and other opiates can make the limbs of the user heavy and lethargic.
  • The users appearance will become less and less kempt in general.

A sign that the user has become addicted to an opiate is when they realize that when they don’t have the drug they are becoming ill, this is called “dope sick”. They might actually believe that they are becoming ill since the symptoms of the flu or a cold are the same as that of someone going through opiate abuse symptoms; which may include runny nose, muscle aches, diarrhea, cough and stomach cramps. The solution for the addict is seemingly to take more of the opiate, as this will temporarily reduce these symptoms and allow them to function normally for a little while. However, once these wear off the symptoms come back just as strong and the cycle repeats itself.

This is one of the unique aspects of opiate addiction as compared to other drugs; the addict gets to a point where they are taking the drug just to reduce the physical and mental pain created and no longer is using it to get a high.

Opiate Addiction Withdrawal:

Individuals withdrawing from opiates can feel like they are suffering from the flu. In addition to the many painful physical withdrawal affects of these drugs, there are many psychological withdrawal symptoms as well. These may include mood swings, anxiety, restlessness, depression and increased sensitivity to pain [2].

The withdrawal from opiate addiction is one of the most painful out of any type of drug withdrawal [3]. Part of this is due to the nature of the drugs, they repress pain and create euphoria; when these are no longer used the body feels all of the pain that has been repressed when high on the opiates, creating severe pain during the withdrawal process.

Help With Opiate Addiction:

There are many different methods that are used to free someone from the lifestyle of opiate addiction and abuse.

Some rehabilitation centers will turn to other types of pain medication in order to wean the addict off the opiate. One of the most frequently used drugs in this field is methadone. This has been found to be a flawed solution to the problem as people have turned to this in itself in order to get high and have become addicted to methadone.

Some rehabilitation centers are turning to a holistic approach in order to successfully get someone off of opiates.

Treatment for Opiate Addiction:

The holistic approach applied by Narconon and other centers use nutrition, supplements such as B-vitamin combinations, gentle exercises and other simple approaches that allow the addict to refocus their attention on other things and get them through the pains of withdrawal.

Drugs will essentially burn up the vitamins and minerals in the person’s body and opiates are no exception. Most of the body pain that the person is feeling is a result of this and one of the best ways to rehabilitate that is to replenish these vitamins and minerals with certain supplements.


Other treatment methods that use drugs such as methadone are just masking the problem by using a smaller dosage of the same drug; when the person then goes to get off the methadone they struggle with the same withdrawal symptoms that were originally there from the first opiate.

Opiate Addiction Relapse:

As mentioned earlier, opiate addiction and withdrawal is unique from other drug addiction. During the process of recovering from opiate addiction, the addict can experience extreme fatigue, depression, lack of motivation and sensitivity to pain. The first 3 to 5 days of withdrawal have been described as hell for the addict, however the negative effects can last for many months after this as well depending on the extent of use. This period of withdrawal is often referred to as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, also known as PAWS in the addiction world.

It is during these months of PAWS following the harsh initial withdrawal that many of these opiate addicts will relapse and send them back to their drug of choice.

This emphasizes the importance of a thorough and complete treatment program for someone recovering from opiates. A “quick” program that has the addict in and out of treatment will almost never successfully get the person clean and back to a normal, productive life.

Recovery from Opiate Addiction:

A successful recovery from opiate addiction all depends on the effectiveness and thoroughness of the program that the addict goes through.

The rate of relapse for opiate addiction is very high in relation to many other drugs. The nature of the drug seems to require a thorough treatment program and unfortunately there are many programs out there that don’t offer this. In determining the proper method for a full recovery from opiate addiction, the thoroughness of the program should be the first and most important aspect looked at.

This thoroughness also needs to be coupled with effectiveness. The program should have proven statistics demonstrating their effectiveness in relation to relapse. Successful programs will generally address not only the physical aspect of drug dependence but the many other psychological factors that lead to prolonged drug abuse.

In-patient facilities will usually provide more of this type of care for the addict and create an environment that is free of distractions and allow them to focus solely on recovery.


Citation / References

1. Prescription Painkiller Overdoses : http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/rxbrief/
2. Abrupt Opioid Withdrawal Increases Pain Sensitivity: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/157258.php
3. Valuable Tips to Help With Opiate Addiction Withdrawals and Symptoms From Home:  http://ezinearticles.com/?7-Valuable-Tips-to-Help-With-Opiate-Addiction-Withdrawals-and-Symptoms-From-Home&id=1891228

By Derry Hallmark