Opioid Addiction 101

Addiction 101: Understanding Addiction and What Causes It

Opioid addiction use has become a horrifyingly common reality in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 70% of all drug overdose deaths in 2018 were related to opioids, with almost 450,000 people having died as a result from 1999-2018. On average, 128 individuals are dying daily due to opioid overdoses – an alarming statistic which is cause for immediate action.

What are opioids?

Opioids were initially developed as a medically sound treatment for pain, and they usually don’t cause addiction if taken exactly according to the physician’s instructions. With their powerful capacity of relieving discomfort, physicians generally prescribe opioids only when it is moderate-to-severe in intensity. Typically these drugs are used to alleviate aches resulting from:

  •   Toothaches
  •   Dental procedures
  •   Surgeries
  •   Cancer
  •   Severe injuries

With the plethora of prescription opioids now available, it can be difficult to decide which one is right for you. From oral medications and fentanyl patches to buprenorphine injections and transdermal systems, there are a wealth of options that may address your needs.:

  •   Fentanyl
  •   Oxycodone
  •   Methadone
  •   Hydrocodone
  •   Oxymorphone
  •   Codeine
  •   Morphine
  •   Buprenorphine

Why are opioids addictive?

Generally, opioid addiction will not manifest if medications are taken exactly as prescribed. However, should you decide to raise your dosage without consulting a physician beforehand or taking the drug longer than recommended in your prescription – essentially any way you misuse it – then an addiction may inevitably follow suit. So remember: when using opioids, proper and responsible use is key!

If taken inappropriately, opioids can be habit-forming and lead to addiction. Your brain chemistry will adjust over time as you use the drugs more frequently, resulting in a need for higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effects. Unfortunately, this tolerance increases your dependence on opioids and limits your ability to break free from its grasp.

If this pattern persists, addiction will eventually set in. It will become increasingly difficult to go about your day without using drugs as a crutch. Tragically, overdose is always looming and poses a lethal threat if left unchecked.

If I take opioids following my doctor’s advice, can I still get addicted?

It is rarely the case; however, you should be aware of opioids’ addictive properties if used over extended periods. Generally speaking, they are safe when taken for a period not exceeding one week. Nonetheless, research indicates that taking them more than four weeks can lead to dependency on these drugs. Therefore, it’s essential to use caution and consult your healthcare provider before using opioids longer than 7 days.

What’s the difference between tolerance and addiction?

Contrary to common belief, tolerance does not equate addiction. Tolerance merely implies that your body has grown accustomed to the effects of a medication and requires an increased dosage for similar results as before. This is completely normal and relatively widespread among those taking other forms of medicine too!

Opioid addiction is a difficult journey, one that can be so overpowering and consuming that it takes control of your life. You will find yourself seeking out opioids more often than ever before, and you won’t have the same time to devote to important tasks or relationships. Your loved ones may try their best to help you break free from this cycle but unfortunately they may become frustrated when their efforts are ineffective against these powerful cravings.

What caused the huge numbers of opioid-related deaths in the US?

The opioid disaster in the United States unfolded over three periods of time. In the beginning, during the 1990’s, pharmaceuticals began intensely encouraging medical doctors to distribute opioids under false promises that they were not habit-forming. Unfortunately, we eventually found out how incorrect this assertion was when overdose deaths resulting from these medications escalated dramatically after 1999.

The second wave of the opioid crisis occurred in 2010, this time as a result of heroin. Three years later, yet another devastating wave was ushered in due to synthetic opioids and counterfeit drugs sold on the streets – primarily illicit fentanyl variants which dramatically increased fatalities.

What are the signs of opioid addiction?

One of the most notable red flags to be mindful of is an abnormal yearning for opioids, particularly after your prescription has expired. If you are unable to curb this craving and feel compelled to take more beyond what was prescribed, it may lead you down a dangerous path that includes fraudulent visits and requests for additional drugs from medical professionals.

Substance abuse can become a vicious cycle of using, finding and taking more drugs that will only take away from your time with family and friends, as well as at work. If those closest to you notice any change in behavior or attitude from you it’s a clear indication of opioid addiction. In addition to behavioral changes there may be other signs such as:

  •   Poor coordination
  •   Shallow or slow breathing
  •   Difficulties in decision making
  •   Nausea
  •   Vomiting
  •   Feeling agitated
  •   Mood swings
  •   Feeling high (euphoria)
  •   Bouts of anxiety
  •   Sleeping more or less than you normally would

What if I try to stop taking opioids altogether?

If you are an opioid user dependent on the drug and you decide to terminate its use abruptly, withdrawal symptoms may arise. Everyone experiences them differently; however, their intensity can range from mild to severe with some common examples being:

  •   Nausea
  •   Vomiting
  •   Sweating
  •   Chills
  •   Diarrhea
  •   Shaking
  •   Insomnia
  •   Fatigue
  •   Depression

When these symptoms become unbearable, you would have a stronger urge to take opioids again. For this reason, it’s best to seek professional help to get rid of this addiction.

 Is there a cure for opioid addiction?

Absolutely, opioid addiction is treatable. Treatment plans are individualized to each patient’s needs, yet the end goals remain uniform: assisting you in refraining from drug use and abstaining permanently in the future.

Usually treatments involve medications that help reduce withdrawal symptoms so that a healthy lifestyle can be maintained without any intake of opioids. Additionally, these drugs also aid in decreasing cravings for narcotics as well.


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