Opiate addiction treatment

For centuries, opiates have been known for their power to relieve pain, promote sleep, and create feelings of joy or euphoria. Morphine, codeine, and other substances occur naturally in the juice of the seeds of the opium poppy, or Papaver somniferum. Since these chemicals were discovered, synthetic and semi-synthetic opiates (oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, methadone, and many more) have been formulated in laboratories to replicate the effects of morphine.

Ever since opiates were introduced to human civilization, users have been aware that they are not only powerful, but highly addictive. With over 2 million opiate abusers in the US today, according to the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services, opiates remain one of the most addictive classes of drugs known to humankind. Only alcohol has been causing addiction problems longer than opium and its derivatives. In the 21st century, it’s easier than ever to get help for opiate addiction; however, overcoming an addiction to these seductive, alluring drugs is as tough as ever.

It’s not just illegal narcotics like heroin that cause withdrawal, addiction, or overdose. Today, prescription opiates have outpaced heroin and cocaine as drugs of abuse in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were nearly 15,000 fatal opiate overdoses in the US due to prescription painkillers. And in 2009, close to half a million Americans sought treatment for prescription opiate abuse in emergency rooms around the country. If you are, or someone you care about is, abusing opiates, seeking treatment now could help you avoid a tragedy.


About opiates

Opiates/OpioidsOpiates are a group of drugs that comes from the opium poppy plant. Opiates are often referred to by different names such as narcotics and opioids, but opiates is most commonly used. Opiates are medicine that is used to treat pain. They work by interrupting pain signals going to the brain and curbing their intensity.

In addition to legal opiates such as codeine and oxycodone, there are also illegal opiates including heroin and opium. Regardless of their legal status, opiates are incredibly powerful drugs that are highly addictive, carrying a high propensity for abuse.

Opioids produce their effects by binding to specialized cells called opioid receptors. These cells are located in the brain, spine, and digestive tract. When opiates bind to these receptors in the brain and spinal cord, they prevent messages of pain and discomfort from being sent to the brain. At the same time, they generate feelings of contentment, pleasure, and euphoria by acting on the brain’s limbic system, which regulates emotions.

The reactions caused by opiates are not just pleasurable; they also keep the user coming back for more. When they’re taken at the prescribed dose under a doctor’s supervision, opiates are usually not harmful. But when they’re used for recreational purpose and taken in large doses, opiates can quickly become addictive. As the brain and nerves get used to the chemical changes caused by opiates, a tolerance to these drugs develops. Tolerance means that the user requires higher doses of the drug to achieve the same sensations. Addiction occurs when your need to seek and use the drug becomes compulsive and all-consuming, in spite of the damage it’s doing to your life.

The term opiate and opioid are often used interchangeably. At one point in time, opiates referred to drugs derived from opium and opioids referred to synthetic opiates. However, currently opioids represent all opiates regardless if they are natural, synthetic or partially synthetic. While the definition has changed, common speech and understanding lag behind, and the most commonly used word is opiates (regardless of their derivation).
If opiates are so dangerous, then why is it so hard for addicts to stop using them? One of the major obstacles to recovery is opiate withdrawal. Stopping these drugs or reducing the dose too quickly can cause serious side effects within a matter of hours. Withdrawal isn’t usually fatal, but the symptoms are so uncomfortable that they prevent many addicts from quitting, even though they desperately want to.

Opiate withdrawal symptoms

  • Overwhelming cravings
  • Cold sweats
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Goose bumps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Involuntary body movements
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Sleeplessness

Potency of drugs classified as opiates

Opiates can be classified in order of strength, or potency, in terms of how the drug equates to a single dose of morphine. Below are some of the most commonly used opiates in order of their potency, with the strongest listed first:

Generic NamePopular Brand Name(s)Strength Compared to Morphine
CarfentanilWildnil10,000 to 100,000x stronger
SufentanilSufenta500 to 1,000x stronger
FentanylSublimaze, Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora, Matrifen, Lazanda, Haldid, Onsolis50 to 100x stronger
Buprenorphineuboxone, Subutex, Norspan, Butrans, Temgesic40x stronger
LevorphanolLevo-Dromoran8x stronger
Methadone (in long-term users)Methadose, Amidone, Dolophine, Heptadone7.5x stronger
OxymorphoneOpana, Numorphan7x stronger
HydromorphoneDilaudid5x stronger
DiamorphineHeroin4 to 5x stronger
Oxycodone (sometimes combined with other analgesics, like acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen)OxyContin, Roxicodone, Oxecta, OxyIR, Endone, Percocet (combined with acetaminophen), Combunox (combined with ibuprofen), Percodan (combined with aspirin)1.5x stronger
Hydrocodone (usually combined with other analgesics, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen)Vicodin, Norco, Lortab, Lorcet.
MeperidineDemerol1/3 as strong
Codeine (often formulated with other analgesics or antitussives)Tylenol with Codeine, Phenflu CD, Colrex, Florinal with Codeine, Floricet with Codeine, Maxiflu CD, Cotabflu1/10 as strong
TramadolUltram1/10 as strong

Potency and addictive potential factors

The more potent the opiate, the stronger its effect will be on the user. However, there are several factors that can influence the potency of an opioid drug and its addictive potential for the individual:

  • The form and route of the drug: Oral opiates — pills or tablets taken by mouth — are not as potent as liquid opiates taken intravenously, or through the bloodstream. When an oral form of an opiate, such as oxycodone tablets, are ground up and snorted intranasally, the effects may come on much faster and be much stronger.
  • The user’s experience with narcotics: Users who have been taking opiates for a long time develop a tolerance to these drugs, which means that they need higher doses of pain relievers to get the same analgesic effects. A new user, on the other hand, may experience a much stronger effect from a lower dose of a less potent opiate.
  • The user’s physical status and health: The user’s body weight, health condition, and metabolism can influence the potency of opiates by making the drugs more or less available to the body.
  • The half-life of the opiate: The half-life of a drug is the time that it takes for your body to eliminate half of the dose. Opiates with a short half-life are eliminated quickly, which means that you’ll experience the effects for a shorter period of time. Opiates with a longer half-life are eliminated more slowly, which means that the drug will continue to affect you for a longer period. Oxycodone, for example, has a half-life of 3 to 4.5 hours, while methadone has a half-life of up to 60 hours, depending on the dose and how long the user has been taking the drug.
  • The use of other drugs: Using other drugs in combination with opiates can intensify their effects. Central nervous system depressants like alcohol, marijuana, and prescription sedatives or tranquilizers act synergistically with opiates to increase their potency. Taking these drugs simultaneously also greatly increases the risk of an overdose.

Signs of opiate abuse and addiction

Physical signs

  • Analgesia
  • Constipation
  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Itchy/flushed skin
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea
  • Respiratory depression
  • Sedation
  • Seizures
  • Small (constricted) pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

Psychological signs

  • Amplified mental illness symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Emotional instability
  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Memory loss
  • Mental instability
  • Paranoia
  • Poor judgement
  • .
  • .

Users who take opioid drugs like heroin intravenously are at risk of blood borne diseases like hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. An overdose of opiates can cause your respiration and heartbeat to become so slow that you can lose consciousness, stop breathing, and die.

How to get a loved one into rehab

Opioid addiction is powerful and difficult to break. Seeing a loved on struggling with opioid addiction is incredibly difficult, especially when it is disrupting their ability to lead a normal life. Addiction to opiates is treatable; often the challenge is that the person abusing opiates isn’t able to break the drug’s grip on their own.

Families and friends often play a large role in breaking addiction. We’ve compiled some tips for family members that might be useful if you’ve found yourself faced with this challenge.

Treatment and therapy options

There’s no doubt that opiates are highly addictive. Whether your opioid of choice is a street drug like heroin or a prescription analgesic like oxycodone, using these substances — even on a recreational or experimental basis — can lead to a deadly habit. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that nearly one-fourth (23 percent) of individuals who use heroin will become addicted.

So is there any hope for opiate users who are already caught in the cycle of addiction? The answer is yes. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, opiate addiction can be treated successfully through rehab programs that contain four core elements:

  1. Opioid Detox: Detoxification is the first stage of treatment. In this process, opiates are safely removed from your body under medical supervision. When you go through detox at an inpatient hospital, residential rehab, or other recovery center, you get the medical support you need to remain as comfortable as possible while you go through opiate withdrawal.
  2. Addiction Counseling: The rehabilitation phase of opiate treatment involves intensive counseling, both on an individual and a group basis. Counseling sessions can take the form of one-on-one psychotherapy, peer support groups, or family therapy sessions. The goal of counseling is to give you the insight, information, and skills that you need to build a drug-free life.
  3. Medical Therapy: Opiate treatment programs (OTPs) remain one of the most effective approaches to helping addicts achieve long-term remission from this devastating disease. Medication dosing and administration can be adjusted to reflect your individual needs as you progress through the stages of recovery.
  4. Aftercare: Opiate addiction therapy doesn’t end with detox or rehab. The recovery process will continue for weeks, months, or even years after you complete treatment. Aftercare services include case management, alumni organizations, 12-step groups, outpatient counseling, medication management, sober living homes, life coaching, and many more.

Getting opiate addiction treatment

At The Recovery Village®, we’re dedicated to helping you overcome opiate addiction, not just so you can lead a drug-free life, but so you can create the life you really want. Call our toll-free number to learn more about our customized substance abuse treatment programs today.

Opiate Addiction Treatment was last modified: December 5th, 2016 by The Recovery Village