Opiate Addiction Treatment: Withdrawal and Detox Explained

Opiate withdrawal and detox is a painful process that can take weeks or months to complete. Understanding the timeline of opiate withdrawal will help you understand what you are going through and prepare for how long it may take to feel better.

Did you know that opioid overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under 50? Drug use, particularly the use of opioids, has been increasing over the years and has become a significant public health concern. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were over 47,000 opioid overdose deaths in the United States in 2017 alone. This staggering number highlights the urgency and need for effective opiate addiction treatment.

In this article, we will discuss the various treatment options available for those struggling with opioid dependence and addiction.

Opiate Addiction Overview

The origins of opiates can be traced back to 3,400 B.C. when locals in lower Mesopotamia (Southwest Asia) began cultivating poppies. These plants were utilized to extract opium, creating medicinal concoctions that provided relief from chronic pain. The news of the potency of poppies quickly spread, leading to their widespread cultivation across the globe.

In the early 1860s, opiates found their way to the United States. Doctors used these medications to treat wounded soldiers, alleviate diarrhea, and reduce swelling. Thus, narcotics came into existence.

The drugs were effective in treating ailments but led to new issues. Prolonged use of opiates caused dependency, affecting patients’ functioning. Regulations were implemented but had limited success in reducing widespread use.

To address this concern, the Food and Drug Administration implemented stringent regulations on the use of opiates. However, these measures had limited success in curbing the widespread use of this medication.

Today, there are several types of opiates on the market. These include:

  • Morphine
  • Heroin
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • MethadoneTramadol

Initially, these substances were strictly regulated and accessible only through a doctor’s prescription. However, the surge in drug trafficking prompted individuals to seek illicit methods of acquiring opioids.

Moreover, unconventional administration routes such as smoking, sniffing, and injecting were employed to induce a euphoric effect.

Understanding Opiates and Addiction

Opiates and opioids are two terms that are often used interchangeably. However, they do have slight differences.

Opiates are a class of drugs that are derived from the opium poppy plant. They work by binding to specific receptors in the brain, which can produce feelings of euphoria and pain relief. Common types of opiates include prescription painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine, as well as illegal drugs like heroin.

On the other hand, opioids are synthetic or semi-synthetic substances that bind to the same receptors in the brain, blocking pain signals and producing feelings of pleasure. This includes prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and others.

When someone takes an opiate, it activates the brain’s reward system, causing a release of dopamine. Opioids and opiates have a high risk for abuse and addiction due to their ability to create intense feelings of pleasure and relaxation. This heightened experience makes them highly addictive.

The Negative Effects of Opiates

Opiate addiction can have severe consequences for both the user and their loved ones. The most immediate danger is drug overdose, which can result in death. In 2019 alone, there were over 50,000 opioid overdose deaths in the United States, according to statistics from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

However, long-term use and abuse of opioids can also lead to physical dependence, which means the body needs the drug to function normally, and often leads to addiction. 

Some of these effects include:

1. Physical health problems such as:

Heart Damage and Infections

Right off the bat, one of the most severe consequences of opioid use disorders is heart damage. To help you understand this, let’s look at how the drug affects your cardiovascular system.

When you overuse opiates, they’ll cause vasodilation. That means your blood vessels will expand, lowering your blood pressure.

At first glance, this is a harmless, even positive, side effect. Yet, there’s a lot more to the story. When your blood vessels dilate, your heart will go into bradycardia.

This refers to your cardiac muscle beating slower than normal. Unfortunately, that can lead to conditions such as edema, hypotension, orthostatic hypotension, and syncope.

On top of that, illicit opioids tend to come with a few contaminants. They contain a wide range of bacteria that can wreak havoc on your system.

These microorganisms can result in cardiac infections that can be life-threatening.

Permanent Lung Damage

Most people have heard that opioids can do irreparable damage to your lungs. Yet, they’re not sure how this happens.

Well, for starters, if a person with an addiction sniffs opiates, the drug will travel directly to their lungs and lay waste to the organs.

However, even when people with opioid addictions don’t take the medications nasally, their respiratory systems aren’t safe. That’s because opiates can affect your immune cells. They’ll lead to a surge in histamine production, which will cause bronchospasms and hypersensitivity.

They have to live with various side effects as a result of their addiction. That includes symptoms like excessive sweating, pulmonary complications, as well as liver and kidney damage.

 Collapsing Veins

Regrettably, many opioid abusers choose to inject the drug directly into the veins in their arms and legs. This will lead to a more instantaneous high, but it’ll cause several adverse effects.

For instance, collapsing veins are a common complication of the overuse of intravenous drugs. When a person with an addiction repeatedly injects themselves in the exact location, they’ll compromise the structure of their blood vessels.

On top of that, using needles that are too large or syringes with blunt tips can make the problem worse.

This will result in the veins falling apart, leaving them incapable of sustaining cells by carrying around blood. Not only will that create circulation problems, but it can cause permanent damage to the limbs.

With all these medical complications, it’s best to stay as far away from opioids as possible. Besides, your physical health won’t be the only aspect that takes a hit.

2. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and increased risk of developing other substance use disorders.

The use of opioids can also lead to changes in brain chemistry that can trigger or worsen mental health disorders. For example, long-term opioid use can decrease serotonin levels, which is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating mood, sleep, and digestion. This decrease can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

3. Strained relationships with family members, friends, and significant others due to changes in behavior and priorities.

Impulsive and unpredictable behavior, such as engaging in risky or illegal activities to obtain drugs, leads to strained relationships with family members who are worried for their safety. 

In addition, opioid use can cause individuals to become isolated, withdrawn, and secretive as they prioritize drug use over their relationships, which can lead to conflicts and distrust among loved ones.

4. Financial strain from the cost of obtaining opioids or treatment for addiction or potential loss of employment.

It can lead to financial strain, as individuals may spend money on drugs rather than paying bills or providing for their families or may lose their jobs due to their drug use.

Opiate Addiction Treatment Plans

To address these negative effects and support individuals in their recovery journey, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends several evidence-based opioid treatment programs as crucial components of opioid addiction treatment. 

Treatment of opioid dependence requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction.

Let’s take a closer look at these treatment options:

1. Opioid Detoxification

Detoxification is the initial step in overcoming opioid addiction.

By ceasing drug use and eliminating it from the body, one can begin the recovery process. Detox programs play a crucial role in this journey. They involve a doctor’s assessment of the individual’s physical and mental condition, followed by a gradual reduction in opioid consumption.

Quitting abruptly can be too severe due to overwhelming opioid withdrawal symptoms. 

To alleviate this, healthcare providers often employ medication-assisted treatment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment combines FDA-approved medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance abuse disorders. The most commonly used medications for treating opiate addiction are methadone, buprenorphine, naloxone, and naltrexone.

  • Methadone  

Methadone is a primary drug used for opiate addiction treatment. They’re both synthetic opiates that help to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

It is a slow-acting opioid that produces similar effects to heroin and prescription opioids. 

It helps reduce cravings while gradually weaning the body off the original drug.

  • Buprenorphine

One of the most effective medications used for the treatment of opiate dependence is buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that works by binding to the same receptors as opiates but with less intensity. This helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms while not producing the same level of euphoria.

  • Naloxone

Naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, is an opioid antagonist that works by blocking the effects of opiates on the brain. It is often used in combination with buprenorphine to discourage misuse or abuse.

Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, works by reducing opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, making it easier for individuals to abstain from using opioids.

  • Naltrexone

Lastly, naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids and can be used to prevent relapse. Unlike buprenorphine, it does not activate the opioid receptors but instead blocks them, making it an ideal choice for individuals who have completed detoxification.

2. Inpatient Rehab

Overcoming drug addiction is a challenging journey that goes beyond eliminating chemicals from the body. It requires unlearning destructive habits and behaviors developed to sustain dependency.

That’s where inpatient rehab comes into play. Inpatient rehab is a residential treatment program that provides individuals with a structured environment and 24/7 care to help them overcome their addiction.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) plays a crucial role in this process. It is instrumental in reframing thoughts and behaviors, and inpatient rehab facilities incorporate it into their treatment plans. Inpatient rehab also offers a safe environment and round-the-clock medical supervision, promoting successful recovery through detoxification and coping mechanisms.

3. Outpatient Rehab

Once individuals no longer require round-the-clock monitoring, they can resume their normal lives. However, venturing out independently may lead them to revert to old habits.

This is where outpatient rehab facilities play a crucial role.

These programs provide ongoing support for individuals with addiction immediately after they complete inpatient treatment. They continue to offer cognitive-behavioral therapy and assist former drug users in finding effective strategies to manage their drug cravings.

4. Sober Living Facilities

After completing inpatient care, some individuals may not feel ready to reintegrate into society for various reasons.

For instance, they might need more stable housing or employment to sustain themselves. In such cases, a constructive environment like a sober living facility becomes crucial for individuals in recovery.

Halfway homes and similar institutions play a vital role in providing a safe space for former drug users to heal and rebuild their lives.

Moreover, these facilities offer support in multiple aspects of reintegrating into society, including assistance with finding housing and employment opportunities for those in recovery.

5. Counseling and Narcotics Anonymous

Overcoming an opioid use disorder is a lifelong journey. Even after individuals have overcome their addiction, they must prioritize their mental and physical well-being to prevent relapse.

However, navigating this journey alone can be challenging in our fast-paced society.

Consequently, many individuals in recovery choose to participate in group therapy programs like Narcotics Anonymous. These programs offer a supportive community where individuals can find solace, understanding, and guidance on their path to recovery.

Wrapping Up

Throughout the years, opioid addiction has become an increasing problem in society. But now, with facilities like Long Island Treatment Center, people struggling with this issue have more options for recovery than ever before.

These resources provide proven methods to help those suffering from opioid use disorder live a life free of chemical dependency. Further still, by continuing to spread the word about these resources, we can save many more lives from being lost due to drug addiction.

It’s essential for those struggling with opioid addiction to know that they are not alone and that there is help available. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, don’t hesitate to contact us for help. Remember, it’s never too late to start the journey towards recovery. Let’s choose life over addiction and create a brighter future for ourselves and our loved ones. 

Together, we can fight against the opioid epidemic and work towards a society free of addiction.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Long Island Treatment Center