Opioid Addiction

Research-based Brain Science

Opioid Addiction Treatment

Opioids are powerful drugs used to relieve pain. Even though opioids can help you feel better, these drugs do have a dark side. Opioids have a high potential for abuse, which often leads to excessive use that can easily develop into addiction. Regular opioid misuse can cause:

  • Irregular heart rate
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart infections
  • Hypoxia, a condition that occurs when the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen
  • An increased risk of developing severe anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder

Misusing opioids can also lead to overdose. In fact, our nation is still dealing with an opioid crisis, which claims an estimated 128 American lives each day. In 2019 alone, more than 70% of deaths involved an opioid. Luckily, detoxification, behavioral therapy, and medication assisted treatment can help treat opioid addiction.

The term “opioid” refers to natural and synthetic painkiller drugs derived from or based on the opium poppy plant. Opioids can be illicit drugs or medications prescribed by doctors. Regardless of their type, opioids work by decreasing the number of pain signals the body sends to the brain. Opioids can also change how your brain responds to pain.

Generally, doctors prescribe opioid medications to relieve both acute and chronic pain. These afflictions can include anything from mild injuries and toothaches to surgeries and severe dental procedures to pain associated with cancer. Some prescription cough medicines may also contain opioids. When used correctly and as prescribed, opioid medication is typically safe. However, all opioids, even prescription versions, come with a high risk of abuse which can make individuals physically and chemically dependent.

Some of the most common prescription opioid painkillers include:

Heroin is an illicit opioid. When people use opioids recreationally or stop following their doctor’s instructions, they greatly increase their risk of opioid addiction.

Opioid addiction is a powerful, compulsive urge to use opioid drugs. For people prescribed opioid medication, a common sign of opioid addiction is using the medication when it’s no longer required or needed. This compulsion is driven by opioids’ interactions with the brain’s reward center.

Misusing opioids can make the brain more vulnerable to addiction because these substances:

  • Trigger the release of endorphins. Endorphins are the brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters or chemical messengers. Endorphins help us feel good by stifling our perception of pain and boosting pleasurable feelings. Unfortunately, these feelings are temporary. This means that opioids also work only for a short period of time. When they wear off, many individuals find themselves wanting those good feelings back as soon as possible, which compels them to take more opioid drugs. Sadly, this habit can increase the risk of opioid addiction.
  • Create artificial endorphins. In addition to blocking pain and triggering endorphins, opioid drugs also create artificial endorphins. Misusing opioids encourages the brain to rely on these artificial endorphins rather than the naturally occurring alternatives. When this happens, the brain may stop producing its own endorphins. Low levels of endorphins can cause depression, headaches, anxiety, mood swings, and aches and pains, urging individuals to use more opioids to escape their pain and “feel better.”
  • Flood the brain with dopamine. Like endorphins, the neurotransmitter dopamine relieves pain and helps us feel well. Dopamine also plays an important role in motivation and learning. When opioids flood the brain with dopamine, the brain “learns” to crave dopamine whenever our central nervous system receives signals of pain and discomfort. Dopamine also motivates the brain to continue craving opioids, which creates the compulsive urge associated with opioid addiction.

When an addiction to opioids develops, many individuals start to exhibit signs such as:

  • Inability to control their opioid use
  • Uncontrollable cravings for opioids
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Abandoning responsibilities
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Stealing opioids from family and friends
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Poor decision making
  • Lack of motivation for anything except acquiring more opioids
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Flu-like symptoms

Individuals misusing opioids may also display the following symptoms:

  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased libido
  • Unexplained anxiety attacks
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Poor coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Shallow and labored breathing
  • Euphoria followed by irritability
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Depressed mood when opioids aren’t present

Like other forms of addiction, opioid use disorder can be treated by detoxing the body and behavioral therapy. However, recovery plans that include medication for opioid addiction tend to increase the chance of recovery success.

At StoneRidge Centers, we know that addiction originates in the brain. This is why we prioritize healing the brain as a catalyst of long-term addiction recovery. Combining evidence-based treatments and brain-focused therapies, we help individuals overcome opioid addiction by using the following recovery activities:

  • Detoxification, which clears the body of opioids and any other addictive substances.
  • Behavioral therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. These therapies can help you identify and change harmful thought patterns, manage challenging and distressing emotions, and overcome trauma.
  • Dual Diagnosis treatment which treats mental health and substance abuse disorders simultaneously. Because opioids affect endorphin and dopamine levels, many individuals with an addiction to opioids also struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.

When necessary, we may use medications to help normalize brain chemistry, relieve cravings, and in some cases, prevent withdrawal symptoms. Some of the most common medication used to assist opioid addiction treatment include:

  • Buprenorphine, which helps treat moderate to severe pain that individuals may experience after opioids are no longer present in their system
  • Naltrexone, which helps prevent relapse by blocking the effects of heroin and other opioid drugs, which helps decrease cravings for opioids
  • Naloxone, which can be used to reverse opioid overdoses when administered immediately after an overdose occurs

Even though opioids relieve pain, they can lead to addiction. Luckily addiction doesn’t have to continue to control your life. Our brain-focused approach to recovery can help you:

  • Overcome addiction challenges
  • Learn healthier ways of dealing with stress and challenging situations
  • Improve your mental and emotional health
  • Regain control of your life

Let us help you live an addiction-free life. Contact us today if you’re ready to manage your pain in a healthy way.

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