Opioids and the Risk of Addiction

Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription medications used to treat moderate to severe pain, and heroin, which is illegal. Opioids can be highly addictive in any form. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that between 21-29 percent of patients who take prescription opioid drugs misuse them. An estimated 8-12 percent of those who use opioid medications to treat pain go on to develop an opioid addiction. Approximately 80 percent of people who use heroin started out by misusing prescription opioids. 

A human being is born with natural opioid receptors throughout the body. These receptors are mainly located in the brain, the spinal cord, and throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Certain neurochemicals, naturally produced in the brain, will bind to these receptors. They are responsible for feelings of pleasure, pain, and well-being. The brain’s naturally produced neurotransmitters such as endorphins are known to decrease pain, regulate respiration, and may even prevent depression symptoms.

Synthetic opioid drugs, opiates, and opium attach to opioid receptors, flooding the brain and body with dopamine that produces extreme highs and blocks feelings of physical pain. Some people begin abusing the medications as a way to block emotional pain as well. This disrupts the body’s natural way of working, increasing the likelihood that a person will become addicted to opioids.

Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

Many symptoms of opioid addiction can occur in an individual. The most common ones include: 

  • Weight loss
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramping
  • Frequent flu-like symptoms
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Mood swings
  • Slowed or slurred speech
  • Itchy skin
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Being confused or disoriented
  • Loss of interest in hygiene
  • Isolating
  • Unexplained use of money or stealing

The Opioid Withdrawal and Detox Timeline

While misuse dramatically increases the chances of addiction, some people will use opioids just as prescribed and still struggle with cravings and withdrawals. The timeline for opioid withdrawal symptoms depends on the specific drug a person uses, but in general, they last approximately two weeks. The physical symptoms peak and then begin to disappear during the first week. Withdrawal symptoms for short-acting opioids including heroin typically start within 6-12 hours of the last dosage, peak by the third day, and end between 5-7 days. Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms start 8-16 hours after the last dosage, peak within 36-72 hours, and last 5-8 days. 

Withdrawal for longer-lasting opioids, which includes methadone, often lasts longer. The first symptoms may not occur until 2-4 days after the last dosage, peak around the third day, and last up to three weeks. Psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, can last longer, especially during what’s called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS can continue for months, making it imperative that a person has professional support after initial detox ends in order to help prevent relapse. 

Most Commonly Abused Opioids

Oxycodone: Commonly sold under the brand name OxyContin, as well as combined with acetaminophen and sold as Percocet.

Oxymorphone: Commonly sold under the brand name Opana.

Meperidine: Commonly sold under the brand name Demerol.

Hydrocodone: Commonly sold under the brand names Vicodin and Lortab. 

Hydromorphone: Commonly sold under the brand name Dilaudid.

Fentanyl: A synthetic opioid used in prescription drugs but also manufactured and sold illegally as a recreational drug. 

Codeine: While often prescribed to treat mild to moderate pain, codeine is also found in prescription-strength cough syrup. 

Morphine: Commonly sold under the brand names MS-Contin and Kadian

Methadone: Prescribed to treat pain and also to reduce heroin withdrawal symptoms

Heroin: Illegal street drug

Why Opioid Addiction Causes Withdrawal Symptoms

When someone takes an opioid drug for a long period of time, their body builds up a tolerance to the drug. Whether the person is attempting to control chronic pain or has lapsed into addiction, they often need to increase the amount they take to get the same effect. This increase puts the person at risk of a possible overdose. When they reduce their dosage or stop taking it, the body enters the withdrawal phase. 

Abusing opioids for a long time will change the way the opioid nerve receptors operate in the brain. As a result, the brain needs opioids simply to function. Many people who use opioids long-term do not realize that they are physically dependent on the drug. When they try to quit, they find themselves feeling sick and disoriented, which are reliable indicators that they are dependent on and possibly addicted to the drug. Even without physical dependence, a person can become psychologically addicted to it.

Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

Opioid withdrawal consists of both physical and psychological symptoms. The most common symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Aches and pains
  • Fever, chills, and sweating
  • Dehydration
  • Changes in breathing and blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Depression
  • Intense cravings to use opioids

Is Professional Treatment Needed When Detoxing From Opioids?

Attempting to go through withdrawal from addiction to opioids can be dangerous. People typically find it painful and emotionally distressful, which makes it tempting to simply give up. If they have gone without taking opioids for even a small amount of time, their tolerance for it may be lowered. If they then ingest an amount of opioids they could previously tolerate, this puts them at risk of accidentally overdosing. 

Withdrawing from opioids is best done under the care and supervision of a medical detox facility to prevent complications and health risks. This kind of program can provide medical treatment for physical symptoms, including prescription medications that help reverse and reduce withdrawal symptoms. The medications can help control opioid cravings, thus reducing the risk of a relapse. Professional detox programs can also provide support for difficult emotional reactions that often occur when detoxing from substances.

Detox programs can assess an individual and help determine what their next steps in recovery should be. Post-withdrawal treatment plans and support are critical for maintaining sobriety that begins with detox. Planning for steps like outpatient treatment, individual therapy, support groups, and any needed maintenance medications provides an ideal plan to prevent a relapse.

Opioid Addiction Treatment in Los Angeles

Are you struggling with opioid addiction and need help getting sober? You don’t have to go it alone. Launch Centers in Los Angeles can help you through the detoxification process and treat any painful withdrawal symptoms that accompany it. Please contact our dedicated staff at Launch Centers today. Together, we’ll come up with a tailored treatment plan just for you.

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