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What are opioids, and why are they addictive?

Opioids are drugs that include illegal drugs such as heroin, and synthetic and semi-synthetic pain medication such as fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, morphine, and others. Opioids are designed to interact with the opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. Opioid pain medication is the second most commonly abused drug within the United States. Opioids produce euphoria and provide pain relief and are easily abused because of the effects they create. The regular use of opioids leads to dependency and tolerance. These drugs are primarily prescribed to people to treat pain. Opiates are naturally found in the opium poppy plant and produce a variety of effects in the brain. Most of the drugs are used to block pain signals between the brain and the body and are typically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain.

Opioids also make you feel relaxed, happy, or high, and other side effects are slowed breathing, constipation, nausea, confusion, and drowsiness. These drugs can be administered to someone in many different ways, such as pill or liquid by mouth, nasal spray, tablets that dissolve under the tongue, suppository, shot in the vein or muscle, or an implanted pump. There are also short-acting and long-acting opioids, and short-acting is often a combination of an opioid and another type of pain medication such as acetaminophen. There are many side effects with using opioids, and besides the pain relief and euphoric effects, it will slow your breathing, lower your heart rate, and blood pressure. Some of the common side effects include constipation, drowsiness, nausea, thought and memory problems, and vomiting.

The regular or daily use of opioids does cause dependence, and the physical dependence will cause withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms of opioid withdrawal include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, chills, and muscle spasms. Dependence on opioids often goes hand in hand with tolerance, which is the need to take higher doses of medications to get the same effect. However, larger doses of opioids become more dangerous and do increase the risk of overdose. If you become addicted to opioids, you will be unable to stop taking the drug, feel anxious, moody, depressed, and uninterested in things within your life. Opioid addicts spend all of their money on drugs, lie, hide drugs, steal because of drugs, and neglect work, family, and other responsibilities in life. It is estimated that around 8 and 12% of people who take opioids develop an opioid use disorder.

Opioid Addiction Detox and Rehabilitation

Treating opioid addiction requires a well-rounded approach involving detox and inpatient treatment. Most opioid addicts have a strong dependence and tolerance to opioids, which fuels the addiction. Also, many opioid addicts go between heroin and prescription pain medication or are polydrug users. When you take opioids, whether prescribed or illegally, your body becomes desensitized to the effects. Over time your body needs more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect. Medical detox providers help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping the use of opioids. Withdrawal symptoms are the body’s physical response to the absence of the drug.

Medical detox uses withdrawal management techniques and the combination of medication and other therapies to control and ease withdrawal discomfort. Early symptoms typically begin in the first 24 hours after you stop using the drug. The withdrawal symptoms include muscle aches, restlessness, anxiety, excessive sweating, and inability. Withdrawal symptoms become progressively worse without proper treatment and help. Medical detox should not be considered the only approach to treatment because it will not provide adequate counseling and therapy.

The next phase of treatment involves attending inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation. Residential treatment centers are usually the better option because more services are provided to help the addict and their family. Long-term inpatient treatment usually lasts three to six months or more, whereas short-term programs are three to six weeks. Outpatient treatment can also be effective but is usually accessed for aftercare support.

Opioid Addiction Family Intervention

Convincing an opioid addict that he or she needs help is not easy. It is challenging to help a loved one struggling with any type of addiction. Unfortunately, a heart-to-heart conversation is not always the solution, and a direct approach is needed. Family intervention can motivate someone to seek help for their addiction and understand how their addiction impacts the people around them. Countless families and individuals are impacted by opioid addiction. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, among people aged 12 or older in 2019, 3.7% or 10.1 million people misused opioids in the past year.

Family intervention is an excellent process to consider, and the best way to organize an intervention is by hiring a professional interventionist. A family intervention provides specific examples of destructive behaviors and their impact on the family and addict. Also, it offers a prearranged treatment plan with clear steps, goals, and guidelines. Certified interventionists have the training and qualifications to help a family through the process.


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