What Are Opiates?

Opiates are painkillers derived from the poppy plant. Opiate narcotics can be natural or synthetic. Natural opiates include opium, morphine, heroin and codeine. Synthetic opiates include but are not limited to Propoxyphene, Tramadol and Fentanyl. Synthetic opiates have a different chemical make-up than natural opiates, but both types of narcotics relieve pain and create feelings of euphoria in the user. Opiate narcotics may also have a sedating and calming effect and cause feelings of mental disconnection. Both natural and synthetically-produced opiates are highly habit forming and can lead to addiction.

How Opiates Work

Opiates work in the central nervous system as a central nervous system depressant. Opiates slow breathing, heart rate and brain activity in the user. Opiates also depress the appetite and can cause decreased sexual desire. Opiates resemble natural chemicals that bind to neurotransmitters in the brain called opiate receptors. There are three types of opiate receptors in the brain and each is involved with a different brain function. Pleasure, pain relief and feelings of well being are all controlled by these opiate receptors. Opiates have an impact on many locations in the brain and central nervous system.

These include:

  • Limbic System – controls emotions, feelings of pleasure, relaxation and contentment
  • Brain Stem – controls the autonomic nervous system functions like breathing and heart rate
  • Spinal Cord – controls sensations in the body like responses to pain even in the case of serious injury

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the method in which opiates are used plays a key role in how quickly they are absorbed by the body. The weight of the user as well as the amount of the drug used also impact how quickly the effects of the drug are felt. The way an opiate is used depends on the drug of choice. In general, opiates can be swallowed as pills, injected, snorted and smoked. Prescription opiates are often taken with alcohol by the user to intensify the effects of the drug.

Opiate Withdrawals

According to the National Institutes of Health, opiate withdrawal refers to the symptoms that occur after stopping or reducing opiate drugs after prolonged use.

The symptoms of opiate withdrawal include but are not limited to:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Runny Nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Abdominal cramps and/or diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting

Withdrawal symptoms can begin in as little as 12 hours and up to 30 hours after the drug is discontinued. Although the symptoms of opiate withdrawal are not life threatening, they can be uncomfortable and painful. Getting help with opiate withdrawal through medically-supervised detox is the safest way to deal with withdrawal symptoms.

Opiate Rehab

Those who use opiates to control pain after surgery, because of an accident, or to control pain caused by a chronic health condition do not intend to become addicted. Opiate users develop a tolerance for the drug and need more of the substance to achieve the same level of pain relief. Once tolerance for the drug is present, physical dependence is not far behind. The body and brain become dependent on the drug to produce feelings that are normally manufactured in the brain. People who abuse opiates need the drug in order to function “normally.” Those who use opiates recreationally begin to need more of the drug to produce the same “high” in the same way that prescription drug users need more of the substance to control pain.

Opiate rehab is the best way to successfully recover from opiate abuse. Opiate rehab can be done on an inpatient basis in a rehab facility, or as an outpatient. The type of treatment you choose will depend in part on your health insurance coverage. Intake counselors can help you understand your insurance coverage and the types of treatment that are available to you. Whether you choose inpatient treatment or an outpatient program, opiate rehab begins with a period of medically-supervised detox. This allows the body time to rid itself of the toxins of the drug in a safe environment. According to Harvard Medical School, detox is not the sole solution for opiate addiction. Without further treatment after detox, most opiate abusers will return to the drug. That is why getting help through rehab is so important.

After the detox phase of treatment, medical staff, psychologists and therapists work with patients to diagnose any underlying mental illness that may be contributing to or causing the addiction. Once a diagnosis is reached, treatment can begin.

Treatment for opiate addiction involves individual and group therapy. During therapy sessions the opiate abuser will learn about his or her addiction and the coping strategies she can use to deal with drug cravings. Family therapy sessions are also a part of treatment for most recovering opiate abusers. During family sessions loved ones learn about their role in the healing process and how to deal with the effects of the addiction on family relationships. Many opiate treatment facilities also offer nutritional education, exercise programs, meditation, yoga and other holistic healing methods to aid in the recovery process.

Opiate Recovery

Opiate recovery involves a lifetime commitment. Part of that commitment means getting involved in an ongoing support group after opiate rehab. Ongoing support groups provide a safe place to share the feelings, emotions and struggles that come with opiate recovery. Support groups can be found through religious organizations, community programs, or through the rehab facility where treatment took place. Support groups also provide socialization and accountability for those in recovery. Being involved in an ongoing support group decreases the likelihood of opiate relapse and increases your chances for a successful recovery.

The most important thing to remember about opiate recovery is taking that first step and reaching out for help. Once you or a loved one realizes you have a problem, there is treatment, healing and hope available to you. If you are struggling with opiates abuse, we are here to help you. Call our toll-free number 24 hours a day to speak to a helpline counselor.

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