Opioid addictions often begin when someone misuses prescribed opioids that are intended to treat pain relief. Addiction can start when taking medicine other than prescribed, taking someone else’s medication, or using medicine to get high.
When a person takes opioids, the drug affects their brain cells, spinal cord, and other organs in the body connected to feelings of pain and pleasure. After opioids are attached to these receptors, they can block pain signals and release a large amount of dopamine throughout the body. This dopamine release can influence the act of taking the drug and repeating use, leading to the vicious cycle of addiction.
What Are Prescription Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some prescription opioids are made from the plant directly, and others are made by scientists in labs using the same chemical structure.
Opioids are often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. Prescription opioids are mainly used to treat moderate to severe pain, though some opioids can treat coughing and diarrhea.
Opioids can also make people feel relaxed and “high,” which is why they are sometimes used for non-medical reasons. This can be dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdoses and death are common.
The Link Between Prescription Opioids and Heroin
Heroin is one of the world’s most dangerous opioids and is never used as a medicine in the United States. However, from 2002 to 2012, the initiation of heroin use was 19 times higher among those who reported prior nonmedical pain reliever use than those who did not. In 2008 and 2009, it was reported that 86% of those who used heroin had used opioid pain relievers before ever using heroin.
The Effects of Opioid Use
The short-term effects of using opioids include pain relief and feelings of relaxation and happiness. However, opioids can also produce harmful effects such as:
- Slowed breathing
When breathing is slowed due to opioid misuse, it can cause hypoxia, resulting in too little oxygen reaching the brain. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term psychological and neurological effects, including coma, permanent brain damage, or death.
The Signs of Substance Use Disorder
An individual is diagnosed with substance use disorder based on how many criteria they meet out of eleven criteria outlined in the DSM-5. These criteria include:
#1. The substance is often taken in more significant amounts or over a more extended period than was intended.
#2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control the use of the substance.
#3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use it, or recover from its effects.
#4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use the substance, occurs.
#5. Recurrent substance use results in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
#6. Use of the substance continues despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of its use.
#7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of the use of the substance.
#8. Use of the substance is recurrent in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
#9. Use of the substance is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
#10. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
- A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
- A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
#11. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
- The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for that substance (as specified in the DSM-5).
- The use of a substance to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Those who meet two or three criteria are considered to have a “mild” disorder, four or five are considered “moderate,” and six or more symptoms, “severe.”
Addiction refers to substance use disorders at the severe end of the spectrum. It is characterized by a person’s inability to control the impulse to use drugs, even with negative consequences. These behavioral changes are also accompanied by changes in brain function, especially in the brain’s natural inhibition and reward centers.
Symptoms of Withdrawal
People diagnosed with substance use disorder related to an opioid medication who stop using the drug can have severe withdrawal symptoms that begin as early as a few hours after the drug was last taken. These symptoms include:
- Muscle and bone pain
- Sleep problems
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Cold flashes with goosebumps
- Uncontrollable leg movements
- Severe cravings
Those who experience withdrawal symptoms should seek medical care, as withdrawal can have life-threatening effects.
Many people struggle with an opioid addiction related to prescription opioids. Luckily, there is hope for healing. Your search for a tranquil and healing environment for treatment ends with Hawaii Island Recovery. Our staff is ready to welcome you with open arms to help regain your life as it was before opioid addiction. We understand that your addiction is unique and are well equipped to deliver a personalized rehabilitative service to your specific needs. Hawaii Island Recovery’s premiere residential substance abuse treatment facility features medically supervised detox, holistic and experiential therapies, and other effective treatments to create long-term sobriety. We offer chef-made meals, massage therapy, Crossfit and yoga workouts, and space for 12-Step meetings. Hawaii Island Recovery believes that recovery is possible for every individual and strives to provide their patients with the best evidence-based treatments available.