More people are killed by overdoses each year than they are by any other accidental means. You may have heard this before, but I’ve had firsthand experience with this kind of loss. The widespread use of prescription narcotics combined with the availability of cheap heroin has more people struggling with an addiction to opioids than ever before.
When I talk about opioids, it’s difficult to make people understand the kind of hold that these drugs can have on your life. Not everyone starts out buying illicit drugs on the street. Many of us begin with a legitimate prescription offered by our doctors for some sort of acute or chronic pain.
Once the prescription runs out, we sometimes find that we’ve become physically or psychologically dependent on these medications. This can lead those of us predisposed to addiction to use drugs illegally or to go from doctor to doctor in an attempt to get a new prescription.
Addiction is not a disease that discriminates. Neither you nor I are immune to the chemical reactions that lead to long-term chemical dependency. This is a complex condition that requires an individual treatment plan for every one of us affected.
What is Opioid Addiction?
The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as, “a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.” Because it is a disease, addiction often requires medical intervention for those of us seeking help.
Addiction to opioids means that you become chemically or psychologically dependent on drugs such as heroin, narcotic pain relievers, fentanyl, and a number of other substances in the same class. Not all of these drugs are illegal, but they are illegal to abuse and to obtain without a prescription.
Those of us who are addicted to opioids will risk everything in order to continue using our drug of choice. Opioid addiction eventually forces long-term chemical changes within our brains. When you or I use opioids for a prolonged period of time, we begin to replace some of our brains’ natural chemicals.
Eventually, we’ll become completely dependent on the opioids to maintain balance among these chemicals. If levels of the drug start to fall within our bodies, we’ll begin the detoxification process.
The detox process begins when the brain realizes that it’s not receiving the drugs in order to maintain its chemical balance. It begins to send out distress signals to the rest of the body that translates into uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Many of us who have experienced withdrawals have some sort of horror story.
Withdrawal symptoms from opioids are particularly disruptive and can cause widespread pain and flulike symptoms. They can also become dangerous when not properly overseen by medical professionals.
There are a number of different treatment options for those of us who are battling opioid addiction. One of the most effective has been the treatment aided by medications such as methadone and Suboxone. Methadone has been used for decades and is a proven tool when helping people to overcome withdrawal symptoms into fight their addictions.
Having an opioid addiction and methadone as a treatment option provides a more promising combination for overcoming the disease than many of the more traditional methods. Methadone may not make me feel the same way that heroin did, but it stops the cravings in a way that nothing else has.
Current Treatment Methods
There are several treatment methods available for those of us suffering from opioid addiction. This addiction has a higher rate of relapse and any other chemical dependency. This is because of the way that opioids interact with the brain, in the hold that they have on our lives.
Inpatient facilities allow the person to live there for a period of up to 90 days. Some facilities have extended programs, but these are generally reserved for those of us suffering from long-term addiction or addiction co-occurring with other disorders.
These programs offer a schedule of intense therapy dedicated to helping us understand our addiction and find ways to cope with it in our everyday lives. These programs allowed me to remove myself from my usual situations and allowed me to experience a residential recovery.
Outpatient programs provide many of the same therapeutic services on a daily basis. These programs aren’t residential and allow us to leave at the end of the 3 to 8-hour therapeutic schedule. These services are often very effective for those of us who truly want treatment, or for those who are looking for a steppingstone after completing a residential program.
Medications like methadone can help long-term opioid addicts to bypass many of the extreme withdrawals that motivate them to continue using drugs. These programs are strictly supervised by a licensed facility and must be overseen by a specially licensed physician.
Methadone has the potential to be extremely effective in the fight against opioid addiction when used correctly. I’ve seen people abuse it, but most of us understand how important it is to our recovery.
Examining Maintenance Medications
Many maintenance medications have been stigmatized. This is because they are also narcotics, and some people don’t understand how effective these medications can be when fighting addiction.
Methadone is one of the most widely used maintenance medications because it fills some of the receptors responsible for withdrawals. This allowed me to focus on my recovery instead of the withdrawals. It also blocks these receptors and makes future drug use less euphoric, offering an entirely different deterrent for those of us battling addiction.
Most people will need to receive their methadone directly from the clinic on a daily basis. The medication usually requires one dose a day to remain effective. This stops people from going into extreme withdrawals and curbs their drug cravings. Maintenance medications made it possible for me to gradually top using heroin at my own pace.
This is very important as it allows a person’s brain to return to its natural chemical balance over a longer period of time. This is integral for those of us who abused opioids long enough to change our brains’ chemistry.
Choosing the Best Option for You
No two people turn to drugs for the same reasons. This is a very complex disease based on a number of psychological and physical factors that must be taken into consideration when choosing a treatment method.
Every one of us is entitled to treatment and it’s very important that we are encouraged to seek help as quickly as possible. Reaching out to a licensed facility and understanding your options is the best way to make an informed decision that puts you on the path to sobriety.
Want to learn more?
 Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States. (2017, December 21). The Center for Disease and Control. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db294.htm  What Is Addiction? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction