Opiate addiction is a significant problem in the United States and in many other nations.
People who have developed an addiction to opiates such as morphine and codeine can lose the ability to control the amount and frequency of their opiate abuse. The overwhelming compulsion to continue abusing opiates can have a negative impact on virtually all aspects of a person’s life. An untreated opiate addiction can put a person at risk for myriad negative outcomes, including overdose and death.
Thankfully, opiate addiction is a treatable condition. With proper professional care, a person can rid their body of opiates and learn to make the lifestyle changes that will support recovery.
What Are Opiates?
Any exploration of opiate abuse, addiction, and treatment should include a clear description of what exactly opiates are. To accomplish this, it can be helpful to clarify a common misunderstanding about opiates.
Many people use the words opiate and opioid interchangeably. Although these two words are related, they are not synonyms. Here’s the difference:
- Opiates are naturally occurring substances that are produced by the opium poppy plant. Common opiates include opium, morphine, and codeine.
- Opioids are synthetic or semisynthetic substances that are similar to opiates in both chemical structure and effects. Common opioids include heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl.
Beyond this distinction, opiates and opioids share many characteristics. The signs, symptoms, and effects of opiate addiction are virtually identical to those of opioids. Treatment for opiate addiction and opioid addiction typically includes the same therapies and services.
In fact, both types of addiction even share the same official name. As defined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), opioid use disorder is the clinical term for addiction to either opiates or opioids.
Signs & Symptoms of Opiate Addiction
Opiate abuse and opiate addiction both have the potential to be extremely harmful, but they are not the same thing. Opiate abuse is a behavior, while opiate addiction is a behavioral health disorder.
For example, a doctor may prescribe the opiate codeine for a person who has been experiencing mild to moderate pain. If the person who receives this prescription continues to take the medication long after their pain has subsided, or if they use the medication in larger doses than directed by the prescribing physician, these behaviors would be forms of opiate abuse.
The following signs and symptoms may suggest that a person has been abusing opiates:
- Dramatic changes in mood and energy level
- Persistent drowsiness or exhaustion
- Constricted or pinpoint pupils
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Impaired balance and coordination
- Scabs or sores that never seem to heal, which can be signs of IV drug use
- Wearing long pants and long sleeves, even in warm weather, which can be an attempt to hide evidence of IV drug use
- Pulling away from family and friends
- Sudden, unexplained financial problems
- Losing interest in hobbies or other activities that used to be very important
- Lying about their whereabouts and activities
Some people are able to abuse opiates for a short period of time and then stop. This means that they did not develop an opiate addiction. However, it is unlikely that a person would be able to abuse an opiate for very long without developing opioid use disorder. One of the many reasons why opiate abuse is so dangerous is that this behavior can quickly turn into addiction.
Addiction occurs when a person becomes dependent on the substance. Once a person has developed an addiction to opiates, it can be virtually impossible for them to stop using the drug without professional help. The loss of control that is characteristic of opiate addiction can cause considerable harm to a person’s physical, psychological, and social well-being.
The following signs can be indications that a person’s opiate abuse has led to opiate addiction:
- They spend a significant amount of time acquiring opiates, using them, and recovering from their effects.
- They feel the need to use opiates to experience joy or cope with sadness.
- They typically abuse opiates in greater amounts, or for a longer duration, than they intended to.
- They abuse opiates in ways that are especially hazardous, such as prior to driving or in combination with alcohol or other drugs.
- Even after experiencing physical, psychological, or social problems due to prior opiate abuse, they continue to engage in this dangerous behavior.
- They prioritize opiate abuse over their personal, academic, or professional responsibilities.
- They need to use larger amounts of opiates to experience the effects they are seeking. This is commonly referred to as developing tolerance.
- When they can’t use opiates, or when they try to stop using them, they quickly develop a variety of distressing physical and psychological symptoms. This is known as opiate withdrawal.
Opiate Abuse & Addiction Statistics
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported the following statistics about opiate and opioid abuse and addiction:
- About 1.6 million Americans meet the criteria for a diagnosis of addiction to opiates or opioids.
- Experts estimate that more than 10 million Americans abused an opiate or opioid at least once in the previous 12 months.
- From June 2019 to June 2020, opiate and opioid overdoses contributed to more than 62,000 deaths in the U.S.
Of course, the abuse of opiates and opioids is not limited to the United States. The following opiate and opioid statistics are from the World Health Organization:
- Research indicates that about 62 million people used an opiate or opioid in the past year.
- Every year, about 70% of all drug-related deaths throughout the world involve opiates or opioids.
- Among people who have become addicted to opiates or opioids, fewer than 10% have received appropriate treatment.
Potential Effects of Opiate Addiction
The possible effects of opiate addiction can extend to every part of a person’s life. Common effects include the following:
- Diminished performance in school or at work
- Academic failure
- Job loss
- Chronic unemployment
- Financial ruin
- Strained relationships with family and friends
- Separation, divorce, and loss of child custody
- Being arrested and imprisoned
- Onset of co-occurring mental health concerns
- Worsening of existing co-occurring mental illnesses
- Social withdrawal or ostracization
Please note that the effects of opiate addiction do not occur in a predetermined or predictable order. It is possible to have a fatal overdose the first time you use an opiate. This is one of the many reasons why there is no such thing as safe opiate abuse
Benefits of Treatment for Opiate Addiction
The most obvious benefit of getting treatment for an opiate addiction is that it reduces a person’s risk for continued harm. Also, while a person is in treatment for an opiate addiction, they can begin to repair the damage they have already incurred.
Because opiate addiction can affect different people in different ways, the benefits people receive from opiate addiction treatment can also differ. That said, here are a few common potential benefits of opiate addiction treatment:
- Opiate addiction treatment often starts with detoxification, or detox. During this short-term experience, professionals can offer medical and therapeutic support to help you get through withdrawal safely and with as little discomfort as possible.
- Once you have completed detox, you can transition directly to the next phase of treatment. Doing this eliminates the threat of immediate relapse. Every day you remain free of opiate abuse, you increase your ability to achieve long-term recovery.
- Treatment can break through the sense of isolation that often accompanies opiate addiction. In treatment, you can discover that you are not alone and that many people care about you. The healthy relationships you form during treatment can introduce you to the power of sharing support with other members of the recovery community.
- Opiate addiction treatment can show you that you are capable of more than you may realize. Completing detox is a tremendous achievement. Every day you remain in recovery is another victory. These successes can help you regain your self-confidence and improve your self-esteem.
- At a reputable and effective opiate addiction treatment center like Maple Heights Behavioral Health, you will receive a detailed discharge plan before you transition out of care. This plan will identify the resources that can support your continued progress. If you encounter challenges during your recovery journey, you will already be connected with the people and organizations that can help.
Types of Treatment for Opiate Addiction
Opiate addiction treatment at Maple Heights Behavioral Health is a highly personalized experience. Your treatment team will assess your needs and then select the therapies and services that are right for you. Depending on a variety of personal factors, your care at our hospital may include elements such as the following:
- Basic medical care
- Meetings with a psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse practitioners
- Medication management
- Individual therapy
- Multiple forms of group therapy, including living skills, process, goal setting, educational, and recreational groups
- Family therapy
Therapy at our hospital may incorporate the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other evidence-based modalities.
How to Find the Right Opiate Addiction Treatment Center
If you have begun to seek opiate addiction treatment, then you may already realize how many options are available to you. But you might not know how to narrow down these options and find the place that’s right for you.
Here are some important factors to consider when you are evaluating a center or hospital:
- Does the facility offer on-site detoxification?
- Will you receive a personalized treatment plan?
- What types of services will you receive?
- Will you have access to medical care if you need it?
- What are the qualifications of the professionals who provide care at the center?
- Does the facility offer treatment for people who have co-occurring mental health concerns?
- Will your loved ones be able to participate in family therapy sessions?
- How long will you need to remain in treatment?
- Can you visit the facility, see photos, or take a video tour?
- Does the facility accept your insurance?
Remember that there isn’t one single perfect path to opiate addiction recovery. An approach that works for one person may not be right for someone else. When you are evaluating treatment centers, you should focus on finding the center that seems best prepared to meet your specific needs.
This content was written on behalf of and reviewed by the clinical staff at Maple Heights Behavioral Health.