Opioid addiction and overdose are one of the most serious problems we face in our modern society. The issue affects people from all walks of life and there seems to be very limited options for opioid addiction treatment. The fact that the entry point to a potentially damaging and even life-threatening addiction cycle is most often through the mainstream and fully legal medical profession makes this issue even more challenging to address.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are a broad group of medications that work by attaching to the opioid receptors in brain cells. Once they’re attached, the cells release signals that block pain and boost feelings of pleasure. Opioids are usually used to relieve severe pain, such as after surgery, and can be made from poppy plants or synthesised in a lab.
Opioids can work very well to lessen or remove pain but they’re also potentially very dangerous. In high doses, they can slow your breathing and heart rate, even leading to death in some cases and they’re also highly addictive.
There are several different opioid drugs that are regularly prescribed for pain and many that are entirely sold on the illegal black market. Some common opioids are:
What is the Opioid Problem?
Opioid addiction is a complicated issue. Part of what makes these drugs so dangerous is that anyone can become addicted to them, regardless of the reason for use, and factors such as personal history and length of use play a role. This makes it more difficult to predict who may become addicted.
When you take opioids, your brain releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that make you feel good and block pain. Addiction occurs when you start to crave this feeling and feel as if you can’t live without it. Unfortunately, when you take opioids repeatedly, your brain slows the production of endorphins. This means that you must take more of the medication to get the same feeling. This is a big contributor to today’s opioid crisis.
There are around 1.3 million high risk opioid users in Europe outside of opioid treatment programs. And even more people are at risk of opioid addiction because of ongoing use of these drugs.
What Are the Consequences of Long-Term Opioid Use?
Opioids will temporarily reduce pain and anxiety, with high doses creating a short-lived feeling of euphoria and drowsiness. These effects make it difficult for users to stop, who continuously “chase the high”. A big part of the problem with opioid addiction, is that the body will become more and more tolerant, meaning the user must take higher doses to achieve a satisfactory high. It can be quick to forget that these are strong and powerful drugs which have a negative effect on both the user’s mental health and physical health, these include;
- Weakened Immune System
- Slow Breathing Rate
- Increased risk of HIV or other infectious diseases (common in intravenous use)
- Increased risk of Hepatitis
- Collapsed Veins or clogged blood vessels
- Risk of choking
There are certain signs to look out for when a person is addicted to opioids, apart from not being able to stop by themselves other signs may include; withdrawal symptoms when the person attempts to stop, the desire to continue using even when serious health complications may have risen, an impact on the quality of life (including relationships and employment), spending excess time and money on drugs, excessive sleeping or extreme weight loss or gain and even turning to crime to pay for more opiates.
How to Avoiding Opioid Addiction
Besides the pharmaceutical drugs such as Methadone or Buprenorphine, which are typically used to gradually wean an addict off opiates, there are some known alternative therapies which could be helpful for some. As opioid addiction is so strong and generally hard to overcome, there is little evidence to suggest how beneficial these treatments are, when it comes to the safety and efficacy of each of them. These alternative treatments include finding and sticking to a new exercise routine, hypnosis treatment, acupuncture and the use of herbal oils.
Opioid addiction is a problem that is continuing to grow, and that’s why it’s so important that more effective opioid addiction treatment options are found, and alternative pain relief options are developed and encouraged.