Opiate Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, Withdrawal, Detox and Rehab 

By The Fix staff 01/21/15

Opiate Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, Withdrawal, Detox and Rehab 

Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction is a widespread problem that affects millions of people all over the world. Opiates are found across the globe. People from various socioeconomic classes, races, backgrounds, and ages struggle with opiate addiction.

Some people immediately think of heroin addiction when they hear "opiate" but, while heroin does fall under this category, there are several other drugs alongside it.

What Are Opiates?

Opiates are depressants and pain relievers. They are routinely administered during medical procedures and for pain relief after injuries, surgeries, and dental procedures. Opiates fall under two categories, natural and synthetic. Natural opiates include:

Opium.org lists synthetic opiates as:

  • Demerol
  • Fentanyl
  • Dilaudid
  • Norco
  • Lortab
  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphin

In addition, there are several drugs that combine both natural and synthetic elements:

  • Oxymorphone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydromorphon

All of the above drugs are controlled substances, only available by prescription. It is interesting to note that, while heroin is an illegal drug in the United States, it is regularly prescribed in European countries for pain.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), all opiates act similarly, binding with opioid receptors in the brain. Opiate addiction has long been considered one of the most difficult addictions to treat and has, in many cases, proven to be dangerous or even deadly. Every year, countless men, women and children overdose as a result of opiate use. On its own, opiates can be dangerous, but when combined with other drugs, such as alcohol, other prescription medications, stimulants, or marijuana, it is even more so.

Opiates can be taken orally, as pills, administered intravenously, smoked, or snorted. In the past few years, Oxycontin or "Oxy" has become a very popular drug among high school and college-aged kids, most of whom smoke it. This surge in use among the youth population has resulted in thousands of overdoses and deaths.

Dependence Vs. Addiction

Anyone using opiates can become dependent on the drug. It is not unusual for a patient who has been prescribed opiates, such as Demerol or Oxycodone, to become dependent after just a few weeks. Once a user has become dependent on opiates, stopping their use may result in withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be quite unpleasant.

There is a difference between dependence and addiction, however. Dependence simply means that your body has developed a tolerance and is now dependent on the drug. This is not the same as the psychological addiction that many users experience. Because of the physical dependence aspect of the drugs, the addiction is that much stronger, making it even more difficult to quit.

What Are The Signs Of Opiate Addiction?

Signs may vary and will often depend on how the drug is taken. For example, an intravenous heroin user may display more overt signs of addiction, such as having "track marks." In addition, the fact that the drug is illegal and has a stigma attached to it makes it more obvious that there is a problem. A person who is addicted to prescription pain medications is just as addicted as a heroin user, but they may not show any visible signs of addiction, at first.

Over time, however, there will be symptoms of addiction. Some may include:

  • Weight gain or loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Sleepiness or "nodding out"
  • Obvious euphoria
  • Decreased ability to concentrate and forgetfulness
  • Difficulty maintaining responsibilities or problems at work
  • Detachment from family members and friends, including spouses and children
  • Unstable moods, irritability, hostility, an "I don't care" attitude
  • Financial troubles
  • Loss of employment or housing
  • Legal trouble, such as a DUI 

As the addiction progresses, behavior may become more extreme. An addict may exhaust their resources by, for example, losing a job or not being able to fill their prescription. At this point, they may begin to take further measures to continue drug use. This may include borrowing money from multiple sources, requesting or receiving payday advances, stealing money from family and friends, and purchasing prescription drugs illegally.

Family members and friends may become increasingly alarmed at these activities and behaviors, especially since opiate addiction side effects generally escalate over time. Other symptoms may include declining health, infections due to needle use, and more frequent illness due to a lowered immune system.

For the addict, the downward spiral of addiction is miserable and the addict may feel helpless to stop it. Some common traits of addiction include denial, justification, and rationalization. This makes things frustrating as the addict explains away the warning signs that are so clear to friends and family members. A user may blame other people or circumstances for their situation. For example, if they get fired because they didn't attend work or showed up under the influence, they may blame their boss or a coworker and genuinely not see that the problem was the drugs.

Opiate Addiction Withdrawal

When an opiate user who has developed a physical dependence on the drug stops using it, withdrawal symptoms will likely occur. These will vary in severity from mild to severe. For some, they may feel like a mild flu while, for others, the symptoms will be almost unbearable and the person may feel like they are going to die.

According to MedlinePlus, some typical symptoms of opiate addiction withdrawal include:

  • Chills and sweats
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Runny nose and tearing eyes

For the addict, these symptoms are accompanied by an uncontrollable craving for the drugs. This is where many people give in so that they can stop the physical symptoms and relieve their cravings. Even addicts who desperately want to stop using have trouble. Because of the physical symptoms of detox, many people find themselves using just to keep from getting sick. In these situations, drug use is no longer about getting high, it is about staying well. The addict who is trying to avoid withdrawal will often go to great lengths to obtain drugs. Anaddict may be so desperate for the drugs that keep them from getting sick that they may resort to theft or other crimes in order to get more drugs.

Opiate Addiction Detox

If you want to detox from opiates, it is helpful to consult medical advice. This prospect may seem alarming but, in many cases, you can detox under medical supervision and with the aid of medications that will wean you off of opiates and minimize painful symptoms. At the very least, it is important to be in the company of supportive people who care about you and want to help. Trying to cope with an opiate addiction detox while in the presence of still-using addicts may be an exercise in futility.

The length of time it takes for someone to detox varies. Factors include the individual's health, length of time using, amount used, and body and brain chemistry. At the very least, a regularly using addict can expect several days of discomfort while they detox. It is important to remember that it is a temporary situation and it will pass.

Opiate Addiction Rehab

If you are addicted to opiates and you want to quit, rehab is a good option. Addiction becomes a way of life that affects all areas of life including family, relationships, finances and your social life. It can be very difficult to get away from the lifestyle that goes with addiction and rehab can make all the difference.

Opiate addiction rehab gives you a safe place to get away from the people, places, and things that you may associate with using. It also teaches you valuable tools to deal with emotions and conflicts, issues that can trigger a relapse. In rehab, you will address some of the underlying contributors to addiction such as trauma, mental health issues, and emotional problems.

All of this is done in a safe and supportive environment. You will meet other people who have shared experiences and build friendships with other recovering addicts. This will form the foundation of a lasting recovery, and increase your chances of success.

Opiate addiction is difficult to break, and going it alone rarely works. It is important to realize that addiction is a disease. It is not about willpower or right and wrong. Seeking help from a rehab center can help you get your life back.

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