Opiates are a class of drugs that are created from the plant opium. Drugs like morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl are commonly abused opiates. Of the 259 million prescriptions written for these drugs annually, about 2 million people develop an addiction. Many of those people will need help for their addiction, but they won’t seek it or find it readily available when they do seek out help. Because of the potentially fatal consequences of opiate addiction, it’s a major focal point of the healthcare system’s efforts to reach out to addicts who need help.
Addiction and Abuse
There is a difference between abuse and addiction. Addictions begin as “just” abuse. For example, taking an extra prescription pill might be considered abuse. Eventually, abuse like this will cause the patient to develop a tolerance for opiates. The more they take, the more they need to take to attain the same effects. This potentially deadly course of events is what leads to opiate addiction.
Symptoms and Warning Signs
Opiates and opioids cause a sensation called euphoria. It’s a very warm, pleasant feeling, a sense of tranquility and well-being. It’s this sensation that causes people to begin abusing the drug in the first place. What starts as a pleasant feeling when taking opiates will eventually turn into a phenomenon called craving. Here’s how the process works:
- You start taking opiates for a legitimate medical problem
- Over time, you find that taking two pills works better than taking just one
- Without speaking to a doctor, you double your dosage
- After a few months, you find that two no longer works for your pain (in fact, you’re experiencing a rising tolerance that develops because of the body’s natural rebound pain reaction to offset the opiate)
- You begin abusing the drug regularly and find that you have withdrawal symptoms when you don’t take “enough.”
- In time, no amount of opiate seems to be “enough,” and you find yourself overdosing on the drug and becoming physically sick
Any time you find yourself taking more of a prescription opiate or opioid, you are abusing that drug, and that is a danger sign in itself. Unless your doctor specifically tells you to increase your dosage, it’s a dangerous thing to take more. Abuse might be readily noticeable, but addiction itself is such a slow process that you often don’t realize you have an addiction until it’s already too late. Once you’re addicted, your life begins to change negatively. You might:
- Find yourself selling possessions to buy more of the drug
- You become anxious and frightened when you run out of your prescription early
- Physical signs of withdrawal begin to manifest
Treatment and Rehab
Everyone who develops an addiction has a lifeline. That lifeline is called treatment and rehab. Outpatient treatment involves going to NA meetings (or similar programs), going to individual counseling, and following a general program of recovery and abstinence from opiates. Treatment can be inpatient or outpatient. People who are in the early stages of addiction may be able to recover using outpatient treatment options. For people who have a very severe addiction, which is further along in the process, may need rehab.
Inpatient rehab is designed to give you a secure, safe place to seek treatment, away from the temptations of the outside world. It’s a hospital-type setting with a bit more freedom than you would have in a hospital. In rehab, you’re surrounded by caring, compassionate health professionals who don’t judge you. They are there to help, to comfort, and to implement a treatment that can save your life in more ways than just preserving it for another day. In rehab, you learn a brand new way to live that will be even better than your life was before the addiction took hold.
Withdrawal and Detox
The first part of rehab is called detox. It’s during this initial first phase of treatment that you will have to bravely confront your addiction and cope with the withdrawal that comes after you cease to use opiates. Withdrawal symptoms may include sweating, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and, unfortunately, craving opiates. The withdrawal period can be very intense, but when you enter an inpatient rehab, they keep your symptoms under control and make it much more comfortable.
There are many different approaches to detox. Some rehab centers use medications to control symptoms like nausea and anxiety. Other rehabs take a holistic approach and may use techniques like music therapy, art therapy, and meditation. The workers in your rehab will be there for you every step of the way as you confront the problematic first week or two of recovery. Withdrawal symptoms are most intense in the first few days. Once you get past that phase, things get better every day.
How Long are Opiates in your System?
Opiates stay in your system between 4 and 7 days. All opiates have a different half-life (the time it takes for half of the drug to be eliminated from your system). Drugs with a longer half-life will be in your system longer. Keep in mind that the presence of the drug in your system is different than the length of time that the drug is detectable in blood, urine, saliva, and hair sample drug tests.
Overcoming an opiate addiction takes so much strength and courage. The people who love you want to see you overcome the obstacles in front of you and get the help you need. Whether you seek help in an outpatient program or an inpatient program, you will have caring professionals around you who have helped other people get well. If they can get well, so can you. Seeing people who’ve recovered share their stories is often a source of inspiration to keep moving forward toward recovery each day.
No matter how long you’ve used opiates for, or what your specific challenges are, you have a path ahead of you that includes redemption and recovery. If you’ve lost everything – your job, your home, your very sanity – then the road might be a little harder than if you’re in the early stage of addiction. Where you’re on the road of recovery will always be different from your peers. Your path is yours. Remember, though, that no matter how long you’ve used opiates, no matter how advanced your addiction is, help is always just a phone call away.
During recovery, you’ll learn much about yourself. You’ll meet people just like you who are battling their addictions and becoming better people for it. No matter what you did in addiction, no matter what you lost, there is hope. A simple phone call to an inpatient or outpatient, a treatment program is the first step to rebuilding your life after opiate addiction. A team of professionals will be there for you every step of the way. All you have to do is take the first step and be there for yourself first.