Opioids are powerful substances that help people needing strong pain relief. They can be essential when recovering from surgery, managing cancer or dealing with other painful health issues. But anyone using opioids is at risk for misuse. Despite the challenges, there is hope for opioid recovery.
Here we’ll look at what opioids are and how they impact the brain. Next, we’ll explore who is most at risk for opioid addiction. Finally, we’ll review addiction treatment and methods that are critical for opioid addiction recovery.
What are opioids?
Opioids are a type of drug that can reduce pain. These substances include heroin, an illicit drug, and legal prescription pain medications. These are also called prescription painkillers and include oxycodone, morphine and codeine. Other commonly known names include Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin and fentanyl.
Opioid substances block pain signals between the brain and body and can also create pleasurable feelings. But opioids also have some unsafe side effects. Opioids slow a person’s breathing, cause nausea and make a person feel confused. In higher doses or when being misused, these effects can be dangerous.
Because they are so potent, opioids used for pain are controlled substances, meaning you can only get them with a prescription. And healthcare providers can only prescribe opioids if they’ve been approved.
How do opioids impact the brain?
So why do opioids have such a powerful effect? Because every day, your brain and nervous system use opioids made by your body. A nerve cell has receptors all over its surface, some of which are made to fit like a lock and key with any opioid substance. Your natural opioids reduce pain, help you relax and trigger happy feelings. Opioid substances do similar things but with more problems and risks.
Opioids and nerve cells
Opioid substances are more potent than what your body produces. Also, new research findings show something new about how opioid substances affect nerve cells. Naturally made opioids can only attach to receptors on the surface of cells. Opioid substances bind to receptors on the surface, but they also activate receptors inside cells. So they can hit nerve cells from two angles instead of just one. This could explain why opioid substances have a much more powerful effect than those made in the body.
What makes opioids so addictive? Hijacking the reward system
The reward system is a pathway in the brain. It’s the reason you feel happy when you laugh with a friend, eat your favorite food or fall in love. You may also feel a natural mood boost after being active, sometimes called a “runner’s high.” This reward system motivates you to do many basic life activities like eating, learning, having sex and building relationships.
Here’s how the reward system works in your body. When you do something enjoyable, and the reward system is activated, the brain releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine creates feelings of pleasure, and other parts of the brain create memories with this pleasure. This is why happy memories stir a desire to remember and repeat those activities.
When opioids activate the reward system, that same process creates memories about substance use. This system means certain places, people, objects and even emotions can get locked in with the memories. When the person is around those reminders, they become triggers for opioid cravings. Using substances repeatedly can make these emotional ties even stronger. They seek more opioids no matter what obstacles may be in the way. And when a person tries to quit, they may feel surrounded by triggers and powerless to stop.
Who is most likely to become addicted to opioids?
Anyone can become addicted to opioids, but some people may be more vulnerable than others. The more risk factors a person has, the higher their risk of misuse.
Personal characteristics linked with addiction
Some people have personal characteristics that make them more vulnerable to opioid misuse and addiction. These may relate to behaviors, physical characteristics or other health issues.
- History of substance misuse: They already have habits and behaviors related to substance misuse.
- Younger age: 18- to 25-year-olds are more likely to experiment and do risky behaviors.
- Older adults: Adults 65 and older may be more sensitive to the effects of opioids.
- Untreated mental health conditions: People may use substances to cover their untreated mental health conditions, especially those related to depression, anxiety and childhood trauma.
- Family and Social Network: Some social environments encourage or allow substance misuse despite the consequences.
- Genetic factors: The genetic code that helps create cell receptors may affect how a person responds to opioids.
- Access to prescription opioids: People may more easily misuse opioids if they have a prescription and cope with chronic health conditions or pain issues.
- High-stress circumstances: People living under the poverty line are more likely to die from an opioid overdose. The same is true for people who are unemployed.
There is hope with addiction treatment
Treatment for opioid use disorder can help you get on the best path for your recovery. Here’s more about what you can expect from treatment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for substance use disorders. It works by addressing how a person’s emotions, behaviors and thoughts work together. The therapist empowers the person to learn these things independently with support.
Individual sessions allow the therapist to work privately around a person’s unique issues. Sessions may focus on past trauma, relationship issues, and building trust in therapy.
Group sessions are a vital piece of addiction treatment. These are a few examples of how treatment groups are used in treatment.
- Psychoeducation: People learn about addiction, mental health, self-care and other topics.
- Skills development: Therapists teach skills about social interactions, avoiding relapse and more.
- Cognitive-behavioral: Members focus on thoughts and behaviors related to addiction.
Motivational interviewing is a method of asking questions in a supportive way. Many people with substance use disorders know their use has consequences. Yet they may also resist giving up their addiction. The therapist builds a positive relationship with the person so they can openly talk about these issues. This process helps the person feel less stuck and more motivated to go through treatment.
Medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD)
MOUD is a treatment approach for opioid addiction involving medication. Research shows that MOUD reduces opioid use and the risk of overdose. This medication is chemically similar to harmful opioids but doesn’t have the same damaging effects. The body’s response to opioids can be overpowering, even if a person wants to stop using them. So managing withdrawal symptoms and cravings with medication can be a vital opioid recovery tool.
Medications can be prescribed and given by healthcare providers at local clinics. And while this could make it a convenient treatment option, MOUD is not widely used. Some treatment centers and healthcare providers are hesitant to use MOUD or don’t know much about it. This treatment is also surrounded by stigma and myths. Some believe that a person isn’t really in recovery if they use medications, and others think that MOUD is just swapping one addiction for another. Neither is true, and those who support MOUD are working to help it gain acceptance as a treatment.
MOUD and Behavioral Health: A Healing Combination
MOUD keeps a person’s opioid levels more stable and helps them break the addiction cycle. A person using MOUD can function better each day by keeping withdrawal symptoms and cravings under control. As the medication keeps their physical symptoms in check, they can focus on other parts of their life. They can participate in family activities, go to therapy sessions and learn to build a healthy life.
Counseling therapy and MOUD work best when used together. This combination works because both treatments support each other. Having regular contact and guidance from a counselor helps a person stick with their medication routine. And as a person’s physical reactions even out, they can engage better with counseling. This approach treats the whole person.
Counseling is also essential for helping people with underlying mental health issues and trauma. Many people with untreated mental conditions self-medicate. They reach for substances to cover their emotional pain, even though substance use worsens mental health issues.
Contingency management uses rewards for reaching treatment goals. This approach shapes a person’s behavior by offering or withholding incentives. A person can learn to act in positive ways even when they’re having a difficult time.
Overdose education recognizes the risk of overdose for people in opioid recovery. This approach teaches people how to manage and prevent overdose. People are given doses of naloxone, an overdose reversal medication, and training on using it.
Finding help and hope for opioid recovery
Coping with opioid addiction can be overwhelming, and you may feel lost as you try to move forward. But don’t give up – there is hope for opioid recovery.
Reach out to our P.A.T.H. facility for rehab in Nashville, TN. And contact our Worcester P.A.T.H. clinic for rehab in Massachusetts. No matter which location is right for you, call us today at 1-888-622-7809. Find help and hope for opioid recovery today.