Some of the most common opiates are heroin, morphine, and codeine. These belong to the opiate drug class. This class includes substances that derive naturally from an opium poppy plant. The term “opiate” is often used interchangeably with the drug class “opioid,” but there is a distinct difference between these two drug classes. That difference is found in how they are made. Opioids is a blanket term for any drug containing opium, but synthetic and semi-synthetic substances make further distinctions within this class.
Synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids are made to mimic the effects of opiates. These drugs are prescribed to patients experiencing significant pain. Because these medications can cause calming and euphoria-like effects, they are prone to misuse, abuse, and addiction. What may begin as a prescription to manage pain may transform into an unhealthy pattern of misuse even after multiple attempts to cut down. This is considered opiate use disorder.
Morphine and codeine are both opiates. They are both prescribed to treat pain:
Semi-synthetic opiates include:
Synthetic opiates (opioids) include:
Most of these substances are considered Schedule II narcotics by the DEA. Because there is no accepted medical use in the United States currently, heroin is considered a Schedule I narcotic. This means that it has a very high potential for abuse and a lack of accepted safety for use.
Opioid receptors are distributed throughout the central nervous system and are responsible for mediating the body’s response to hormones, neurotransmitters, and drugs. These receptors are also distributed to a lesser extent throughout the body. When a patient is experiencing moderate to severe pain, they may be prescribed an opiate such as morphine to treat this pain. Morphine will bind to these receptors and block the pain signals from reaching the brain.
While opiates may be successful at treating pain, it is important that individuals find alternate ways to relieve pain as well so they do not become reliant on such a substance to treat it. Because these medications cause euphoric effects that can alleviate stress, they have a high abuse potential, which can develop into an addiction or physical dependence.
The short-term effects of opiates include:
When opiates bind to opioid receptors in the brain, they also allow for an increase in dopamine production. This neurotransmitter is responsible for feeling rewarded for such behaviors. Because opiates trigger dopamine, it can reinforce an individual to continue taking the drug, regardless of its more negative and lasting effects.
Continued, long-term misuse of opiates can result in:
Opiate use disorder, as mentioned above, usually starts as a result of being prescribed painkillers for an injury, chronic pain, or after surgery. Because these medications treat pain, it can be even more difficult to stop using because individuals do not have alternatives for their pain management.
Oftentimes, patients have no intention of abusing the substance they’ve been prescribed, but they may notice the dose they are taking is no longer treating their pain as it was at the beginning. This can signify the development of a tolerance within their system. Once this has happened, continued and increased use will cause physical dependence on the substance, making it even more difficult to stop. If a person becomes physically dependent on the substance to treat their pain, they will begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop.
Signs of opiate use disorder include:
According to the CDC, the United States is currently in an opiate overdose epidemic. This is a very serious and dangerous risk individuals take by misusing and abusing these substances, especially heroin. Because heroin is not allowed for medical use, it is not legally produced and manufactured. Without regulations on its manufacturing, it is oftentimes laced with a much more powerful synthetic opiate, fentanyl. If a person is not aware of the presence of fentanyl in a supply of heroin, they will not be able to dose themselves to avoid a dangerous and deadly overdose.
When a drug enters the body at toxic levels, it can cause deadly and medically dangerous effects. Signs of an opiate overdose include:
Because individuals under the influence of opiates will appear unconscious, or “nod out,” it can be difficult to tell whether they are overdosing or not. That is why it is important to always be sure by calling emergency services to ensure their safety. Overdoses are deadly and should be responded to properly by medical professionals.
When an individual continues to use opiates despite the negative effects the use is having on their lives, they may develop opiate use disorder. If not properly addressed, this will develop into a physical and psychological dependence on the substance. Once someone is physically dependent on opiates, they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to stop.
Withdrawal symptoms happen as the body responds to the lack of a substance in its system. When someone takes opiates daily, the body becomes adjusted to the effects it has on the release of dopamine and the blocking effect on pain receptors. Once the substance is no longer influencing the chemicals in the body, the body shows adverse symptoms.
Opiate withdrawal symptoms include:
These symptoms of withdrawal have different onset lengths and durations depending on which substance someone is dependent on. Longer-acting opiates will have slower onsets and longer durations for withdrawal symptoms whereas shorter-acting opiates will have a quicker onset and shorter duration with more intense symptoms.
Opiate withdrawal is not considered deadly but can result in severe dehydration or heart failure which can cause life-threatening symptoms. It is never advised that individuals attempt to recover from opiate dependence on their own without the supervision of medical professionals.
Opiate withdrawal can last between 10 days to several weeks depending on the substance used and the length, duration, and extent of use. Because withdrawal can be very uncomfortable, potentially dangerous, and long-lasting, individuals may suffer from intense cravings and even relapse upon their attempt to stop. Relapsing greatly increases the likelihood of deadly overdose. This is why it is important they overcome withdrawal in a trusted, safe, environment that removes their access to drugs or alcohol. This way, individuals can ensure a recovery that is safe and effective.
Receiving opiate detox in an addiction treatment center will allow participants to focus on abstinence as their body rids the substance from its system. A clinical team will work closely with their participants and doctors to determine the correct treatment and proper care for the individual. Their main focus is a participant’s comfort, safety, and health during this time.
Because opiate withdrawal is incredibly uncomfortable with vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, and chills, medications can be prescribed to treat these symptoms as individuals allow the body to naturally rid the substance from its system. This will allow the individual to remain as comfortable as possible during this time.
For opiate withdrawal, Methadone, Suboxone, and buprenorphine are three FDA-approved medications that are commonly used to treat opiate withdrawal. These drugs are safe to use long-term for the management of opiate use disorder. Other, slower-acting opiates may be used in order to wean an individual off a faster-acting opiate as well.
Methadone is known as an opiate analgesic. It works to treat withdrawal symptoms by mimicking the effects of stronger opiates and blocking symptoms that arise. It can come in tablet or injectable form and is prescribed by doctors for the treatment of pain and opiate withdrawal.
Suboxone contains a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone and is prescribed to treat opiate withdrawal. This drug will block opiate receptors and help curb cravings. It is administered only under the supervision of medical professionals in either a tablet or film form. Taking Suboxone during opiate withdrawal will help alleviate the symptoms and allow participants to focus on treatment.
Buprenorphine is more potent than methadone and, unlike opiates, it is only a partial opioid agonist. Because it only partially acts on the opioid receptors in the brain, it can be used as a way to wean participants from opiates and relieve withdrawal symptoms. Because it is more potent than methadone, buprenorphine is commonly combined with other drugs to treat opiate use disorder.
Oftentimes, a participant’s goal for recovery is full abstinence. However, reaching that stage may involve taking prescribed medications under the supervision of doctors and medical professionals in order to ease the symptoms of withdrawal. Requiring medically assisted treatment is not something to be ashamed of, and it is not trading one addiction for another, as these substances are regulated and administered.
While opiate detox will allow individuals to safely come off of opiates, it is often not suitable for long-term treatment of opiate use disorder. Opiate withdrawal might be the most physically challenging stage of recovery, but further psychological healing is required in order to effectively treat this disorder. The factors influencing someone’s decision to chronically misuse drugs or alcohol may not be completely apparent to them. Once they are able to identify these factors and heal those areas of their life, they will be able to fully recover from substance use disorder (SUD).
Crescent Moon Recovery offers high-quality outpatient addiction services, programs, and resources to anyone suffering from the effects of opiate use disorder. Our treatment center achieves whole-person healing through dynamic therapeutic approaches that are evidence-based. Our team will walk our participants through every step of recovery and are truly dedicated to their success. We understand that addiction treatment is never one-size-fits-all, and we are ready to plan a treatment program that will treat your mind, body, and spirit.
Opiates are highly addictive narcotics that have a high abuse potential and run a huge risk of deadly overdose. Call Crescent Moon Recovery today for support with opiate withdrawal through detox in a patient-centered facility at (714) 464-8474.