Risk of Addiction
Dealing With an Addiction
Fields of poppies have mesmerized artists for hundreds of years. The red and pink petals, waving in the slight breeze, provide quite a visual spectacle, and those fields have inspired painters like Monet and Van Gogh. But the poppy plant has also been used in more sinister enterprises. The black seeds that sit at the center of the poppy flower can be transformed into opiate drugs.
Used properly, opiate drugs can provide a significant amount of pain relief. Opiate medications have likely helped millions of people recover from surgeries or deal with severe pain. But, with this use comes a high risk of addiction.
Opiates are simply some of the strongest drugs available, and opiate addiction can come on rather rapidly in some people.
Doctors often like to place medications into groups, based on the effects that they have on the people who take them. The opiate group contains drugs that are naturally derived from the poppy plant.
These drugs all function within the body in much the same way, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The drugs cross into the bloodstream and they begin to seek out specific receptors, a bit like a magnet looking for metal. When the drug finds the receptors, it binds to those receptors and the connection causes a series of chemical chain reactions. The person might begin to feel calm, relaxed and happy, and any pain or discomfort might ease. Some people report a sudden, transcendent feeling of happiness, or a “high” that lasts for a few moments. The breathing may slow, and soon, the person may begin to nod off or feel extremely sleepy. All of these symptoms are hallmarks of opiate use.
Addiction to opiates rarely happens overnight. In fact, most people who are addicted to opiates move through a series of definable steps, according to an article published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. These steps include:
- Experimental use. Most people begin by taking the drug on occasion, and they’re typically using the drug for fun.
- Regular use. Soon, the person is using drugs more often, and may use the drug to help deal with negative feelings. The use stops being fun and starts to seem necessary.
- Daily use. The user begins to feel that the drug is more important than anything else, including friends, family, work or other obligations.
- Dependence. The person cannot imagine living without the drug.
In other words, an addiction to opiates may begin harmlessly enough. The person takes the drug on occasion, on a whim, and then slowly the addiction begins to define the person’s day. The addict moves from choosing to use the drug to being compelled to use the drug. Family relationships suffer as the addict breaks most, if not all, ties in order to focus exclusively on the drug use.
At first glance, some of these steps seem to be driven entirely by behavior. It might seem reasonable that the person chooses the drugs over other people, and that the person could simply choose to act in a different way. When it comes to opiate addiction, however, the source of addiction isn’t limited to simple behavior. Opiates cause a series of chain reactions in the brain, and those reactions can also make it harder for the person to stop using the drugs.
In other words, the addiction is driven by chemical changes, and those chemical alterations drive the addicted behavior.
The body continually monitors its chemical levels and adjusts its production of counteracting chemicals accordingly. People who use high amounts of opiates for a long period of time are in a constant battle with their own bodies. They’re trying to flood their bodies with chemicals, and their bodies are reducing the amount of chemicals they make in response, to keep the system balanced. As a result, the addict may need to take higher and higher doses of opiates to feel the same level of response.
To complicate matters further, the addict’s body may choose to stop making certain chemicals altogether. Commonly, for example, the body makes its own version of opiates in order to help reduce pain and improve mental functioning. When a person tries to stop taking opiates, he or she may discover that the body is making no opiates, either, and without access to natural opiates or opiate-based drugs, a variety of symptoms can kick in, such as:
- Sweating with chills
- Involuntary movements of the legs
Often, these symptoms are compared to a significant case of the flu and disappear within a few days. But, throughout those days, the addict is also dealing with a longing for the drug. These cravings can be incredibly powerful, and when the addict is weak and in pain, the cravings can be too difficult to ignore, forcing the addict into use once more.
Risk of Addiction
People who use opiates face a significant risk of overdose. As mentioned, addicts often use incredibly high doses of the drugs on a regular basis. When they’re buying these drugs on the street, however, it can be very difficult for them to determine the strength of the drugs they’re taking.
To give a fictional example: A man always buys from the same dealer, and he is accustomed to heating up a gram of heroin to inject each time. Little does he know his heroin is cut with sugar, so it’s only 50 percent potent. Now, the man buys from another dealer and uses the same dosage to inject. This dose is at 100 percent potency, however. The man has no idea that the drug he’s about to use is twice as strong as the drug he’s accustomed to. He prepares his gram of heroin, and when he injects the drug, he overdoses. This is a real and serious consequence for opiate addicts. The drugs are illegal, and quality isn’t monitored in any way, shape or form. It’s therefore quite easy to overdose. Often, addicts end up in the emergency room when they take high doses of opiates and begin to have a reaction.
In addition to the real and persistent risk of overdose, people who use opiates are at risk of contracting HIV and developing AIDS. In the past, researchers thought this risk existed because people were sharing needles and drug paraphernalia while they were on opiates, but now, researchers suggest that people engage in risky sexual behaviors while they’re under the influence, and these behaviors can cause infection. An article published by the NIDA makes this connection quite clear. The authors report that 64 percent of people who were receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS between the years of 2005 and 2009 had used an illicit drug, but none had injected the drug. In other words, the link between drug use and infection persists, even though most people aren’t using or sharing needles. Instead, they’re throwing caution to the wind while under the influence and putting their long-term health at risk. While it’s true that HIV/AIDS can be treated with medications, people who are addicted to opiates may not seek out medical help or screenings for the diseases, which means they could go undetected for years, doing a significant amount of damage and allowing the addict to spread the diseases to others.
Dealing With an Addiction
It can be easy to believe that the child of an opiate addict is destined to be an opiate addict too, no matter what happens, and that treatments won’t help. While it might be true that addictions can pass down through families, it’s certainly not true that addictions can’t be treated effectively. Medication therapies, combined with effective counseling sessions, can help the addict leave the addiction behind. It might take years of work, and the addict will likely need to do some form of opiate treatment for the rest of his or her life, but recovery really is possible.
At Michael’s House, we’ve helped hundreds of people overcome their opiate addictions. We tailor our approaches to meet the needs of our patients, and we work hard to make sure that our clients are comfortable throughout treatment. We hope you’ll call today to find out more.