Opioid addiction has been on the rise in America over the past few years. Since 2013, there has been a significant increase in opioid overdose deaths. That makes it pertinent to understand what opioids are, why they’re dangerous, and how to avoid and overcome addiction.
What are opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs that can dull the feelings of pain and create a feeling of euphoria. Opioids can be prescribed for pain relief, often after surgery or serious injuries. Over time, the medication will affect an individual more gradually, which causes some people to increase their dosage to recapture the lack of pain or the high. Heroin is also an opioid, but not one that is prescribed for pain relief. Heroin creates a much more intense but short-lived high, making it an ineffective painkiller but even more addictive.
How does addiction happen?
With prescription opioids, addiction can begin once they have started to become less effective. Some people will increase their dosage without their doctor’s consent or begin crushing and snorting the pills to gain a faster high. This also increases the chance of accidental overdose.
Research also shows that the amount of time a person is prescribed opioids can increase their chances of addiction. People who take opioids for a week or more are at a higher risk for long-term use and addiction.
There are many other factors that come into play with addiction. People who are more at risk for addiction include those with mental health issues, a family history of substance abuse, or past struggles with drugs or alcohol.
How to avoid addiction?
While addiction can happen to anyone, there are precautions a person can take when using opioids. Only take prescription opioids as prescribed by their doctor, usually after serious injuries or surgeries. Make sure to take a low dose for a short amount of time. Opioids are not made for long-term use, and using them for a condition like chronic pain can easily lead to misuse. Other pain relief treatments are available.
Signs of opioid addiction
Sometimes, an individual might not realize they or a loved one are suffering from addiction right away. When they or someone close to them is taking prescription opioids, watch for the following behaviors:
- taking more than the prescribed dose
- taking them when not in pain
- crushing and snorting or injecting the opioids
- ‘borrowing’ medication from other people
- seeking multiple prescriptions from different doctors
How to treat opioid addiction
Seeking professional help through treatment facilities is the most important part of recovery. Detox and withdrawal can be the toughest part of fighting opioid addiction and should be done in a knowledgeable way to keep the person detoxing safe throughout, particularly if they’re experiencing an opiate detox while pregnant.
Stopping opiate use can lead to withdrawal symptoms that can be severe and painful. People can experience anxiety, aggression, mood swings, and excessive sweating, followed by nausea, paranoia, a rapid heart rate, and vomiting. This can be stressful and scary, especially as withdrawal symptoms can last several days, but eventually, the body will begin to adjust and the person will begin to feel better.
What to do in case of an overdose
High doses of opioids can cause a person to overdose and stop breathing. The signs of an overdose are different from the signs of being high or even withdrawal. During an overdose, the person is often unconscious, struggling to breathe and has small pupils. People who relapse during detox are at an increased risk of overdose.
The best way to assist someone overdosing on opioids is to use naloxone, an antidote that can reverse the effects of an overdose and then seek emergency medical care.