7th September 2019

What is the Right Way to Treat Opioid Addiction?

Drug addiction begins in a harmless manner with the voluntary act of taking drugs for recreational purposes or via prescriptions for pain relief, but over time a person’s ability to refrain from taking them becomes compromised. Addiction affects parts of the brain involved in reward, motivation, learning, memory, and control over behavior.

What leads to opioid addiction?

Opioid drugs alter the programming of your brain by generating artificial endorphins. Apart from blocking out painful sensations, endorphins make you feel good and happy. If you use too much of opioids, it can cause the brain to rely on artificial endorphins, and once this happens, the production of natural endorphins might come to a halt entirely. The longer you use opioids, the more likely this is to happen. You also will need more opioids over time because of drug tolerance.


How can opioid addiction be treated?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question, as treatment varies from person to person. Factors such as frequency of use, how long the person has been using, symptoms, etc. play an integral role. The biggest challenge is to avoid using the drug, after which the body faces withdrawal that manifests in the form of nausea, headaches, anxiety, abdominal pain, vomiting, fatigue, etc. People are often unable to manage withdrawal symptoms so they relapse and start using again.


Can it be treated via medication?

Yes, there are certain medicines that can be prescribed by doctors to relieve withdrawal symptoms when you stop using opioids, so the cravings can be controlled. Common medications used are methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. At times, if the person is using more drugs apart from opioids, they have to seek treatment for all the substances being used.


Methadone and Buprenorphine

They work to reduce withdrawal symptoms by targeting the same centers of the brain that opioids do. The only difference is they don’t give you that “high”, while restoring balance of brain functionality so you can heal. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) you may safely take the medicines on a long-term basis, after consulting your doctor.


Naltrexone

This medicine prescribed by doctors isn’t actually used to treat addiction – it doesn’t help you stop taking opioids, but it is used for preventing relapses. If you relapse and start taking opioids again, you are basically “back to square one”. This medicine doesn’t aid with cravings or withdrawal, but it ensures you don’t feel the “high” that is common with opioids.


What are the accompanying treatments?

While medicines help with the physical aspect of opioid addiction, you need help to cope with your mental and emotional state as well. Behavioral treatments can help you learn how to manage depression, anger, exhaustion, and so on. These treatments also help you avoid opioids, deal with cravings, and heal damaged relationships. They include individual, group, or family counseling, along with cognitive therapy.

A tailored treatment program with follow-up options is the best way to achieve success. Follow-up care may include community- or family-based recovery support systems. Your doctor will study your case and make a recommendation accordingly.

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