Opioid Addiction and Withdrawal - Valley Behavioral Health
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August 27, 2020 By Dr. Todd Thatcher, DO, CMO

A man suffering from opiate withdrawal.The opioid crisis has touched all facets of American society, destroying millions of families and causing approximately 128 overdose deaths each day, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The healthcare system is under enormous pressure from opioid abuse, with the economic burden estimated at $78.5 billion per year.

Opioids are extremely addictive and are received through prescriptions or other illegal channels. Once someone is addicted, recovery is difficult and often requires expert medical help to accomplish. In addition, the opiate withdrawal timeline can vary from person-to-person, making every individual’s path to recovery, unique. Opioid addiction has become one of the biggest health crises in the US, inspiring many to create ways to break the cycle of addiction.

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Opioid Crisis History

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has identified three “waves” in the current opioid crisis.

The first wave began in the 1990s when doctors began over-prescribing opioid pain relievers at the urging of Big Pharma. The medication is quite effective at relieving pain and became popular with doctors and patients alike. Sadly, medications such as oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine and codeine, are highly addictive. However, doctors continued to prescribe them generously regardless of this known danger. In fact, some physicians even received financial incentives to prescribe these drugs. As a result, US doctors prescribed opioids at a much higher rate than doctors in other countries. This trend has been declining since 2012, but the rate still remains high.

A second wave of addictions occurred in 2010, many of them due to heroin. When opioid users could no longer get pain relievers such as oxycodone from their doctors or afford illegal pills, they turned to heroin, which was plentiful and cheaper. Heroin has long been a dangerous, addictive “recreational” drug that frequently causes users to overdose.

The third wave came when users embraced synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, a substance that is many times stronger than morphine and heroin. People can easily overdose on this popular substance. Fentanyl is prescribed by medical professionals to relieve disabling pain, but it is prized for its powerful high and is often purchased illegally.

Opioid Withdrawal

Opioid withdrawal can be a long and excruciating process, with the opiate withdrawal timeline being different for everybody. The symptoms are often extreme, and the road to self-betterment can be made even more difficult if you aren’t carefully controlling your recovery.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Since opioids attach to brain receptors, spinal receptors and gastrointestinal tract receptors, withdrawing can cause huge physical and mental upheaval. During the time that a person is using opiates, they begin to build a tolerance– requiring more every use, just to gain the same high. By the time they are ready to make themselves better, their bodies are dependent on large amounts of the drug.

Initial symptoms of opioid Withdrawal:

  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Profuse sweating
  • Sleeplessness
  • Watery eyes

Future symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dilated pupils and blurry vision
  • Stomach cramps

Going through withdrawal, safely, depends on help from a user’s physician. In some cases, people in withdrawal may need hospital admission to treat their symptoms.

Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

Although many patients experience a similar opiate withdrawal timeline early-on, the lasting effects of recovery can vary depending on the patient.

The worst physical effects are experienced in the first 72 hours of withdrawal. After that period, the symptoms begin to wane. In a week, patients see their most severe symptoms greatly decreased.

Experts warn, however, that physical symptoms can continue through the first six months, with emotional symptoms lasting up to a lifetime (this is because addiction is not cured, but managed).

Withdrawal Treatments for Opioids

Many people with addiction want to know how to get off opiates and (ideally) find what helps with opiate withdrawal in the process. Certain medications can be helpful. Milder withdrawal symptoms can be managed with NSAIDs or other OTC pain relievers. Diarrhea and nausea can be treated with medications such as hydroxyzine and loperamide.

More difficult withdrawal symptoms are often helped by clonidine, which can reduce cramping, anxiety, muscleaches, etc. Another drug, suboxone, can be taken orally to ease and shorten the physical symptoms of withdrawal.

Methadone is commonly used as a long-term treatment to manage withdrawal. Because it is a powerful opioid, it can also be addictive. However, methadone use can be better controlled than other opioids as long as it is part of a managed care program.

These treatments address the physical aspect of withdrawal, but recovery means addressing the emotional issues involved as well.

Recovering from Opioids

Many people with addiction are looking for a way to get off opiates. Recovery from opiate addiction requires time, dedication and professional help. Group and individual counseling have long been a cornerstone of this recovery process, with behavioral therapy being one of the most effective ways to achieve freedom from addiction. Some individuals may also initially need residential treatment to put them on the path to recovery.

Treating the patient holistically increases their chance of a successful recovery. MAT, or medication-assisted therapy, combines counseling and behavioral therapies with medication treatment. This approach addresses all of the patient’s addiction issues and may increase the chance for recovery.

Some people with addiction recover after receiving only outpatient treatment. Others complete in-house addiction rehabilitation programs followed by outpatient care that includes individual and group therapy. Many choose to pursue a 12-step program to help them maintain their sobriety. The key to success is continually working on the problem to avoid relapsing. Remaining drug-free is a lifelong effort.

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Valley Behavioral Health

If you have an opioid addiction problem, Valley Behavioral Health can help. With multiple locations in Utah, the staff customizes your treatment plan so that you can recover with minimal disruption to your life. They bring 25 years of experience in drug addiction treatment, so you can feel confident that you are benefitting from the most effective recovery methods available.

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated all medical care. Fortunately, Valley Behavioral Health offers telehealth appointments that support your recovery while keeping you safe from virus transmission. You don’t have to wait to seek help. Contact us today to find out which treatment options will best serve your needs.

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