You may not realize this, but the human body produces its own natural opioids, called endorphins. Endorphins are released when a person experiences pain, excitement, love, sex, or exercise.
These endorphins attach themselves to the opioid receptors in the brain, called the mu receptor, and act as a natural painkiller and bring feelings of pleasure. For example, if you were to break your arm, the opioids your body produces would act effectively with the opioid receptors in your brain to mitigate the pain temporarily.
When opioids, such as oxycodone and heroin, are introduced into the body, they react with the opioid receptors in a more powerful way than the natural opioids. After a while, if a person continues to use the outside opioids, they replace the natural opioids because the brain doesn’t need to react supply the receptors if they are already being satisfied.
The receptors can also build a tolerance to the opioids, resulting in the need to take more substantial doses as time goes on. When you stop using the opioids, the body does not immediately begin sending the natural opioids to the receptors. For a while, it expects the outside opioids to keep coming. It takes some time for the body to begin producing natural opioids in normal quantities. This is what causes withdrawal. The person will not begin feeling normal again until the usual amounts of natural opiates are being produced.
If you or a loved one is suffering from prescription drug dependency, addiction, substance use disorder (SUD), or opioid use disorder (OUD), reach out for help and find a recovery treatment program at Symetria Recovery.
Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)
These are often the earliest signs:
- Being defensive
- Blaming others
- Lack of eye contact
- Isolation and being secretive
- Changing to a new group of friends
- Not showing up without notice
- Abandonment of daily routines or important activities
- Lack of care in personal hygiene and appearance
Opioid use can be hard on the body. Among the conditions could be:
- Changes in physical appearance, like weight gain or loss
- Pinpoint (constricted) pupils
- Slowed breathing
- Decrease or increase in sexual desire
- Needle marks on arms, hands, or feet
- Decreased appetite
A number of disorders can occur, including:
- Sudden mood swings
- Decreased motivation
You might notice some of these occurrences:
- Doctor shopping (obtaining prescriptions from different doctors without previous doctors’ knowledge)
- Paraphernalia in rooms or waste cans (medication bottles with labels removed, burned tin foil, bloodied cotton swabs, hose clamps, bent spoons, rolled up dollar bills)
Some people are predisposed to OUD, especially if they are living in stressful circumstances. Some of these predispositions include:
- Heavy tobacco use
- Personal or family history of OUD
- Childhood trauma
- Previous struggles with depression or anxiety
- Risk-taking or thrill-seeking tendencies
- History of problems with work, family, friends
- History of legal problems
According to the Mayo Clinic website, up to one-third of the people who take opioids for chronic pain, misuse them, and ten percent eventually suffer from OUD.
Important treatment steps should include comprehensive and uniquely tailored methods assessed by a treatment team to provide a possible combination of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to taper comfortably while also providing mental and behavioral therapies to identify the root cause, stop the use, and fully recover.
What Is Opioid Withdrawal Like?
As you might suspect, the length of time that someone experiences opioid withdrawal can depend on the individual and several other factors, such as:
- The length of time using the substance
- The substance itself
- The method of abuse (e.g., snorting, smoking, injecting, or swallowing)
- The amount taken each time
- Family history and genetic makeup
- Medical and mental health history
What Happens During Withdrawal?
The body produces natural opiates that control pain, anxiety, and depression. For example, if a person gets a broken leg, the body doesn’t produce enough opiates to treat the pain. External opiates treat the pain, but over time and prolonged use, the body’s receptors in the brain, the spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tracts become desensitized to them, and higher dosages are needed to achieve the same effect. The increased consumption creates the dependency on the receptors, and when the person stops taking the opiate, the body reacts to the lack of the opiate it had been taking.
What Are the Symptoms?
Generally, physical opiate withdrawal symptoms can be anywhere from mild to severe and can last anywhere from a few days to a month. It comes in two phases. The initial phase can include these symptoms:
- Muscle aches
- Excessive sweating
- Lethargy or insomnia
- Runny nose
- Extreme cravings
- Restless leg syndrome
The second phase, which can be more intense, begins after the first day or so. These symptoms may include:
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid heartbeat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- High blood pressure
While these symptoms are very unpleasant and painful, they usually begin to improve within seventy-two hours. Within a week, there should be a significant decrease in the acute symptoms. Longer-term symptoms are usually more behavioral and emotional.
In study after study, physician-supervised use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is proven to be the most effective method for handling opioid dependency comfortably, when used in conjunction with behavioral therapies and counseling, significantly outperforming traditional forms of treatment that rely on counseling alone or MAT alone.
Do You Have a Loved One with Opioid Addiction?
Recovery from opioid use disorder (OUD) is an intricate dance. The steps are complicated and require practice, determination, and sometimes even a supportive partner. Many people with a loved one suffering from OUD often look for effective ways to be that partner and help their loved one master the steps.
So, what can you do?
- It’s the opening step. Recovery is stressful for everyone, so a stress-free, trusting environment is vital.
- Communicate in an honest, non-threatening manner.
- Avoid language that stigmatizes your loved one’s condition. See this link for examples.
- Remember that communication includes listening.
- Avoid nagging, criticizing, lecturing, name-calling and hyperbole.
- Don’t engage in addictive behaviors yourself.
- It takes two to tango, so trust goes both ways.
Keep from stepping on each other’s toes and establish clear expectations so that both partners know what behaviors are acceptable. Don’t put up with bad behavior from your loved one.
It’s challenging to have all the answers yourself. Accept that fact and look for support from peer groups and professionals.
Embrace the Treatment Process
If you are involved in your loved one’s treatment, be honest about your feelings and expectations, be non-judgmental and listen with an open mind. If your loved one is in treatment alone, respect their privacy. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push and do not inform friends, family, or others about it.
Overall, understand that this dance is a marathon; change does not happen in one night of dancing. If you are looking to find treatment for your loved one or yourself, there’s no shortage of support available.
Getting to Recovery from Opioid Use
Endless headlines regarding the increasing numbers of overdoses, suicides, and drug use abound. COVID-19 has compounded feelings of isolation, helplessness, and despair though what is rarely reported is the amount of those who’ve successfully committed themselves to recovery in this time, as well. Help is all around. And, help has evolved to meet needs such as through teletherapy.
Countless articles such as “The Epidemic Raging Within the Pandemic” circulate news cycles all over the country even though inpatient and outpatient opioid recovery treatment options are available via private and public options. The article focuses on West Virginia, though it applies nearly everywhere:
“Long before the pandemic came along, the nation, especially Appalachia, was in the throes of a deadly epidemic: opioid and meth addiction. It was a crisis that tore apart families, devastated communities, and destroyed lives. As the pandemic continues, so does the opioid epidemic, with the pandemic’s widespread effects causing opioid addiction to escalate at alarming numbers.
The Overdose Data Mapping Application Program report published in May showed fatal overdoses rose by almost 11.4% over the last year. In July, the American Medical Association warned about an increase of reports from across the country showing a dramatic increase in opioid-related mortality during the pandemic.”
COVID-19, job loss, insurance concerns, housing loss, transportation issues can contribute to the perception that help is unattainable when resources are more available than ever. An essential piece of this is in recognizing the connectivity craved by all. If substance use or addiction is a disease, diagnosis is vital so that ongoing care – and connection – can begin.
Recovery treatment begins a relationship between not just patient and healthcare provider but person to person. In the case of comprehensive outpatient care that allows one to continue work or look for work, patients can immerse themselves in new healthy relationships with a team of recovery care professionals, including doctors, PAs, nurses, counselors, care ambassadors, and so on. Whether in person or via telehealth, every visit is a check-in mentally, emotionally, and physically. The need for real human connection is vital in an era of unprecedented isolation, an epidemic, and technology working against us.
The importance of treatment for addiction can begin with medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to get one feeling better and intensive outpatient treatment to get one into group, family, and individual counseling suited to needs and schedules. Peer-to-peer recovery also provides another level of connection opportunity. Being able to do all this in one location, under one roof with one team, a patient learns to trust, which is proven vital to successful outcomes. Trust that there’s attainable help out there. Trust the connectivity of a team approach to your recovery.
Can Peer Recovery Make a Difference in Opioid Recovery?
Peer support is rapidly emerging as an effective element of recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). Peer recovery support specialists are individuals who have achieved significant recovery of their own and are trained to use their experiences of recovery to assist others in their journeys to recovery.
Peer support can fill a gap that often exists in treatment by focusing on recovery first and by helping to rebuild and redefine the person’s community and life. Many people find it easier to open up and be honest in this kind of relationship. This kind of honest relationship makes those in recovery more inclined to take the proper steps toward recovery.
I’m not a counselor. I’m a mentor,” said Amy Burrows, a peer recovery specialist working with Symetria Recovery. “I’m there for mutual support. I’m there to hold your hand and to let you know that we’ll get through this together because recovery works for me.”
Peer recovery support specialists engage in a wide range of activities:
- Advocating for people in recovery
- Sharing resources and building skills
- Building community and relationships
- Leading recovery groups
- Mentoring and setting goals
Their roles may extend to:
- Providing training to and supervising other potential support workers
- Developing resources
- Administering programs
- Educating the public and policymakers
Peer recovery specialists receive over a thousand hours in formal training and internships to learn how to share their experiences effectively.
“My education is my story,” Burrows said. “The training is about using your own story effectively without hurting the other person. It’s my job to open up about my secrets, and the more I can open up, the more the other person is likely to open up.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), research has shown peer support in recovery to be effective in:
- Improving the relationship with treatment providers
- Increasing treatment retention
- Increasing satisfaction with the overall treatment experience
- Improving access to social supports
- Reducing re-hospitalization rates
- Reducing substance abuse
- Reducing relapse rates
- Decreasing emergency service use
- Decreasing involvement in the criminal justice system
Peer recovery is recognized by SAMHSA as a best practice and is available in all fifty states and reimbursable by Medicaid in thirty-five states. A comprehensive opioid, heroin, and substance use recovery treatment program can provide peer recovery as a component of treatment, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT), psychiatry, group, family, and individual counseling as well as continuing care. Peer recovery specialists are often sought out for their authentic experiences as part of substance use, dependency, and addiction recovery treatment.
What About Painfree Withdrawal? Where Does Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Fit into Opioid Withdrawal?
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) or medication-assisted recovery (MAR) is the physician-supervised use of medication to treat opioid (including heroin) use, dependency, and abuse (addiction). In study after study, medication-assisted opioid treatment is proven to be the most effective method, significantly outperforming traditional forms of treatment that rely on counseling alone. MAT can reduce pain and cravings associated with tapering or withdrawal from opioid use.
At intake, you undergo a 360-degree assessment to determine which medications are appropriate. From here, you work closely with your personal care team to develop a recovery plan that evolves over time.
Suboxone is often the medication used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder. It is a sublingual film with a combination of its active ingredients – buprenorphine and naloxone – that creates unique properties that lower the potential for misuse or overdose and diminish the withdrawal symptoms and cravings caused by a physical dependency on opioids.
Buprenorphine is the main ingredient. It is an opioid partial agonist. That means that it acts like an opioid, just like oxycodone, heroin, or methadone, but in low to moderate doses. Think of the opioid receptors in the brain as a door. Your brain throws the door wide open for most opioids but only partly open for buprenorphine.
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that blocks opioid receptors from the effects of an agonist. So, it acts to counteract the high you might otherwise feel from the buprenorphine.
These two ingredients work together effectively when administered in doses that are slowly decreased over time. This enables a person to work through recovery while leading a more normal life without the intense pain and suffering of opioid withdrawal.
Suboxone was developed to ease the severe symptoms of opioid withdrawal. If an individual has a strong desire to stop taking opioids but is powerless to get through the withdrawal symptoms, that person may be a candidate for a monitored and regimented Suboxone program.
Chief Medical Officer of Symetria Recovery Dr. Abid Nazeer adds,
“Suboxone, when prescribed as part of a comprehensive treatment program including mental and behavioral health therapies, have proven to be extremely effective for lasting opioid use recovery.”
How Is Group Therapy Used in Opioid Addiction Treatment and Recovery?
Counseling is a pillar in treating people for opioid use disorder (OUD). OUD is more than just a physical dependence on substances. There are various psychological and social factors that can be addressed through therapy that can advance recovery and reduce the risk of relapse. While many types of therapy can be useful during medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs, group therapy creates a safe and non-judgmental environment that can be especially effective in creating positive long-term outcomes in several ways:
- Members of the group are able to interact with other people who are learning how to cope with their own illness, especially during the early stages of recovery.
- Sharing experiences with the group can boost confidence and self-esteem, plus reduce the stress and guilt group members might be feeling.
- Cognitive sessions can help group members recognize their own mindsets and the situations that dial up cravings.
- Patients learn how to avoid these triggers by enacting positive, healthy thoughts and feelings.
Similarly, family group therapy is also available to help family members learn how to cope with and advance the recovery of their loved ones.
Get Help Fighting Opioid Addiction Today
If you’ve been worried about a loved one, or if you’re concerned about how you use your pain medication, we urge you to contact us as soon as possible for help. To take the first step, contact us online or call (888) 782-6966 right away.
Reach Out to Symetria Recovery Today
If you or someone close to you is struggling with addiction, and especially if you’ve been concerned about the way you or someone you love uses pain medication, it is important that you reach out for professional help. To take the first step, contact us online or call 855.282.4819 right away.