Opiate Addiction Signs, Symptoms and Withdrawal
During the spring and summer, gardens all across the United States erupt with brilliant flowers of orange, red and pink.
These poppies are beloved by gardeners as they’re easy to grow and resistant to pests, and the petals stay beautiful for days.
When you see the flowers, however, your thoughts might turn from gardening to something much more familiar to you: opiate drugs.
If you’re addicted to an opiate, you probably know that the drugs you crave are synthesized from poppies. Just seeing the flowers could trigger a drug craving in you that is difficult – if not impossible – to ignore.
Opiate vs. Opioid
This article deals with opiate drugs such as heroin, morphine and opium. These are drugs originate in the poppy plant – deriving directly from the active botanical chemicals naturally produced therein.
Other drugs, known as opioids, have a chemical structure that is similar to opiates – however, opioids are made in a laboratory. Examples of opioids include prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin.
How Does Addiction Develop?
Many people develop an addiction as they compulsively seek the pleasurable effects imparted by opiates. According to an article produced by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, about 9% of the U.S. population is likely to abuse opiates over the course of their lifetime.1 This means that even though these individuals might have intended to use the drug just once, they nevertheless then felt compelled to use the drug over and over again. In these cases, their use has turned into abuse.
The Attraction of the Opiate Experience
The very first time you used an opiate, you might have felt as though the drug was so powerful that it was made for you and you alone. And in a way, it was. The human body possesses specific opioid receptors that are designed to receive naturally occurring, endogenous opioids.
As soon as these receptors encounter opiate drugs, they latch on to these drugs just like they latch on to the body’s naturally occurring opioids. You might have felt so warm, powerful and relaxed after initially using these opiate drugs that you simply couldn’t imagine living your life without the drug again. This experience is sometimes referred to as a “hedonistic” experience, as your motivation to use opiates is purely for pleasure.
Not Everyone Experiences Opiates the Same Way
Some people have genetic differences that cause them to feel a reduced amount of pleasure from opiates. Instead of euphoria, they just feel tired. Other people, despite receiving the pain relieving benefits of these drugs, may additionally feel rather ill when they use opiates. It’s easy to see how people with such genetic differences might never be compelled to use the drugs again.
Chasing that Elusive First High
As individuals continue to return to the drug in hopes of achieving that first euphoric high, they soon discover that their bodies have already built tolerance to the abnormally high levels of opioids offered by opiate drugs. Taking opiate drugs no longer produces the same initial euphoric effect that it did at the beginning.
How Withdrawal Leads to Addiction
As your body acclimates to the persistent presence of drug, it grows dependent on it – essentially learning to function propped up by the opiate effects. When this occurs, you will likely experience a number of withdrawal symptoms as soon as your body is deprived of the drug. When you try to stop using the drug – or when you can no longer access the drug – you may experience some of the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Sweating, runny nose, watery eyes.
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.
- Stomach cramping.
- Muscle and joint pain.
This withdrawal experience serves to reinforce your addiction. When you’re in pain from withdrawal symptoms, and the drugs you take seem to immediately ease your pain, the drugs become instantly more valuable to your brain. The next time you feel withdrawal, your brain will send out an even stronger craving for the drug – knowing that the drug solved the same immediate problems in the past.
Cycles of withdrawal and relief from taking more drugs might be incredibly familiar to you, and each time you go through a cycle like this, the cravings for drugs grow stronger.
How Long Does Withdrawal Last?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, withdrawal symptoms tend to peak within 48 and 72 hours after you’ve taken the last dose of the opiate.2 After about a week without taking any more drug, withdrawal symptoms tend to abate.
There are some people, however, who show signs of withdrawal for months – and some people may experience psychological and/or medical complications during the withdrawal period. For this reason, if you’re a heavy and long-term user of opiates, it would be advised that you don’t stop using the drug abruptly without getting help.
Instead, ask your doctor about how to best go through opiate detox in a way that you can more comfortably tolerate. You can also call us at 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers? to discuss what types of treatment programs are available in your preferred region.
Prescription Painkillers and Opiates
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 2.2 million Americans abuse prescription painkillers.3 This growing abuse of prescription painkillers has been called a national epidemic. As a result, many doctors and pharmacists are cracking down on prescriptions and blocking people from accessing these drugs.
Some people who become addicted to these drugs turn to heroin or morphine when they can no longer access their opiate drugs. Prescription opioids have thus become gateway drugs that can lead to opiate abuse. If your addiction has taken this path, know that there are therapies that can help you to overcome addiction to both prescription and opiate drugs.
Signs of Compulsive Opiate Use
An addiction is defined as the continued use of a substance, even in the face of experiencing harm as a result of using the drug. This concept may seem like a simple enough concept, but it may be difficult to recognize in your own life. After all, it’s likely that your addiction came on slowly, with imperceptible changes taking place each day – so you might not be able to tell when you lost control of your opiate use.
Look for any of the signs below to recognize whether you might be a compulsive opiate user:
- You think about drugs most of the time.
- You plan your day around buying and using drugs.
- You become upset at the idea of not using drugs.
- You feel ill at ease unless you are on drugs.
- You use drugs first thing in the morning, when you wake up.
- You experience deep cravings for the drug.
- You find it more difficult to resist using drugs when you think about them.
- You may find yourself eating more non-nutritious foods that are rich in sugar.
You might feel a desperate need to use the drug when a significant amount of time has passed between doses. These cravings may be triggered when you see people, places or objects that you once associated with drugs. Even just walking into a room where you once took drugs could cause a deep craving to spring up.
Worsened Behavior Control
You might also notice that it’s harder for you to control your behavior in relation to drug use. Where you might have been able – earlier in your life – to think about using drugs but focus on something else instead, you may find that just thinking about drugs propels you to use drugs.
Changes in Diet
Researchers from the British Journal of Addiction determined that people who were addicted to opiates tended to eat more foods that were rich in sugar and poor in vitamins – compared to people who did not use opiates.4 These drugs work on so many levels of the body, that it’s hard to truly know how much you are changing until you stop using the drug and feel your old self returning.
Opiates and Teens
While anyone can be susceptible to the changes opiates cause, teens are especially susceptible to becoming addicted after experimenting with opiates. Their brains are still developing and changing. As a result, the euphoric properties of opiates may have an even more powerful impact.
Signs of teen opiate abuse include:
- Extreme fatigue.
- Sudden dip in grades.
- Refusal to participate in sports or hobbies.
- Increased need for privacy.
- Urgent need for money.
These symptoms could also be indicative of addictions to other drugs – including prescription medications, marijuana and methamphetamine. If you notice these signs in your child, it’s time to have a frank talk about addiction. Your child might need therapy in order to recover from the grip of compulsive drug use.
Risks and Consequences of Opiate Abuse
As the addiction grows, you may find it more difficult to make good choices in other areas of your life. You may, for example:
- Choose to stay home from work in order to use drugs.
- Steal or lie in order to come up with money for drugs.
- Hurt the people you love with lies or violent behavior, as obtaining the drugs becomes more important than maintaining your relationships.
Health Risks from Opiate Addiction
Health risks from opiate addiction may include:
- Infections: injection site infections may include abscesses, while shared needle infections may include HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
- Accidents: individuals struggling with opiate addictions have higher rates of motor vehicle accidents.5
- Narcotic bowel syndrome: over time, chronic abdominal pain may result from long-term opiate abuse.6
- Overdose and death.
Even though you may have friends or close acquaintances who have fallen prey to these problems – and even though you may be worried about developing them yourself – you may still find you have difficulty quitting the drug.
What to Do If You Need Help Quitting
Now that you understand what opiate addiction typically looks like, you might be wondering what you should do about it.
The best thing you can do if you need help quitting is to contact your health provider or one of our recovery advisors by calling 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers?. These individuals can help discuss with you your options for recovering in a supportive and comfortable manner.
You may be feeling some level of fear as you consider seeking help for your addiction. It’s important to take a closer look at your fears so you can overcome them and get the help you need to recover.
Fear of Legal Repercussions
If you’re concerned about talking to your doctor for fear of law enforcement action, you can relax. Your doctor has agreed to practice under strict patient privacy regulations (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA) and cannot disclose your discussion to officials. You won’t be arrested for disclosing your drug use at your appointment.
Fear of Judgement
If you’re concerned about being judged, there is another reason to be hopeful. Experts know that opiate addictions such as yours aren’t caused by weakness or low morals. They won’t judge you.
Instead, it’s likely that your doctor will be concerned about your addiction and will be motivated to get you the help you need. Taking this courageous step towards help may result in your entering into a treatment program that could save your life – a lasting reward that is well worth some possible temporary discomfort.
Testimony of Recovery: Maggie’s Story
“I started using heroin when I was 18. I’d used prescription painkillers for years for a back injury, and when I could no longer get my prescription filled, I just skipped right over to the hard stuff.
Part of my brain couldn’t believe that I was shooting up heroin. It was the one thing I told myself I’d never do, yet I was shooting up for months.
When I had lost my husband, my kids, my job and then my home, I hit bottom and ended up in the emergency room with an overdose. They shuttled me into rehab, and I was really mad about that. I still thought I was in charge of my addiction.
In therapy, I learned more about how the addiction works, and I finally figured out how to control the beast. It’s something I still work on, every day, but I know I’ll never go back to drug use. I’ve learned too much to go back now.”
Types of Addiction Rehabilitation Facilities
Several different types of addiction treatment facilities are available for you to consider. All treatment types involve a phase of detox – or ridding the body of the substance – followed by some combination of individual, group or family therapy.
- Luxury rehab programs provide residential treatment alongside a wide range of plush, resort-like amenities that can make your recovery experience more comfortable.
- Executive rehab programs also provide residential treatment alongside high-end amenities – with the additional benefit of allowing busy professionals to stay actively engaged in their workplace during the course of their treatment.
- Traditional rehab programs offer both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment. While they don’t offer the same variety of extra amenities as luxury or executive programs, they also come with a correspondingly lower price tag for those who need a more affordable option.
Learn More and Get Help
If you’d like to learn more about your treatment options, call 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers? to speak with one of our rehabilitation advisors. We would be happy to help answer any questions you may have and walk with you in your first steps towards a new life without addiction.
- Opiate Withdrawal. U. S. National Library of Medicine.
- DrugFacts: Heroin. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Prescription Pain Medicines–An Addictive Path? (2007). National Institute of Health, Medline Plus.
- Morabia, A., Fabre, J., Ghee, E., Zeger, S., Orsat, E., Robert A. (2006). Diet and opiate addiction: a quantitative assessment of the diet of non-institutionalized opiate addicts. British J of Addiction, 84(2), 173-180.
- Reece, A. S. (2008). Experience of road and other trauma by the opiate dependent patient: a survey report. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy, 3:10.
- Grunkemeier, D. M., Cassara, J. E., Dalton, C. B., Drossman, D. A. (2007). The narcotic bowel syndrome: clinical features, pathophysiology, and management. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol., 5(10), 1126.