Opioid addiction is a growing problem in the UK, with 140,863 people seeking treatment for their dependence on opiates in 2021. These people represented 51% of all people in drug addiction treatment, which demonstrates just how prevalent the opioid problem currently is. Sadly opioid addiction, whether it is to illegal opiates like heroin or prescription drugs like codeine or oxycodone, has the potential to destroy lives. If you are struggling to control the amount of opioids you use, Recovery Lighthouse can help set you on the right path again.
What are opioids?
‘Opioid’ is an umbrella term used to describe a broad range of drugs. Opioids can be derived directly from the poppy seed plant, for example, morphine and codeine, or they can be synthesised, for example, fentanyl and methadone.
Regardless of how they are made, all opioids target and bind to opioid receptors in the brain which then blocks feelings of pain, producing an analgesic effect. It is because of this that many opioids are used in the medical field. However, despite having legitimate uses, opioids also have a high potential for abuse and addiction.
Why are opioids addictive?
Opioid addiction is defined as the compulsive use of opioids despite any detrimental effects. As well as their pain-relieving properties, opioids also produce intense feelings of pleasure and euphoria. These feel-good effects trigger the brain’s reward system which is what encourages you to come back for more. With continued use, you may find yourself needing increasingly higher doses of the drugs to feel the same effect – this is known as tolerance and is the first sign of an opioid addiction developing.
Studies have shown that escalating doses of opioids alter the brain’s function, meaning that you will feel abnormal or unwell without the drug. You may experience withdrawal symptoms if you do not take opioids and this is often a strong factor in keeping you dependent. As an opioid addiction develops, it is possible you will experience powerful cravings for the drug and may have to take opioids just to get through the day.
If you continue to use opioids regardless of the negative impact it is having on your health, finances, work or relationships, it is time to consider opioid addiction treatment.
How do I know if I have an opioid addiction?
Whether you were prescribed opioids to relieve pain and it has escalated or you began using opioids recreationally, it is vital to know the signs of opioid addiction and get help as soon as possible. Addiction is a progressive condition and without the right treatment, it could spiral out of control very quickly.
Take a moment to read the following statements and see if any apply to you:
- I find myself thinking about opioids often and am always preoccupied with my next dose
- I have noticed that I need higher doses of opioids to feel the same effects
- I experience withdrawal symptoms if I abstain or reduce my opioid intake
- I have tried to stop taking opioids but was unable to
- My performance at work has suffered as a result of my opioid use
- I have experienced problems in my relationships due to opioids
- I am unable to keep up with my day-to-day responsibilities or commitments because of my opioid use
- My friends and family have expressed concerns about my opioid use
If you can relate to any of these statements, it is likely that you have an addiction to opioids. The good news is that its possible to overcome this condition with the right support. Admitting you need help and taking steps to manage your opioid addiction is never easy, but it is the only way to turn your life around for the better.
Am I at risk of opioid addiction?
If you are taking opioids, sadly you are at risk of developing an addiction. Opioid addiction does not discriminate and can affect anyone, no matter their age, gender, race or social class. There are a number of ways opioid addiction can develop, including via a prescription from your doctor or recreational use.
Opioids are an effective way to manage pain and may be prescribed by your doctor for a number of reasons, for example, after surgery or a severe injury. They can even be used to supress coughing or to help with diarrhea. If you are given opioids for medical reasons, it is important to be aware of the possibility of addiction. You are more at risk of opioid addiction if:
- You take higher doses of opioids than prescribed
- You take opioids more frequently than prescribed
- You take opioids for more than a few days
It is very difficult to renew an opioid prescription as most doctors are aware of the risk of addiction. This can lead you to search for your next fix via illegal means, with many having to satisfy their cravings with heroin – a much cheaper and easier to access opioid.
Recreational opioid use…
Many individuals also take opioids recreationally due to the pleasant high they produce and this can put you at a high risk of developing an opioid addiction. This is exacerbated further if:
- You take opioids by snorting or injecting them
- You suffer from mental health issues
- You have experienced past trauma
- You live in poverty
- You have a family history of substance addiction
- You find it difficult to cope with stress
- You often engage in thrill-seeking behaviour
- You began taking substances at a young age
The dangers of opioids
Each opioid drug presents its own side effects and dangers, however, some of the most common risks associated with opioid use include:
- Drowsiness and sedation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Feeling itchy
- Slowed, shallow breathing
- Hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain)
- Irregular heartbeat
- Hormonal imbalances
- Weakened immune system
- Increased risk of mental health issues
- Increased sensitivity to pain with chronic use
Overdose is also a very real risk when taking opioids, especially if you have developed a tolerance and have been taking opioids for some time, or if you mix opioids with other substances. Signs of an opioid overdose include:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Unable to speak
- Respiratory depression
- Pale, clammy skin
- Blueish fingernails and lips
Opioids are responsible for over half of all drug-related deaths, killing 2,219 people in 2021 alone. If you suspect an opioid overdose, it is important to act quickly and seek urgent medical attention.
Handling an opioid addiction
Do you think you have an opioid addiction but don’t know what steps to take next? It can be difficult to know what to do and where to turn for help, but it is important to know that you are not alone.
Some steps to take if you think you have an opioid addiction include:
- Admit you need help: there is no shame in reaching out if you need support in overcoming your opioid addiction.
- Research treatment options: find the right opioid treatment plan for your individual needs.
- Talk to a trusted person: a friend or family member will give you encouragement and will also hold you accountable.
- Avoid triggers: stay away from places or people that may trigger an opioid relapse.
- Don’t back track: it is easy to back track into a place of denial. Your opioid addiction will try to tell you everything is fine, one dose now and again won’t hurt. But this is a slippery slope back down the path of addiction.
- Look after yourself: eat a healthy diet, engage in regular exercise, take time to breathe and indulge in self-care. Creating healthy habits like this will help to boost feel-good chemicals naturally and aid your body as it recovers from opioid addiction.
Recovering from opioid addiction will be full of ups and downs, but by following these steps and battling your opioid addiction head-on, you can begin to enjoy a drug-free life.
Treatment for opioid addiction
If you’re struggling with opioid addiction, Recovery Lighthouse provides an inpatient rehab programme that can help you to address both your physical and psychological addiction to opioids. Our team is dedicated to your successful recovery from opioids and can give you all the tools you need to reach your goals.
Our opioid addiction treatment plan involves three main stages:
- Opioid detox – this stage focuses on breaking your physical dependence on opioids and supports you as your body withdraws from substances. Our team of medical professionals ensure your safety and comfort as your body expels traces of opioids and begins the healing process.
- Opioid rehab – this is a vital element of treatment which involves both individual and group therapy sessions. Without addressing the psychological aspects of your opioid addiction through therapy, it is unlikely that you will be able to maintain your recovery. This process will help you to pinpoint triggers, identify unhealthy behaviour patterns and learn essential coping skills to take forward into everyday life.
- Aftercare – this is another important aspect of treatment, and one that should not be bypassed. Attending weekly support groups provides you will ongoing accountability, as well as a community to turn to when things get tough. Aftercare keeps you on track as you continue your opioid recovery. Recovery Lighthouse offers one year of free aftercare to all of our clients.
Freedom from opioid addiction
By breaking free from opioid addiction, you can find renewed hope, joy and purpose in life. Recovering from opioid use disorder involves hard work and dedication, but the rewards can be immense. Succeeding in overcoming opioid addiction gives you the opportunity to create stronger relationships with loved ones, improve your physical and mental well-being, provides more time for leisure activities, increases your job productivity and even allows you to reverse the damage that opioids have caused to your body. Liberation from an opioid addiction can also lead to an increased sense of self-worth and self-efficacy as you learn how capable you are of making positive changes in your life.