Opioids are a class of drugs that include both prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, and illegal drugs like heroin.

These drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, which help to alleviate pain and produce feelings of pleasure and relaxation. Unfortunately, frequent use of opioids can lead to addiction, which is characterized by a compulsive need to continue using the drug despite the negative consequences.

Opioid addiction is a chronic disease that can have devastating effects on your health and your life. From the outside, it often looks like you’re weak, but it’s important to recognize that addiction is not a sign of a lack of willpower.

Instead, addiction is caused by many different factors, including genetics, environment, and other psychological factors. To successfully overcome opioid addiction, it’s essential to understand the nature of the disease — it’s going to take more than just trying really hard to beat this.

One of the primary reasons why opioid addiction is so common is the high risk of developing a dependency on these drugs. When you take opioids regularly, your body becomes accustomed to the presence of your drug of choice. Over time, you’re almost guaranteed to develop a tolerance.

This means that you need to take increasingly larger doses of the drug to achieve the same effect. Over time, this can lead to physical dependence, where your body requires the drug to function normally.

At this stage, you’ll almost certainly experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop using, which can make it extremely difficult to quit.

Withdrawal often feels like an extremely bad flu, with all the accompanying symptoms — on top of that, you have an effective cure right at your fingertips: more opioids.

Withdrawal is often so miserable that addicts are willing to go back to the drug rather than try to push through. Once this cycle has begun, it’s very difficult to get out of without treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

If you’re not sure if you or someone you know is struggling with opioids, there are some signs and symptoms to watch out for:

  • Taking opioids in larger amounts or for longer periods than prescribed
  • Developing a tolerance to the drug, requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, sweating, and anxiety, when attempting to stop or reduce opioid use
  • Spending a significant amount of time and effort obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of opioids
  • Neglecting personal and professional responsibilities due to opioid use
  • Continuing to use opioids despite the negative impact on relationships, work, or health
  • Abandoning previously enjoyed activities in favor of opioid use
  • Developing secretive or dishonest behaviors in order to obtain and use opioids
  • Taking risks, such as driving under the influence or using opioids in dangerous situations
  • Experiencing cravings or an intense desire to use opioids
  • Having extremely small pupils or glazed eyes
  • Acting restless and/or irritable when on opioids or when you’ve run out
  • Passing out or falling asleep for a very short period of time and then waking up abruptly, often in the middle of something else (work, a conversation, or even driving)

If you or someone you know is exhibiting these signs, it’s essential to seek help immediately. Early intervention can significantly improve the chances of successful recovery.

Opioid Addiction and Mental Health

There’s a strong connection between opioid addiction and mental health — people with mental health disorders are more likely to develop substance use disorders and vice versa.

In many cases, people may use opioids as a form of self-medication to cope with the symptoms of an underlying mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The unfortunate reality is that these drugs often make things worse in the long run, including making the symptoms of anxiety or depression worse. Over time, as the drug loses its effectiveness, you’re left with an addiction that does nothing to help your mental health issues.

Co-occurring mental health disorders can complicate the recovery process as these issues must be addressed at the same time you’re struggling to get sober. If your mental health isn’t improved, it’s far more likely that you’ll return to your opioid of choice to deal with the pain.

That’s why it’s so important to get a thorough assessment and appropriate treatment for any underlying mental health conditions. This integrated approach can significantly improve your chances of achieving long-term recovery.

Opioid Treatment Options

There are several evidence-based opioid treatment options available to help you overcome addiction and achieve lasting recovery. These treatments may be used in combination to create a comprehensive, personalized plan to address your unique needs.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is one approach to opioid addiction that combines the use of long-acting, less-abusable opioid medications with behavioral therapy and counseling. There are three primary medications approved for opioid addiction:

  • Methadone: A synthetic opioid that helps to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings by binding to the same opioid receptors in the brain as other opioids, but without producing the more intense high that comes from other opioids. Methadone is usually given in a liquid form to prevent addicts from injecting it, and it’s taken once a day.
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone): A partial opioid agonist that also binds to opioid receptors but has a weaker effect, reducing cravings and preventing withdrawal symptoms without producing a significant high. It may be taken from 1 to 3 times a day.
  • Naltrexone: An opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids on the brain, preventing a high if opioids are used.

These medications can help to stabilize you in early recovery, allowing you to focus on dealing with deeper problems, like mental health or trauma.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is a critical component of opioid addiction recovery as it helps you develop healthier coping mechanisms, improve communication and problem-solving skills, and address the underlying causes of your addiction.

There are several types of behavioral therapy that may be used in opioid treatment, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This approach focuses on helping you to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that are making your addiction worse.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): Originally developed for people with borderline personality disorder, DBT combines elements of CBT with mindfulness techniques to help you develop emotional regulation skills and improve interpersonal relationships.
  • Motivational interviewing: This client-centered approach aims to help you increase your motivation to change and overcome a lack of interest in recovery.

Inpatient and Outpatient Programs

Depending on the severity of your addiction, you may benefit from either inpatient or outpatient opioid treatment programs.

Inpatient programs provide a structured, supportive environment in which you can focus on your recovery without the distractions and triggers of your everyday life.

These programs typically offer a combination of medication-assisted treatment, individual and group therapy, and support services to help you develop the skills and resources necessary for long-term recovery.

Outpatient programs, like IOP (intensive outpatient program), provide more flexibility, allowing you to maintain your work and family commitments while still participating in treatment.

These programs may include medication-assisted treatment, therapy sessions, or support groups, and they may be used as a step-down from inpatient care or as a primary treatment option for those with less severe addiction.

The Shot for Opioid Addiction: An Innovative Approach

One innovative approach to opioid addiction treatment is the shot (brand name VIVITROL), which is an extended-release naltrexone injection.

This monthly injection provides a consistent dose of the opioid antagonist naltrexone, helping to reduce cravings and prevent relapse by blocking the effects of opioids on the brain.

VIVITROL offers several advantages over oral naltrexone, including improved adherence to treatment and a reduced risk of overdose.

Another big advantage is that, unlike methadone and Suboxone, VIVITROL is not an opioid — it will not get you high. Essentially, it stops you from being able to feel high on opioids, which can then have its own powerful psychological effects — if you know they won’t work, you’re less likely to take them.

However, it’s important to note that this treatment option is not appropriate for everyone and should be considered as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes behavioral therapy and support services.

Treating Opioid Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Approach

No matter what treatments you decide on, a comprehensive approach is best. You need to address the physical, psychological, and social aspects of addiction.

This may include a combination of medication-assisted treatment, behavioral therapy, support services, and aftercare planning to help you develop the skills and resources necessary for long-term recovery.

It’s rarely enough to just work the 12 Steps or just get therapy for your trauma. Because opioid addiction involves so many factors, you have to address each problem.

It’s important for you to work closely with their treatment team to develop a personalized plan that addresses your unique needs and circumstances.

This may involve ongoing assessments and adjustments to the treatment plan as needed, as well as open communication and collaboration between you, your family, and your treatment providers, which you will often find in both in-patient and outpatient programs, as well as with sober living.

The Importance of Aftercare

Aftercare is a critical component of preventing relapse. Aftercare may include ongoing therapy, support groups like SMART Recovery, medication management, and other services designed to help you navigate the challenges of early recovery and build a strong foundation for long-term success.

Some common aftercare services include:

  • Sober living homes: These structured, substance-free living environments provide a supportive community for you in early recovery, helping you to transition back into your daily life while maintaining your sobriety.
  • Support groups: Peer support groups, such as Cocaine Anonymous (CA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), offer a safe space for you to share your experiences, learn from others, and build a network of support.
  • Continued therapy: Ongoing therapy sessions can help you to continue addressing the underlying issues that contribute to your addiction and develop new coping strategies for managing stress and triggers.
  • Medication management: Continued medication-assisted treatment may be necessary for you to maintain your recovery and prevent relapse.

Finding Support in Recovery

Recovery from opioid addiction can be a challenging journey, but it’s important to know that you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you and your family navigate the recovery process.

Some resources for finding support include:

  • National Helpline: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a free, confidential helpline for people and families affected by substance use disorders. The helpline can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
  • Community organizations: Local organizations, such as faith-based groups, recovery centers, and community centers, may offer resources and support for you and your family.

It’s important to remember that recovery is a journey, and it may involve setbacks and challenges along the way. However, with the right support and resources, you can achieve lasting sobriety and live a healthy, fulfilling life in recovery.

You Can Do This

Opioid addiction is a complex and challenging issue, but recovery is possible. By understanding the nature of opioid addiction, recognizing the signs of addiction, and seeking appropriate treatment and support, you can overcome this disease and achieve lasting sobriety.

IOP at ASIC Recovery

Are you looking for addiction treatment in Texas? At ASIC, our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is dedicated to helping you develop healthier coping skills and build a supportive recovery network.

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