Opiate addiction is one of the hardest addictions to face. That’s because the effects that opioid-based drugs have on the body cause severe and debilitating withdrawal symptoms. When a person ingests an opioid such as heroin or prescription painkillers like Oxycodone, Vicodin or Fentanyl, that person’s brain chemistry adapts to the opioids. The way the brain adapts is not positive and it’s how countless men and women become hooked on these drugs.
Normal brain function includes the production of endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers that the brain releases to help people tolerate pain and stress. When a person supplements the natural pain killers in the brain by ingesting opiate-based drugs, the brain over time lowers its production of endorphins. Your body thinks they are not needed due to the supply being met with drugs. This is one of the physiological reasons that opioid addicts feel so terrible when they stop taking opioids. Their bodies do not have a supply built up of endorphins to alleviate pain and stress naturally.
How Does Opiate Addiction Happen?
When a person is addicted to opiates, the neurotransmitter dopamine gets overactivated and then depleted because of the stimulation that opiates cause. Dopamine is necessary for how the brain functions. It affects memory, learning, mood, sleep, and motor control. Without enough dopamine in the body, a person is susceptible to depression and other medical conditions. For an opiate addict, the brain is essentially left defenseless without any supply of natural painkillers that dopamine and endorphins provide. Therefore, the symptoms of opiate withdrawal are dangerous and severe.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information, NCBI, states that when
“Opiates travel through the bloodstream to the brain, the chemicals attach to specialized proteins, called mu-opioid receptors, on the surfaces of opiate-sensitive neurons (brain cells). The linkage of these chemicals with the receptors triggers the same biochemical brain processes that reward people with feelings of pleasure when they engage in activities that promote basic life functions, such as eating and sex and motivate repeated use of the drug simply for pleasure…that results in the release of the chemical dopamine… This release of dopamine causes feelings of pleasure. Other areas of the brain create a lasting record or memory that associates these good feelings with the circumstances and the environment in which they occur. These memories, called conditioned associations, often lead to the craving for drugs…”(NCBI).
The symptoms that a person experiences from opiate addiction increase with time after the last use of the drug. People that have been addicted to opiates longer also begin to feel withdrawal symptoms quicker. The length of addiction is extremely relevant to how soon physical withdrawal symptoms begin but not necessarily how severe they will be. A person who has only been addicted to opiates for one year compared to five years will also feel the physical withdrawal symptoms differently.
Most Common Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms
The opioid withdrawal symptoms start in as little to 6 hours since the last use of these drugs. One of the first signs of withdrawal is uncontrollable sneezing, watery eyes, and yawning. At this early stage of withdrawal, some addicts also become sleepy but only briefly as it is more common to progress towards restlessness and insomnia. An inability to remain still becomes present, and after 12 hours without the drug, the term ‘kicking’ is relevant.
After one day has passed, more unpleasant symptoms that include nausea and vomiting begin. The person also sweats profusely and is unable to function. This inability includes not being able to walk a great distance, eat, drink fluids, or rest. The first three days of opiate withdrawal are the most severe, as well as dangerous. A person is extremely susceptible to relapse during this time and a lot of accidental overdoses happen this way. Another common withdrawal symptom that lasts beyond three days and even as long as two weeks is insomnia.
Individuals who are addicted to opiates do not have normal brain responses, and therefore, their ability to release sleep-inducing hormones like endorphins and serotonin cause severe insomnia. Insomnia alone is not a medical emergency, but the depression and anxiety that occurs as a result of not sleeping can lead to suicidal thoughts and plans. Other medical concerns include increased sweating that leads to dehydration, increased heart rate, and palpitations, as well as the potential for cardiac arrest. All of these dangerous symptoms are possible when a person endures detoxification without medical supervision.
Getting Over Opioid Detox
Once, a person gets through the first 3-5 days of vomiting, sweating, body aches, and tremors, hallucinations and depression, their inability to emotionally and mentally cope without the drugs is dangerous and again the potential for accidental relapse increases. It is not recommended that any person who is addicted to opiates to attempt the detox process alone. Our inpatient opioid detox center provides the safest and most effective medications that are proven to diminish and ease opioid withdrawal.
Medication-assisted treatment often includes Suboxone, Naltrexone, and Vivitrol to reduce and eliminate opiate drug withdrawal symptoms. Along with these medications and professional staff of medical practitioners who specialize in addiction detoxification, our clients are safe and attended to around the clock. We also provide emotional and mental support during detoxification. Opiate addicts are often described as detached individuals who are just numbing themselves, but in reality, this is quite the opposite. Most opioid addicts carry with them a tremendous level of emotional pain that becomes raw once they are clean off opiates. Our staff is sympathetic and remains supportive of each client for as long as they need them to be there.
Getting clean off opiates is what all opioid addicts want. Their lifestyles are difficult, and it is because of the severity of the physical withdrawal symptoms, that they cannot successfully quit on their own. Medically supervised detoxification that utilizes Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is now the new standard for the treatment of opioid addiction. Our detox utilizes MAT as a method for helping people detox easily and safely from opiate dependence.