Understanding Opioid Addiction

Understanding Opioid Addiction

Did you know that on average, 78 Americans die every day from opioid overdose? Opioid addiction is more common than you think. Millions of Americans are prescribed opiates to treat injuries or illnesses, but most are unaware of the long-term effects on their bodies.    

Is it really all in your head? 
The key to understanding opioid addiction begins with your brain.  How does the addiction occur and why is it so prevalent? If you have ever fractured a bone or had to have surgery, you probably took an opiate for pain. With as many as 100 million people suffering from chronic pain, opioids have become the treatment of choice. It’s what happens to your brain while taking the medication that really holds the answer.   

Many people are unaware that opioids are also produced by your body. If you are ever severely injured, naturally occurring opioids provide pain relief until you can seek medical attention. Endorphins are a naturally occurring type of opioid. You probably have heard of the term “exercise euphoria,” which occurs when endorphins are released by the brain. For example, it’s the great feeling you get after working out. Natural opioids trigger receptors in your brain that mimic pleasure and act as a pain reliever. Once your brain gets used to the ingested opiates, your body slows down the production of natural ones.   

Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t automatically begin creating opioids once you stop your medication. The human body will take some time to start producing opioids again. It will be a while before your body can create enough opioids to make you feel better.

Recognize the signs
Opioid dependence can happen to anyone. How can you tell if you are addicted? Are you taking more than is prescribed or having trouble discontinuing use?  These are some of the early signs that your medication is becoming a problem. Here are the most common symptoms of opioid addiction:    

  • Anxiety
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

As with any drug addiction, the withdrawal symptoms make it harder for you to stop. The physical symptoms can last somewhere between seven days to a month, while the emotional ones can continue for several months.   

The good news
There are several options for treating prescription opioid addiction. Now that you know the signs, talk with your doctor about treatment options.  Medically supervised therapies can help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and get you on the road to a healthier you.