Signs & Symptoms of Opioid Addiction
Table of Contents
Opioids are abused worldwide and carry some of the highest risks of addiction and overdose. Once drug addiction has developed, it can be difficult to overcome without help, as detox and withdrawal from these substances can be extremely painful. If you are concerned about someone you know, then it’s important to speak in confidence to one of our team specialists, who will assess the extent of your problem and make recommendations for treatment.
The Difference between Opioids & Opiates
Opioids and opiates exist in different forms, from illicit to prescription to over-the-counter. This class of drugs produces intense feelings of euphoria. It affects the central nervous system classifying them as psychoactive, meaning mind-altering. Opioids trigger endorphins that help numb pain and increase pleasure, which is why they are commonly prescribed for pain relief. Opioids and opiates are terms often used interchangeably. The term opioid was originally used to differentiate synthetic opiates from pure opiates. ‘Opioid’ is now the umbrella term used to define the type of drug that includes any opiate-based drug.
Have you been prescribed opioid drugs for chronic pain only to find when your prescription runs out, you’re left with extreme cravings for the drug?
Most pain meds prescribed as pain relievers by a doctor are opioid-based drugs that, when taken for too long or in higher doses than originally prescribed, can lead to psychological and physical dependence. Prescription drug addiction, which refers to the psychological dependence on prescribed drugs, can sometimes develop after short periods of exposure. But for those taking opioid medications for longer periods, the risk of physical dependence increases dramatically.
Even though in the UK, there have been calls to stop the use of opioids for long-term pain management, their continual use has already had a significant impact on many lives. Overprescribing opioids has majorly boosted the rates of addiction in our country. Furthermore, with access to black markets, including the dark web, many highly addictive opiates can be bought via online marketplaces, including its illicit form heroin.
Are Opiates and Opioids the Same?
Opiates and opioids are often used interchangeably, with one referring to the natural form and the latter being synthetically enhanced. Opioids are different in that they can be synthesised, often producing a more potent form of the drug. Synthetic opioids have all of the pain-relieving effects of opiates but are much easier and cheaper to mass produce for medicinal use. The difficulty here, however, is that more potent forms carry higher risks when abused.
The Most Commonly Abused Opiates and Opioids
Opioid drugs, both illicit and prescribed, have higher abuse rates due to their fast-acting but short-lived effects.
- Heroin: a highly addictive opioid drug closely related to morphine. Its medicinal version, ‘diamorphine’, is used sparingly to treat severe pain, typically following an operation.
- Methadone: used to treat pain and as a substitute for heroin in the treatment of heroin addiction.
- Morphine: a potent prescription opioid used to treat acute pain, such as that associated with cancer or surgery.
- Oxycodone: a prescription opioid painkiller that is commonly abused. It is sold under brands such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Roxicodone.
- Fentanyl: a synthetic opioid that is many times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl is linked to many overdose deaths in the US.
- Codeine: a prescription opioid used to treat mild to moderate pain, coughing, and diarrhoea. A less potent form mixed with paracetamol can be bought over-the-counter (co-codamol)
- Buprenorphine: Similar to Methadone, it treats opioid dependence and chronic pain.
How Opioid Misuse & Dependence Develops
Often opioid dependence starts with medication properly prescribed by a GP for acute or chronic pain relief. If this happened to you, and you feel the withdrawal symptoms when you were supposed to stop your treatment, you may have started abusing. You may have never intended to abuse drugs or even to ‘get high’.
Continual use alters the opioid receptors in the brain and stimulates the brain’s reward system producing a surge of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure-seeking and reward. Over time, this reward or rush of euphoria begins to diminish, and higher doses are required to achieve the same effects (tolerance).
Coming to Terms with an Opiate Problem
Addiction is an illness that feels inescapable to the person suffering. You may strongly desire to quit opioids but feel unable to do so due to withdrawal symptoms or because you feel they help you somehow. Like all forms of addiction, prioritising opiate use over other commitments is a common sign of drug dependence.
Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms to Be Aware Of:
- Using a friend or family member’s medication
- Visiting various doctors requesting pain medications
- Borrowing or selling valuable items for money
- Risk-taking such as drug driving
- Decreased interest in hobbies or activities that you once enjoyed
- Deception/lying about your use of opioids
- Mood and sleep disturbances
- Obsessive and compulsive thoughts around opioid use
- Feeling anxious or restless when unable to use opioids
Recognising the Signs of Abuse in Others
If you’re concerned that someone you know is abusing opioids, look for the following signs:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Eye flickering or rolling
- Ghost-like appearance (pale skin)
- Difficulty in concentrating or responding
- Withdrawal Symptoms
Get the Help You Need
At CATCH, we understand the challenges you’re facing and we’re here to help.
If you’ve recently stopped taking an opiate or opioid drug, you may be exhibiting withdrawal signs. Withdrawal symptoms can be both physical or psychological, and the intensity in which you experience them will vary based on factors including:
- The amount or dose you are taking
- The presence of other substance abuse issues
- Pre-existing mental health problems
- The length of time you have been abusing opiates
Physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms:
- Muscle aches and pains
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea and stomach cramps
- Sweating and chills
- Runny nose and watery eyes
- Restlessness and insomnia
- Rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure
- Increased anxiety or paranoia
- Tremors and seizures (in severe cases)
- You will feel sensitive to touch and pain
- Psychological symptoms that were masked by opioid use may return
- You experience intense cravings for the drug
- You fall back into the cycle of drug abuse to alleviate withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms are sometimes managed by opioid antagonists such as naloxone and naltrexone. They are also often used in overdose cases to counter the immediate damage caused to the system.
The cycle of opioid abuse, developed tolerance and withdrawal can be particularly dangerous, and it’s important to understand the associated risks:
- When attempting to quit opioids, your level of tolerance decreases alongside the presence of withdrawal symptoms
- Due to the nature of dependence, you experience difficult feelings or cravings
- You return to opioid use at a previous dose
- Due to decreased tolerance levels, you are unaware that the previous dose may be putting you at risk
You can end the cycle of abuse and withdrawal today by taking the first steps towards a better, healthier future. Call us today to begin the recovery process.
Supporting Someone Struggling
If someone close to you is struggling with opioid addiction, one of the best things you can do is listen and support them without judging their condition or the toll it may be taking on them.
It isn’t easy for someone to admit they have a substance abuse problem, and accepting their circumstance and sharing their insights is a big step towards beginning the recovery process. Once they’ve admitted a problem, it is easier to direct them to professional help.
Advise them to talk to a GP who may be able to help with withdrawal symptom management, but understand that this alone will not combat the psychological nature of dependence.
If you’re finding it difficult to approach the subject with them, we can help you stage an intervention with the support of a highly specialised addiction treatment specialist.
Find Out if Outpatient Therapy Is Right for You
How We Can Help You
With over forty years of experience treating opioid addiction, CATCH Recovery is a trusted service within the Castle Health network. We provide comprehensive treatment services for those struggling with opioid addiction, using the latest evidence-based therapies shown to treat addiction at its core.
Your treatment plan will be tailored to your individual needs under the care of our highly experienced and dedicated professionals.
Assessment of Your Needs
We must get to know you and your personal history with opiates. The assessment will be conducted by our in-house team here at CATCH Recovery.
As part of your assessment, we will ask you some additional questions about:
- Your mental health history
- Any other substances you are taking or prescribed
- Any family history of substance abuse
- What are your goals
The results of the assessment will determine the treatment options we will be able to offer you. As part of your treatment offering, you will be assigned a dedicated therapist from the team here at CATCH. They will be responsible for planning and implementing your recovery plan.
The Purpose of Therapy
CATCH Recovery uses evidence-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), trauma therapy and EMDR to help tackle the underlying causes of your opiate addiction issues. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing has been formally researched to treat trauma patients with positive outcomes.
In conjunction with the primary offering at CATCH, we extend our services to family members or those affected by drug use.
Help you recognise the impact drug use is having on your life
Develop coping strategies for dealing with difficult emotions or feelings
Support you through the early stages of recovery
Equip you with the preventative tools necessary for long-term recovery success
Maintaining Your Recovery
At CATCH Recovery, we recognise that triggers and temptations can be difficult in the early stages of recovery, and to help support you with your new goals, we can arrange for a sober coach to work with you in implementing your plans.
Your sober coach can help you with the following:
- Stay on track with your recovery
- Put together a plan for the future
- Attend support groups in your local area
Taking a Break
We all need a break from the everyday worries of life, and it can be especially important when trying to overcome addiction. Taking time out to focus on yourself and the things that make you happy can be a great way to help manage stress levels.
If you can take a break, we recommend getting outdoors and doing something active or creative, such as walking in nature or painting. This can help keep your mind off negative thoughts or worries and give you something to look forward to. Additionally, talking to a friend or family member that you trust can be beneficial in helping manage stress and anxiety.
CATCH Recovery has a few outdoor therapies and options, including a unique opportunity to travel to Portugal for therapeutic sessions (sober holidays). Ask about our additional services when you call so that we can discuss them!