Opiate Drug Abuse: Signs, Symptoms, Detox and Rehab Treatment

What Are Opiates?

Opiates are drugs derived from opium, itself a drug obtained from the opium poppy. They include, or are ingredients in, a large number of over-the-counter and prescription drugs, including codeine, thebaine and morphine, as well as several illegal drugs (for example heroin, which is not strictly speaking an opiate but an opioid, but is common to as the former), and are used medically primarily for their analgesic properties. They are also commonly used recreationally for their euphoric effects; however, they are extremely addictive and potentially deadly when taken to excess, and have been responsible for a huge number of deaths in the Western world in recent years thanks to their widespread availability. Indeed it is now common to refer to the “opiate epidemic” when discussing their proliferation and the huge damage being caused by opiate abuse. In the UK, 54% of all drug-related deaths each year involve opiates.

Effects Of Opiate Addiction

While opiates are available recreationally, many people first become addicted after being prescribed them for chronic pain conditions. Opiates are both psychologically and physically addictive, and dependence – when a user’s body becomes reliant upon the presence of opiates in the system to function normally – can develop extremely quickly.

Taking opiates produces a very pleasurable euphoric “high” alongside their analgesic effects, and many users continue to take the drugs beyond recommended safe periods to achieve that “high”. Within a short time, the absence of opiates in the system will produce negative symptoms (see “Withdrawal and Detoxification” below) which only the consumption of more opiates will dispel. The user – by now an addict – will increasingly become focused solely on the procurement and consumption of opiates and may go to extreme lengths to obtain them. Meanwhile their life becomes dominated by the drugs, as hitherto-valued relationships, goals and activities give way to drug abuse. Before long they may be struggling financially and professionally, and life can continue to spiral downwards unless they are able to break the addiction.

Signs And Symptoms Of Abuse

Prescription opiates usually come in tablet form, and while these can be ground up and injected – with consequent signs in the form of puncture marks – or smoked, their abuse is mostly without visible signs of that type. It can also be quite hard to tell if someone is under the influence of opiates if their dosages are not especially high. However past a certain dosage – which will vary from one user to another – they will become visibly intoxicated, demonstrating a pronounced drowsiness and perhaps lapsing into sleep or unconsciousness. The latter may be a sign of overdose which can prove fatal without prompt medical attention.

Signs that someone is struggling with an opiate addiction may include; “doctor shopping” to obtain multiple prescriptions; lying to friends and family about the extent of their drug habit; constant financial worries and the acquisition of debt or even resorting to criminal behaviour, possibly including theft and/or prostitution, to fund their habit; a withdrawal from active life and a self-imposed isolation; greatly disrupted sleep patterns; regular absenteeism; a lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities; an abandonment of hitherto-treasured ambitions and goals; and the breakdown of relationships with loved ones, friends and colleagues.

Withdrawal And Detoxification Process

Because opiates are physically as well as psychologically addictive, withdrawal – which occurs when an addict stops taking opiates and their body readjusts to their absence within their system – can be especially uncomfortable and unpleasant. Any addiction treatment must nevertheless begin with a period of detoxification (“detox”), during which the addict’s body is cleansed of all substances of abuse. Withdrawal can be hazardous for the addict’s physical and mental health – many opiate addicts have become so depressed during withdrawal that they have committed suicide, while others who have relapsed in order to escape the worst symptoms of withdrawal have overdosed fatally because of taking larger doses than their systems could then tolerate – and as a result it is strongly advised that, if you are an opiate addict, you should not attempt to go through detox at home and/or by yourself.

Having the assistance of qualified medical professionals is considered absolutely indispensable. Partly because of this – alongside a host of other reasons – prescription drug rehabilitation (“rehab”) is considered the safest and most effective environment in which to go through detox. The presence of highly qualified medical team providing 24/7 therapeutic support can make withdrawal immeasurably more comfortable and infinitely safer.

Opiate Detox Timeline

Every case of addiction is different, and the process of withdrawal will vary from one addict to another depending on a range of factors including the length and severity of addiction, the dosages being consumed, and the physiology of the addict. Therefore it is impossible to provide a “one size fits all” withdrawal timeline that describes all cases. Nevertheless the following may be considered a rough guide to what to expect from opiate withdrawal.

  • 1-2 days: Cravings for more opiates may begin a few hours after the last dose. After a day or so you will start feeling extremely irritable, even aggressive, and increasingly anxious as you crave more drugs. You will start feeling a sore throat and flu-like symptoms; fatigue will set in.
  • 2-5 days: The peak of withdrawal will see pronounced flu-like symptoms – nausea and vomiting, sweating and shivering – and extreme restlessness and agitation. Insomnia and muscle spasms and pains will contribute to a very low mood and extreme fatigue and lethargy, and potentially suicidal ideation. Cravings will be intense.
  • 5-14 days: The worst will have passed, and the above symptoms will decline in severity and frequency although fatigue insomnia and depression will likely persist. Cravings will re-occur although they will be less intense.

If symptoms persist past two weeks you may be suffering from post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) which may require therapy.

Treating Opiate Addiction

Since the proliferation of opiate abuse and addiction worldwide a large number of different treatment methods have emerged. Some of these are not endorsed by the medical community, and may be extremely dangerous to the user; do not embark on a course of treatment – especially one which you have found online without a recommendation from a doctor or addiction specialist – without consulting your GP.

Your GP should always be your first port of call and you may wish to discuss with them options such as private addiction counselling, NHS services and support groups. However, the consensus amongst the medical community is that rehab is the most effective treatment option for long-term recovery as only rehab provides a holistic combination of medically assisted detox, a variety of therapy models, dietary and fitness plans, peer group support and reliable confidentiality.

Detox & Rehab Benefits

Rehab has proven extraordinarily successful in helping countless addicts to achieve long-term recovery. As opiates have become more and more prevalent and damaging across the UK, an ever-greater number of opiate addicts are finding the help they need in rehab.

Some of the advantages of rehab include:

  • A medical detox, where highly qualified professionals will make the addict’s journey through withdrawal as comfortable and safe as possible.
  • Pleasant, peaceful surroundings in which an addict can focus wholly on his or her recovery.
  • A broad range of therapy options to ensure the most appropriate therapeutic care for each patient.
  • Group therapy, providing patients with a peer group of those who have been through similar experiences and can share advice and support.
  • Bespoke dietary and fitness plans, working on the principle of “healthy body, healthy mind”.
  • Complete confidentiality to ensure that patients need not be concerned about details of their condition becoming public knowledge.
  • One year’s free aftercare, providing supplementary support as the recovering addict readjusts to a drug-free life.

Next Steps

If you are struggling with an addiction to opiates, you are by no means alone: unfortunately many thousands of Britons are dependent on these drugs. However one silver lining to this greatly problematic cloud is that there is now a great level of expertise in dealing with this condition, and if you are ready to take the first key step and reach out for help, that expertise can be at your disposal. Addiction is a terrible illness and places huge strain on the addict and on those around, and overcoming addiction can genuinely mean the difference between life and death. In order to avoid becoming another tragic statistic, and to get back on the path towards a happy, healthy, successful life, get in touch with one of our addiction specialists today.

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