By Jessica Allender, LCADC, LCDC III, Assistant Regional Director, Pinnacle Treatment Centers, and Executive Director of NKY Med, an opioid treatment program in Covington, Kentucky
Opioids are a class of drugs used extensively in pain management due to their ability to bind with opioid receptors throughout the body. The opioid receptors in your body regulate a multitude of functions ranging from pain, addiction, emotional state, immune function, etc. The very act of synthetically interfering with these receptors is fraught with risk and can throw the body into an imbalance that may result in a dependence on the drug.
Opioid use disorder stems from the very nature of the drug and the strong effect it has on the mind and the body of the individual. While pain management is the initial need, the onset of depression and physical dependence on the drug can quickly take hold and create a vicious circle of addiction.
How to Manage the Risks of Opioids?
One of the best things you can do to manage the risks is to explore alternatives to opioids at the very beginning. Safe usage of opioids is an oxymoron as the addictive properties of the drug are that strong.
Once already on a medically prescribed opioid, it is vital to follow physicians’ instructions and pay close attention to all symptoms and side effects. The onset of physical and mental dependence on the drug is a key early warning to watch for and communicate with your physician so that he or she may take action to mitigate full blown addiction.
While opioids have their place in the medical professionals tool box they should remain a last resort. From a patient’s perspective, opioids should be treated with the utmost respect and used for the intended purpose to help them through periods of extreme pain.
High Risk Opioid Users
The likelihood of addiction and the severity of addiction depend on a complex range of factors that come together to create that perfect storm that is unique to each of us. Some of the common risk factors are:
- Underlying psychiatric conditions
- Socioeconomic conditions
- History of substance use disorder
- Age and maturity level
- Past history of trauma
Symptoms to Watch Out For
While no one wants to be living under the cloud of addiction, it can occur based on the situation one finds themselves in. Careful observation of the changes taking place in and around you will provide key warning signs to act upon. Some of the most common symptoms of addiction are:
- Social isolation
- Neglected personal hygiene
- Changes in diet & energy levels
- Changes in mood & emotional state
- Erratic behavior
- Altered sleep patterns
- Irresponsible behavior towards day to day commitments
- Mismanagement of finances
- Engaging in criminal behavior
The risk of an overdose is ever present with opioids as over time the body builds up a tolerance to the drug. Once addiction has taken hold, the desire to obtain more and more of the drug outstrips any rational thoughts on the risks involved. Some signs of an overdose:
- Limp and unresponsive
- Restricted blood flow resulting in blue lips and fingertips
- Involuntary nausea and vomiting
- Shallow breathing and slow heartbeat
Seek medical help as soon as possible if you or someone close to you is experiencing an opioid overdose.
As easy as it may seem, simply stopping opioid use after a prolonged period of usage is generally not possible. The resulting withdrawal symptoms can result in excruciating pain and even death if not managed properly via a medically supervised detox and maintenance process.
Some gradual steps can be taken to slowly ween oneself off of opioids in the absence of full-blown physical dependence on the drug. Such steps would include:
- Setting and adhering to strict limits on usage
- Keeping close track of usage
- Occupy the mind and body with sport or hobbies
- Seek professional help from an addiction specialist
- Seek the help of friends and family
- Avoid temptation and keep a positive mindset
Help is at Hand
Despite your best efforts, if you are unable to overcome the hold opioids have on you, worry not. Help is always available and there are many evidence-based treatments and therapies to achieve the ultimate goal of helping one lead a drug-free life.
Headquartered in New Jersey, Pinnacle Treatment Centers is a recognized leader in comprehensive drug and alcohol addiction treatment serving more than 28,000 patients daily in California, Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. With more than 110 community-based locations, Pinnacle provides a full continuum of quality care for adult men and women which includes medically-monitored detoxification/withdrawal management, inpatient/residential treatment, partial hospitalization/care, sober living, intensive and general outpatient programming, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder. For more information, visit pinnacletreatment.com or call 800-782-1520.