Opioid Addiction and Its Treatment

A new data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted the devastating impact of the opioid crisis that the U.S. is facing today. According to a recent Michigan State University study, 14- and 15-year-olds who use opioids for non-medical reasons are at a higher risk of getting addicted compared to older teens and young adults.

Medication for opioid withdrawal symptoms

Apart from easing the pain, effective medication means that a patient can disengage from drug seeking and related behavior, and he is more likely to be receptive to behavioral treatments. As discussed by the NIDA, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information, medication for withdrawal symptoms include methadone, buprenorphine, and for some individuals, naltrexone. Methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist, a chemical substance that can be used as a substitute for heroin or other opiates.

Buprenorphine has partial agonist properties. Researches have found different patterns of withdrawal symptoms when compared to methadone. Both methadone and buprenorphine work by suppressing withdrawal symptoms and relieving unbearable cravings, without providing the euphoria. These medications work on the same targets in the brain as heroin, morphine, and opioid pain drugs. Whilst using these drugs, an individual is still opioid dependent, but he is freed from its destructive addiction and can take steps to re-build his life. The medication can be slowly tapered off over months or years, with medical supervision.

Naltrexone, another medication used in opioid addiction, is different from methadone and buprenorphine and is an opioid antagonist. It works by blocking the effects of heroin or other opioids at their receptor sites, and should only be used in patients who have already been detoxified. Naltrexone does not reduce withdrawal symptoms or cravings and is usually ineffective if used by itself. A drug called clonidine can ameliorate some signs and symptoms of withdrawal and is a non-opioid alternative for managing withdrawal.

What is addiction?

Addiction is a complex and serious chronic medical condition, affecting brain function and behavior. Symptoms of opioid withdrawal, as listed on WebMD, include unbearable cravings, diarrhea, enlarged pupils, yawning, abdominal pain, chills and goose bumps, nausea and vomiting, body aches, agitation and severe negative moods. Agonizing symptoms can last for several hours, to days, or even weeks. After the intense initial symptoms, discomfort can persist for weeks, and medication is needed to prevent a user from reverting to drug taking. Medication helps to suppress the agony of withdrawal symptoms during detoxification and re-establish normal brain function.

Behavioral therapy and opioid addiction

Along with medication, it is essential that an individual receives help and support with his lifestyle choices so that he remains drug-free. Addiction is about much more than uncontrollable cravings, and treatment needs to address the many different facets of compulsive drug seeking and taking. According to the NIDA, behavioral treatments can help patients modify their attitudes to drug abuse and increase healthy life skills; treatment can include individual or group counselling, cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and motivational incentives. It has been proven that behavioral treatments help patients engage in the treatment process, enhance the effectiveness of medications, and help them stay under treatment for longer.

 

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