Opiate Addiction, Abuse and Dependency

Recognise the warning signs and finding the right treatment.

If you believe you are suffering from opiate addiction and are ready and willing to overcome it, you have come to the right place. At Sanctuary Lodge, we offer unique rehabilitation programmes that are bespoke to the individual. We will help to provide you with all the tools necessary to get you safely on your road to recovery.

We understand that opiates are extremely potent, and are therefore quite a common addiction to have. But do not worry, while it may feel hopeless to you now, we use the latest in cutting-edge treatments and provide 24-hour care to ensure your stay with us is comfortable and stress-free. For anyone suffering from an opiate addiction, rest assured recovery is truly possible.

Opiates are psychoactive drugs that bind to the neuron receptors in your brain and increase the levels of dopamine it releases. Neuron receptors are responsible for bodily processes like breathing, stress and pain. Depending on the type of opiate used, these drugs either activate or block the processes of neuron receptors.

Due to their fast-acting nature, and strong effects, opiate drugs were developed to provide fast-acting pain relief — one of the most commonly known as being morphine. However, some opiates, such as heroin, are considered so addictive and dangerous, they have been made illegal in the UK. Because of this, morphine is commonly used as a substitute for heroin.

Opiate drugs, like morphine and heroin, are naturally occurring substances derived from opium poppies. The term opioid, though often used interchangeably with an opiate, refers to synthetic or partially synthetic substances that mimic opiates that are naturally occurring. Methadone, fentanyl and oxycodone are examples of synthetic or partially synthetic opioids (1).

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Why Are Opiates Addictive?

Opiates attach to the receptors in your brain that control pain and produce feelings of pleasure and satisfaction and increase or affect their activity. They cause a flood of dopamine and endorphins to release in the brain, and with the overproduction of those ‘happy hormones’, they lead to an extremely intense euphoria that doesn’t occur in life naturally. Opiates are very addictive due to their intense highs — once the brain has experienced such an intense euphoria, it craves it (1).

Another reason that opiates are so addictive is that they have a particularly fast-acting mechanism. Also, the half-life of drugs like heroin and fentanyl can be as short as six minutes. Because of this, people often find themselves using opiates multiple times a day to maintain a constant level of effect (2).

Frequent use of opiate drugs causes tolerances to the substance to increase. Eventually you will you need more and more, as time goes by, to be able to even maintain your desired level of effect. Tolerance to opiates normally results in a physical dependence. When your body becomes physically dependent on opiates, it will struggle to function normally without them and normally sees the dependence progress into an addiction.

Consequences of opiate abuse

Abusing opiates for long periods of time can change your brain chemistry. If your body starts to expect opiates as a result of repeat exposure, your brain will rebalance the amount of dopamine and endorphins it produces. Once your brain relies on opiates for dopamine production, it stops producing the chemical naturally. As a result, people who are suffering from opiate addiction develop depression when they do not take the substance, which can lead them to take the substance again (3).

At Sanctuary Lodge, we really understand how addictive opiates are and how quickly the substance abuse to them can get out of control. That’s why we provide both medical and emotional types of supports to aid you in your recovery from the drug.

What Causes Opiate Addiction?

There no single cause that forms an opiate addiction. Anyone is at risk to the potential of suffering from opiate addiction. That said, there are some biological and social environmental factors that can predispose you to an opiate drug addiction. Not everyone who is at a higher risk will develop opiate addiction, however, if you are suffering from it, knowing these risk factors may help you to understand how to better overcome it.

Environmental factors

The environment you live in or visit regularly can influence your views on drug use and generally your attitude towards addiction. If you live in a home or area where opiates are readily available or people close to you use opiates, you have, at no fault of your own, a higher risk of developing an addiction. Those who have a family history of opiate addiction also have a higher risk as drug use has become normalised (4).
Additionally, if you are a young adult and teenager who is surrounded by friends who take opiate drugs then you are also at a higher risk of having developed an addiction, as peer pressure has potentially caused your drug use (5).

Stress is also recognised as a common cause of opiate addiction. Some people choose to medicate themselves to deal with life’s very difficult, hard to process emotional stressors. Extreme stress, either caused by your work, school or relationships, are common causes of opiate addiction (6).

Genetic factors

Scientific research also shows there are certain hereditary chemicals and genes that can predispose you to a prescription drug addiction. This may explain why you or other families have a long history of substance abuse disorders. If you were born with a genetic predisposition to addiction, and have started taking opiates, you will find it harder for you to stop than those who are not predisposed. Again, if you believe this to be you, don’t worry. At Sanctuary Lodge our trained staff will be able to help and assist you through this. There is hope.

Given that opiates are prescribed as a form of painkiller, it is not uncommon for people who would have not normally been exposed to them to take them. Of those that do, who are also genetically predisposed to addiction, they will less able to stop their addiction versus others not genetically predisposed. It is this genetic predisposition that can consequently develop an addiction (7).

Repeat exposure

Opiates are very potent and highly addictive type of drug to use — heroin is considered to be one of the most addictive substances in the world. It is this reason why it may feel very difficult for you to imagine a life without taking them. At Sanctuary Lodge we can help you through this, there is hope.

Be aware that more often you take opiates, the more likely you are to develop your addiction to them. This is because they are so ‘fast-acting’ and developing a tolerance to them is relatively easy in comparison to other substances. If your body starts to build up tolerance to using opiates, your body will start to adjust chemically and will learn to grow a dependence to using the drug (7).

Controlled opiates, like morphine, although considered less dangerous, they are still an opiate that can become addictive and can lead to substance misuse. It is not uncommon for people to move away morphine to onto heroin once the body has built up certain levels of tolerance. Therefore, repeat exposures pose higher risks as some opiates are prescribed legally and are so in high dosages.

Opiates and Physical Dependence

Opiates are some of the most addictive substances in the world. Heroin has a reputation about it as one of the most addictive forms out there. However, what might not be known is that Fentanyl, a prescription painkiller, is 100 times stronger than heroin (8). Becoming physically dependent on opiates can occur very quickly, even in controlled environments.

Physical dependence is not the same as addiction. Addiction is both a mental and physical struggle and is characterised as an inability to stop abusing drugs regardless of the impact they are having on your life. Physical dependence refers to the body’s tolerance to a substance and causes the body to rely on that substance in order to function normally.

When your body becomes physically dependent on a drug, withdrawal symptoms will occur should you suddenly decide to stop taking the substance. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, therefore rapid and unsupervised detoxification from opiate drugs can be extremely uncomfortable and unsafe. It is, therefore, not recommended to do so without supervision.

Physical dependence happens after prolonged use from tolerance-forming drugs. This means physical dependence can still form even when taking them as instructed by your doctor. That said, having a physical dependence to opiates does not necessarily mean you have an addiction, but usually, the dependence accompanies addiction (9).

Signs and Symptoms of Opiate Addiction

At Sanctuary Lodge, we really do understand that Opiate addiction is difficult to cope with. It can greatly impact on your physical and mental health. Opiates affect the body and mind in ways. Consequently, signs and symptoms of opiate addiction can present themselves in a number of different ways (10).

Physical symptoms of opiate addiction include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Constricted pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Respiratory depression
  • Stupor
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itchy skin
  • Confusion
  • Constipation

Psychological symptoms of opiate addiction include:

  • Poor judgement
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Low mood
  • Irritability
  • Euphoric episodes
  • Lethargy
  • Restlessness

Getting Help for Opiate Addiction

Dealing with opiate addiction can be extremely complex and debilitating, both mentally and physically. If you are here having decided to get help for yourself, congratulations! You have made the first step towards your recovery. For that alone, you should be very proud. While we recommend one of our opiate rehabilitation programmes at Sanctuary Lodge – to see you through and offer you the best chances for successful recovery –however, opiate rehabilitation can be completed both in an inpatient facility or through outpatient programmes.

Usually, inpatient rehabilitation is recommended if you are suffering from opiate addiction, although, for some people, inpatient treatment is just not feasible and outpatient programmes work better for them. There are pros and cons to both types. We will run through some of those with you now. Always remember – if you are suffering from opiate addiction, be assured, recovery is possible no matter which type you chose is best for you. You really can lead a happy and healthy life. You have already made the first step by being here.

Inpatient opiate rehab

If you decide that inpatient treatment is the best option for you, our dedicated and experienced medical staff at Sanctuary Lodge will provide you with compassionate 24-hour care in a hospital environment. On average, inpatient rehabilitation lasts for between 30-90 days, although there are no set time scales for opiate rehabilitation.

Supervised opiate detox is often the first step of inpatient treatment. Medical detox involves slowly decreasing your tolerance for opiates by lessening your intake over time until you can function normally without any opiates at all. During detoxification, it is likely you will experience withdrawal symptoms that can make you feel uncomfortable. If you are detoxing at our inpatient treatment centre, this process is safe, and you will receive round-the-clock psychological support and medication, if necessary, to help you manage your symptoms.

During inpatient treatment, you will also receive psychotherapy. The psychotherapies we offer at Sanctuary Lodge are informed by the 12-step model (11). The therapies include cognitive behavioural therapy, psycho-social workshops, art therapy and family therapy. Therapy can help you to deal with the emotional impact an opiate addiction has and gives you the best chances of recovery.

If you have a co-occurring mental health condition, such as bipolar disorder, inpatient rehabilitation is particularly beneficial. The qualified therapists at Sanctuary Lodge can provide you with daily psychological support and are available 24 hours a day.

Outpatient NHS services

If you have commitments, like a job or children, that make inpatient rehabilitation unfeasible, then outpatient NHS programmes could be beneficial for you. There are several pros and cons of outpatient programmes. Generally, outpatient treatment programmes are not suitable for people who are at a high risk of relapse. Those considered to be of higher risk are those suffering from multiple substance abuse or those who have previously relapsed (12).

The pros of outpatient programmes include:

  • More affordable than inpatient treatment
  • Less disruptive to your life
  • More contact with families who can offer support

The cons of outpatient programmes include:

  • Less support for medical detox
  • The stress of everyday life
  • Less structured
  • More opportunities for relapse
  • Environments that remind you of taking drugs

Support groups

Support groups allow those who are in recovery from opiate addictions to connect with one another. They provide safe spaces to share journeys and hardships along the road to recovery whilst encouraging others to remain free of their addiction. Being able to communicate with others who are maintaining their recovery and have experienced similar issues with opiates – has been proven to be fundamental at sustaining recovery. Narcotics Anonymous is just one example of a support group that provides help to those suffering from opiate addiction.

Support groups also help recovering drug users to take responsibility for their actions. Members of support groups rely on one another for encouragement to maintain their recovery. As a result, people often feel they must be accountable for their own recovery to help others stay on track (13).

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Opiate Addiction FAQ

What are opioids?
Opioids are synthetically produced psychoactive drugs that mimic the effects of naturally occurring endorphins, such as relieving pain and increasing pleasure. However, opioids have been created to be far stronger than natural endorphins and have intense effects. Due to their potency, opioid drugs are extremely addictive and can be dangerous when misused (14).
Which opiates are addictive?
All opiates are addictive as they are tolerance-forming substances that cause intense false feelings of satisfaction and euphoria that the brain craves. As these substances are so addictive, opiate abuse and addiction are common. The most commonly abused opiates are heroin, morphine, fentanyl, tramadol, hydrocodone and codeine. However, any opiate can be misused (1).
How long does it take to get addicted to opiates?
There is no specific length of time that it takes to develop an opiate addiction. Every person is different; therefore, some people may never become addicted to opiates even after repeat exposure, whilst others develop an addiction after their first exposure.
However, people who fall into the at-risk categories for drug addiction, such as having a family history of drug abuse, may develop an opiate addiction more quickly (4).
What is the best way to overcome an addiction to opiate painkillers?
Every individual varies, and different people can respond better to different types of treatment. However, generally, inpatient treatment at a rehabilitation centre offers the best chance of recovery. Inpatient treatment will allow you to undergo a medically assisted detox within a safe and comfortable environment whilst you also receive 24-hour emotional and medical support. Therefore, whilst treatment options vary, inpatient treatment is recommended for opiate addiction.
If you are struggling to cope and think you may be addicted to opiates, we can help you start your recovery today. Call our addiction experts for 24/7 advice.
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