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What Happens During Opiate Withdrawl 20 Dec 2017

What Happens During Opiate Withdrawl

Have you ever heard the excuse, “I don’t have the time to be sick”, as a reason why you or a loved one refused to get clean from opiates? If so, you are not alone. All over the country, Americans are suffering from their opiate addictions in fear of going through an opiate withdrawal. Many of these people do not have access to proper substance abuse treatment, and the process of opiate withdrawal can be extremely grueling.

First things First

The scariest thing about an opiate addiction is that most people don’t see it coming. Every day, more and more people outside of the usual “addict spectrum”, i.e, the elderly, children, housewives, etc., are accidentally becoming addicted to painkillers and opioid medications. It happens fast, and it is a vicious cycle.

Now, there is a difference between drug abuse and drug addiction, as research has shown that the chemical makeup of the brain is quite different. For example:

  • Someone who abuses drugs continues to take them in order to avoid withdrawal but has no problem staying off them once they are completely detoxed from the drug
  • Someone with an addiction suffers from an obsessive craving and a compulsive need to use, despite any internal or external consequences.

However, the opiate dependence and addiction process in the brain remains the same. Opioids have for centuries been used to promote a feeling a pleasure, pain relief, and relaxation. This is what happens:

  • When the opioid (heroin, oxycodone, Percocet, etc) reaches the brain, they attach to Mu Opioid Receptors.
  • These receptors trigger the same biochemical response of pleasure that occurs during eating or sex.
  • When these drugs are used frequently either for pain relief or pleasure, the brain creates a record of the good feelings, creating the dependence.
  • Over time, the brain begins to function more or less normally WITH the drugs, and abnormally without them.
  • As the user continues, the person will develop a tolerance and a dependence, meaning, they have to use more to achieve the same effect, and they become dependant on that effect.

Now it has actually been proven that people will only suffer from withdrawal if they ALREADY have a developed tolerance to the drugs.

So WHY is Withdrawal So Brutal?

Mainly, the area of the brain that is activated during opioid use, changes the chemical processing of how it works. So when opioids attach to the MU receptors in the area of the brain that controls wakefulness, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing, the lack of opioids almost put the brain into a shock.

Long story short, when opioids are present, everything is hunky dory, but when they are not, the brain goes into an overcompensation mode, which results in anxiety, muscle cramps, diarrhea, and jitters.

What Does Opiate Withdrawal Look Like?

While length and frequency of use will play big roles in the severity of the symptoms, they are usually more or less the same throughout all opiate users. Some of the most common physical and mental symptoms are:

  • Nausea
  • Muscle Cramping (especially in the Stomach)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Restless Legs
  • Runny Nose
  • Cold Sweats
  • Overactive Tear Ducts
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Excessive Yawning
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Diarrhea
  • Cravings

Anyone who has suffered from an opiate dependence or opiate addiction can tell you that during the first few hours, all of these symptoms can happen at once. Opiate withdrawals, while not deemed medically necessary to take place in a medical facility, can still be extremely painful, and even dangerous if the person is not taking trying to drink a lot of water and attempt to eat.

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The Right Kind of Treatment

People who are facing an opiate withdrawal are definitely encouraged to do so in a medical facility, again, it is not fatal to detox oneself at home, but the benefits that come from detoxing in a medical facility make the process so much easier on the person.

For example, a person who is going to detox in a medical facility will have around the clock medical professionals available to monitor vitals, take blood pressure, and administer any medication if needed to soothe the symptoms of opiate withdrawal.

Medical Facilities also allow the person to be separated from opiates for a length of time. One of the hardest parts about detoxing from opiates on one’s own is the cravings. When a person knows that if they use, the pain will all go away, it makes it much harder to refrain from using them.

Another factor that medical facilities provide is a team of trained and experienced mental health professionals. During the persons stay, conversations with these therapists and doctors can allow a deeper investigation into the reasons behind the opiate abuse, if there are any other mental factors that may need to be evaluated such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, etc. These professionals can discuss with the user and the family involved the best method of action to take to encourage long-term recovery.

Speaking of the family, if a person detoxing from opiates chooses to do it at home, there can be many external factors that can lead to a relapse. Family members that may be present can often hold resentments or anger towards the user, or in other cases, family members may be users themselves. In order for someone to detox from opiates at home, everyone in the house must be able to provide a sober and compassionate environment for recovery.

Opioid Withdrawal is a beast to be reckoned with. It is extremely painful, and the mental effects can last for up to two years after the detoxification process. That is why the best method of action is to find a reputable medical facility, who is understanding and completely versed in the signs, symptoms, and processes of opiate dependence and opiate addiction.

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