In the 2006 movie Candy, a terrifying story about the depths of despair heroin addiction can cause, the character Casper says, “When you can stop, you don’t want to. When you want to stop, you can’t.” For people who participate in opiate abuse, this quote might seem all too familiar. They may have started using the drug as a method to control pain, or they may have felt that the drug would improve their relationships and sense of well-being. These people likely never intended to get locked into a cycle of abuse and addiction, like the characters in Candy, but the drug may have simply overwhelmed them and caused their lives to spin out of control. It’s a sad story, but it’s common.
They may have started using the drug as a method to control pain, or they may have felt that the drug would improve their relationships and sense of well-being. There is one small myth placed inside this quote, however. While people who want to stop might find it difficult to do so on their own, if these people accepted help from professionals, they may have found success. There are a variety of very effective treatments that can be used in the fight against opiate abuse and addiction, and many people do get better each and every day. These are just some of the treatments used in the fight.
Addiction is considered a disease of compulsion. People who are addicted to opiates will often say and do anything to get those drugs, even if they don’t consciously want to take the drugs anymore. This isn’t due to a lack of willpower or some sort of inherent weakness. Instead, people who are addicted to opiates have gone through significant chemical changes within their brains, and as a result, they’re no longer able to function normally without access to opiates. Just as humans can’t function for long without access to food, people with minds primed for opiates cannot function normally without the drugs they once used to take. The chemical changes drive the compulsive behavior.
Replacement medications are designed to remove this tinge of compulsion. With replacement medications, people gain a sense of control over their intake of drugs, and often people report that they have no cravings to take drugs. The replacement medications can help these altered people to heal. Replacement medications form an important part of the detoxification process, allowing people to move through withdrawal without feeling intense discomfort, but they might also be provided during the treatment phase, allowing people to feel well enough to participate in their addiction treatment programs.
For well over 30 years, methadone has been provided as a frontline treatment for people who are in recovery from an opiate addiction. This medication works on the same receptors used by opiates, and it can soothe cravings and allow people to think clearly and feel more at ease. People who are taking methadone are often able to hold down jobs, and they might also be less inclined to commit crimes or engage in risky behaviors that could result in HIV infections. In an analysis of 11 studies investigating methadone’s effectiveness, published in the journal Addiction, researchers found that methadone treatment was quite effective in reducing opiate use, as well as reducing criminal activity and risky behaviors, proving that this is a treatment that can work.
Methadone has its detractors, however, as the medication is often stigmatized within the community, and people who use the methadone often have to go to specialized clinics each and every day to take their required dosage. Some communities resist the idea of allowing clinics to open, and some addicted people dislike the idea of traveling to a specialized clinic each day to get the medications they’ll need. Thankfully, there is another option that could be beneficial.
Buprenorphine is designed to attach to the same receptors used by opiates, but according to an article produced by the American Psychological Association, buprenorphine has only about 40 percent of heroin’s impact. It doesn’t cause a sense of euphoria or sedation, and it’s not considered addictive. The medication also works like a cap on all of the body’s opiate receptors, meaning that if a person takes buprenorphine and then heroin, that heroin will have no available receptors to attach to and will not work at all.
Buprenorphine can also be provided in pill form, allowing people to take the drug on their own at home. This can be helpful but there are some risks.
People with addictive pasts might be tempted to abuse the drug by:
- Crushing it and snorting it
- Dissolving it in water and injecting it
- Taking higher doses than suggested
- Taking doses too close together
Manufacturers are aware of these risks, and they’ve taken steps to ameliorate that risk. The drug has a ceiling effect, meaning that higher doses don’t cause more symptoms, and this may keep some people from abusing the drug. Additionally, some providers use a form of buprenorphine that’s been combined with naloxone. Medscape reports that naloxone is an agonist that can render opiates inactive, and while it’s not absorbed well via the mouth or the nose, it is absorbed well in the veins. Those addicted people who choose to inject buprenorphine/naloxone combinations may go into immediate drug withdrawal, which might keep them from injecting in the future. Taking the drug normally by mouth, on the other hand, won’t result in withdrawal.
Medications can help to soothe triggers and help an addicted person feel more at ease, but the real work of recovery comes in therapy. Here, people can dig down to the roots of the addiction and determine why it was allowed to blossom in the first place and what that might mean for the future. For some people, that search for meaning might lead them to an underlying mental illness. Addictions and mental illnesses can go hand in hand, as people turn to drugs of abuse in order to help them cope with their issues, and the drugs they take can make an underlying condition so much worse. Symptoms of mental illness can also make cravings for drugs worse. For example, a study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that depression increased cravings for opiates, as did feelings of anxiety or anger. These negative feelings, triggered by a mental illness, could make cravings all the more difficult to ignore.
Some people find that their triggers for drug use reside within their interpersonal issues, such as:
- Lack of anger management skills
- Poor assertiveness skills
- Prior traumatic incidents with family members
- Lack of self-confidence
These issues might seem overwhelming, especially if the person has been trying to deal with these issues alone, with no help, for decades. But, once they have been identified, therapy techniques can be incredibly helpful in bringing about a solution.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is often provided to people in addiction rehab programs. In these sessions, people learn how to identify their triggers for drug use, and they come up with new techniques they can use when the urge to use seems to be growing in intensity. This form of therapy can also be useful in helping people with mental illnesses, as the same techniques could be used to help people gain control of the symptoms associated with their mental illnesses.
Family therapy can be an important tool for people who have unresolved conflicts with family members, or for those who want to build up stronger connections with their families and lean on these supportive people when the urge to use begins to grow.
Family therapy can also help members of the family to learn more about how addiction works and what they might need to do in order to help the person they love. Contingency management techniques can also help people to remain connected to therapy. Each time the person completes a part of the treatment process, by attending a counseling session or providing a urine test free of opiates, for example, that person might be provided with a small prize. According to a study in the Cochrane Library, contingency management can be quite effective in the fight against opiate addiction, as long as it’s combined with other forms of therapy including counseling.
Since opiate abuse and addiction is so common and it can cause so much distress for people who are held in its sway, researchers continue to develop new techniques that could provide relief to impacted people in the future. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that vaccine developers have achieved “promising preclinical results” in trials of vaccines against cocaine and heroin addiction. In the future, perhaps, one shot could keep people from even developing addictions, although those vaccines may be decades away from hitting store shelves.
Some rehab facilities utilize alternative medicine techniques in order to help their opiate-addicted clients to improve. Therapies such as tai chi, acupuncture, meditation and animal-assisted therapies might seem newfangled or even a little strange, but they can provide some people with a sense of peace and tranquility they may not find in any other way. These might be important tools in an ongoing fight to maintain sobriety.
When you’re ready to leave your opiate addiction behind, we’re here to help you.
Our opiate program is located in Memphis, Tennessee, about six miles from the Memphis Airport. We utilize science-based treatments to help our clients to improve, and we augment those treatments with alternative therapies such as meditation and quiet reflection. We encourage you to call us and find out more about the opiate treatments we offer. We’d love to help you.