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Opioids include both prescription and illegal narcotics. Some opioids may be prescribed to treat severe or chronic pain, while others, like heroin and desomorphine, are sold illegally on the streets for recreational use. Also known as opiates, these drugs are among the most commonly abused substances in the nation, so much so that they’ve contributed to a drug epidemic that’s persisted since the late 1990s in the United States. Between then and now, millions of people have been affected by opioid abuse in some way. If you or a loved one is battling an opioid use disorder, our Massachusetts opioid rehab offers addiction treatment services that can help.

Are Opioids Depressants?

Yes, opioids are central nervous system depressants. Opioid analgesics (pain killers) work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord and preventing the transmission of pain signals. Opioids can result in sedation and a euphoric feeling in addition to relieving pain.

However, their depressive effects go beyond just relieving pain; they also cause respiratory depression, fatigue, and a general slowing down of physiological processes. Although they have a depressant effect, opioids differ from other depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines in how they affect the central nervous system and how they work.

Opioids have the potential to be extremely addictive, and misuse or overuse can have detrimental effects on one’s health, such as overdose and respiratory failure. Understanding the depressant nature of opioids is crucial in the context of their use, both medically and non-medically, and underscores the importance of careful prescribing and monitoring to mitigate potential risks.

Stages and Signs of Opioid Use 

When opiates first enter the body, they attach themselves to opioid receptors in areas of the body like the spinal cord, digestive tract, and brain. As they bind to these receptors, opioids can block pain signaling from the body to the brain, alleviating the individual’s symptoms. However, opioids also activate the reward center of the brain, otherwise known as the nucleus accumbens.

Once activated, this region of the brain stimulates the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is linked to elevated mood, the sensation of well-being, and pleasurable symptoms. An opioid high is, therefore, marked by a spike in dopamine levels in the brain, and this sensation reinforces drug use and encourages further drug-taking behavior.

In other words, the euphoria linked to an opioid high is what makes these drugs so addictive. Although an opioid use disorder may not be immediately obvious, eventually, the individual may begin to exhibit certain physical and psychological signs of a problem.   

Some common warning signs of opiate addiction include:   

  • Disorientation
  • Taking medication not prescribed to you
  • Sudden changes in alertness
  • Strange sleep patterns
  • Raspy or hoarse voice
  • Flu-like symptoms from periods of withdrawal
  • Constant itching
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Frequent mood changes
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • “Pinned” pupils (constricted pupils)
  • Mood swings

You may also notice some other indicators of opioid abuse in the individual, such as:

  • Abandonment of responsibilities at home, school, or work
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Secretive behavior
  • Lying about symptoms or ailments to obtain more opioid prescriptions
  • Asking for, borrowing, or stealing prescriptions from others
  • Going from one doctor to another for more prescriptions
  • Numerous empty prescription bottles in their home or cabinets

Unfortunately, eventually, many individuals who start abusing prescription opioids turn to street opioids, like heroin, to keep up their habit. Prescriptions eventually become difficult to obtain, to the point where the user may prefer to buy a cheaper and more accessible alternative on the street despite the additional risks.

Heroin is a particularly popular street drug and a dangerous opioid. While prescription medications obtained from pharmacies are never laced, substances purchased on the street are often laced with additional chemicals or substances to enhance their effects, make them more addictive, or simply make them weightier so dealers can make more money with fewer products. Fentanyl is an especially common cutting agent or additive that’s added to drugs like heroin, increasing the user’s risk of overdose.

Stages of Opioid Addiction

There are also various stages of opiate addiction, such as:

  • Tolerance: Repeated use can change your brain chemistry, and your brain adjusts to the dose you take and gets used to functioning on opioids. Tolerance is, therefore, marked by a need to take higher doses of a drug to experience the same high or the same effects.
  • Dependence: If opioid use becomes a regular part of life, then your body will eventually adjust to it and rely on the drug to function properly. Withdrawal can set in at this stage, with symptoms like pain, cramps, diarrhea, chills, and vomiting occurring whenever drug use is reduced or cut off suddenly.
  • Addiction: The loss of judgment and impulse control are two of the signs doctors look for when diagnosing someone with addiction or a use disorder. When a person has developed an opioid use disorder, they will have lost control over drug use, may have attempted to quit before without success, and may be aware of the damage their habit is causing but are unable to stop.

Opioid abuse doesn’t always start intentionally. Oftentimes, a person who’s taking prescription opioids for chronic pain caused by injuries, cancer, or other conditions may grow tolerant to a certain dose, at which point they may no longer experience the safe relief. In an attempt to alleviate their pain, they may increase their dose a bit.

If this continues, an addiction eventually occurs. Often, many people who start abusing prescription opioids turn to more accessible and cheap drugs like heroin to continue their addictions.   

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these signs, then it may be time to contact an opioid treatment program that offers you the support you need. The stages of opiate addiction may continue to progress if the person fails to receive care at a professional opioid treatment center.   

What Is the First Line of Treatment for Opioid Addiction?

The first step in treating opioid addiction is to diagnose the individual and identify the severity of the problem. When opioid use disorder (OUD) is detected, doctors have the chance to start treatment or improve treatment outcomes by intervening. Doctors and patients must work together, however, to decide on the best course of treatment.

Clinicians should have a direct but nonjudgmental conversation with patients if the latter has distributed OUD-related behaviors or concerns or if these concerns come from toxicology test results, prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) data, or other sources. This allows the patient to talk about any related issues or worries. Using the DSM-5 criteria as a guide, clinicians follow the checklist to determine whether OUD is present.

Following the diagnosis of an opioid use disorder, most individuals begin treatment with medical detox and/or medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT may include the use of FDA-approved medications like buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone, all of which are intended for treating opioid addictions.

Our Massachusetts Opiate Rehab Center 

Our certified Massachusetts opioid rehab offers the medically supervised detox, round-the-clock care, therapy, and aftercare services necessary for long-term sobriety. Nonetheless, patients go through a clinical evaluation to ascertain the most appropriate programming course before beginning treatment. Our treatment for opioid use disorder in Massachusetts typically begins with detoxification, which involves round-the-clock care and medication-assisted treatment when necessary.   

Following opioid detox, patients at our opioid rehab facility transition to our residential level of care, where they live on-site and engage in counseling sessions with our counselors both individually and in groups. For spouses, parents, and siblings who also want to undergo therapy to recover from the effects of their loved one’s substance abuse, our Massachusetts rehab even offers a family program.   

Getting sober on your own can be challenging and dangerous, and detox and withdrawal symptoms can sometimes even be deadly. Don’t take the risk. If you recognize any signs of opioid abuse in yourself or a loved one, call Clearbrook Treatment Centers or contact us online to learn more about our opioid addiction treatment centers in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.