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What Is The Best Way To Overcome An Addiction To Opiates?

The journey to overcome opiate addiction can be strenuous but is possible with support and treatment.

Understanding Opiate Addiction

Opiates are substances derived naturally from opium poppy plants, which are native to South America. Opiates are used for various medical conditions, including severe pain relief, to treat patients who have advanced cancer, and other terminal conditions. Opiates have very high potency and for that reason, many people find it even harder to overcome opiate addiction. Opiates come in both prescription medication and as illegal drugs, such as heroin. Two out of every three drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved an opioid. With this, it is important to not only understand the fundamentals of opioid addiction, but to know what to look for in terms of symptoms, risk factors, and available treatment options.1

Fundamentals of Opioid Addiction

How Do Opiates Affect the Brain?

When drugs stimulate opioid receptors in the brain, cells produce dopamine, which is a neuron that gives rise to feelings of pleasure and pain relief when released into the brain. The brain’s reward system will, again and again, want the feelings of intense pleasure during the early stages of abuse, which is what makes opiate addiction so prevalent. Approximately a quarter of patients who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain or terminal diseases misuse the drugs.

Opiates vs. Opioids: What is the Difference?

An opiate is described as a narcotic derived from the opium poppy plant, which is naturally occurring and can include drugs such as opium, codeine, and morphine. An opioid, however, is any substance, either synthetic or semi-synthetic, that binds to opioid receptors. Moreover, all opiates are opioids, but not all opioids can be classified as an opiate. Semi-synthetic opioids are created in labs from naturally occurring opiates, while synthetic opioids are made entirely in a lab.

What is Opiate Addiction?

Opioid addiction is a chronic relapsing disease that can cause significant health, social, and economic problems. Opiate addiction is characterized by a powerful, compulsive urge to seek and use opioids, even when they are no longer required medically and can have harmful consequences. Those with an opioid substance abuse disorder often find themselves prioritizing seeking, getting, and using these drugs over other activities in their lives, often negatively negatively affecting their professional and personal relationships. People’s priorities become deeply warped when they find themselves addicted to opiates. Opioids alter the chemistry of a person’s brain and lead to drug tolerance as well. If you or a loved one are suffering from opioid addiction, you can experience life-threatening health problems, including the risk of overdose and even death.2

Opiate Overdose and Addiction Symptoms

An overdose occurs when one consumes high doses of opioids, causing their breathing to slow or stop entirely. This may lead to unconsciousness and death if the overdose is not treated immediately. Both legal and illegal opioids carry a high risk of overdose, especially if one combines opioids with other drugs and substances, such as tranquilizers or alcohol. The symptoms may differ depending on the type of opiate used, the amount of opiate used, and how long it has been used.

Opiate Overdose Symptoms

There are a few signs and symptoms to pay attention to in the case of a possible overdose.

Opiate Addiction Symptoms

When one is addicted to a drug, they will feel the urge to get the drugs even using unscrupulous means, including lying to loved ones in order to get them. The drug-seeking behavior becomes intolerable and irresponsible. Signs and symptoms of opiate addiction can be classified as either physical, psychological, or behavioral.

Physical Symptoms

Some of the physical symptoms of opiate addiction include, but are not limited to:
  • Sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Physical dependence
  • Tolerance
  • Respiratory depression

Psychological and Behavioral Symptoms

These are some of the psychological and behavioral signs and symptoms of opiate addiction:
  • Physical agitation
  • Poor decision making
  • Abandoning responsibilities
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Lowered motivation
  • Anxiety attacks

Treatment Options for Overcoming Opiate Addiction

There are many treatment options available for those looking to overcome opiate substance abuse disorder. These interventions include both medications and therapies, and other various avenues. It is important to consult a medical professional for optimal results as well as connecting with those who can offer support, both regarding managing the effects and dangers of withdrawal and detox, and for achieving and maintaining long-term sobriety.

Why is Treatment for Opioid Addiction Important?


The FDA has approved several medications to treat opiate and opioids withdrawal. These are best paired with counseling and behavior therapy to truly help overcome addiction. Buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone are used to treat opioid use disorders for short-acting opioids such as heroin, morphine, and codeine, along with semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone. Buprenorphine is a drug approved by the FDA to treat opioid use disorder as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Methadone reduces opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms by blocking the effects of opioids. It is available in liquid, powder, and diskettes forms when one takes it daily. Methadone is also approved by the FDA as part of MAT and pain management. If you take it as prescribed, it is safe and effective. It’s used as part of comprehensive treatment, including counseling and other behavioral health therapies. These medications are safe to use for months, years, or even a lifetime. You should always consult your doctor on when to stop or reduce the dosage.

Counseling and Behavioral Therapies

It can be essential to include different types of talk therapy along with medication to help air out concerns and find lasting solutions for these concerns. Medicine alone cannot always ensure a lasting recovery, as most substance use disorders come with underlying mental health issues that have to be addressed too. Below are a few such therapies.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that combines cognitive and behavioral therapy. Cognitive therapy focuses on forming a clear idea of one’s thoughts, attitudes, and expectations. The goal is to help someone recognize and change negative and distressing behavior and beliefs.

Motivational Interviewing

The spirit of motivational interviewing is the basis for the counseling skills needed for enhancing one’s motivation to change. Motivational interviewing is client centered. In this therapy, core counseling strategies include engaging, focusing, evoking, and planning for the patient.

Support Groups

Support groups are an immense source of help during treatment for opiate recovery. They are not a substitute for treatment entirely, but they help immensely in learning new coping techniques and finding a sense of community.

Contingency Management

Contingency management is a behavior modification intervention that reinforces desired behavior through incentives. For example, you may be rewarded when you successfully reach a milestone you have set with your therapist. These trials have targeted abstinence from drugs as well as treatment adherence (for example, appointment attendance, retention, and hepatitis B vaccinations).4

Family Therapy

When you have a member of your family suffering from opiate addiction or opiate use disorder, you and other family members must be knowledgeable about their condition to support them better. Some opiate rehab centers allow you and your family to spend time with your loved one during these family therapy sessions and witness the progress and challenges.

Other Therapies

After treatment care is where one is encouraged to continue with individual and group therapies until such a time that they have entirely recovered. Peer mentoring allows people to talk with and advise others on what has worked for them and what can be changed to help overcome opiate addiction.

How to Overcome Opiate Addiction at Home

A significant way to overcome opiate addiction at home is to uphold abstinence from those drugs. However, it is advisable to seek treatment in an opiate rehab center where you will get professional help to ensure a healthy and safe recovery, as opiate withdrawal can be very hard on the mind and body. Methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist that eradicates withdrawal symptoms and relieves drug cravings by inhibiting opioid receptors in the brain. Although methadone occupies and stimulates these opioid receptors, it does so more slowly than other opioids, making it comfortable for those that are experiencing opiate use disorder or withdrawal symptoms.

Over-the-Counter Help

If you or a loved one cannot afford a treatment center, you should start by reducing the drug dosage slowly until you can comfortably stop. If you are in recovery, you can also use medications that lessen the adverse effects of withdrawal and cravings without creating the euphoria that the original opiate caused. For example, the FDA recently approved lofexidine, a non-opioid medicine designed to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms. Lofexidine acts as opiate detox, which slowly weans the drugs out of the system. Methadone and buprenorphine are other medications approved and can be bought over the counter in limited or monitored doses.3

Alternative Support

Other support mechanisms that one can use together with slowly tapering from opioids include:
  • Eating healthy and taking vitamin supplements.
  • Drinking plenty of water to replace fluids lost through diarrhea during opiate withdrawal.
  • Hot baths can also help reduce muscle aches, pain, and headaches, and improve sleep patterns.
  • Exercising
  • Acupuncture

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline

Opiate withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous if not approached safely and with support.

How Does Opiate Withdrawal Affect Individuals Addicted to the Substance?

Symptoms of Opiate Withdrawal

Opioid withdrawal occurs when one is physically and psychologically dependent on opioids and then starts to wean off the drug. This dependence can cause physical symptoms such as:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
It can also cause psychological symptoms, such as:
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Mood changes

How Long Does Opiate Withdrawal Last?

Typically, physical opioid withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from a few days up to a month. It comes in two phases. Most people start to feel these symptoms after not using opioids for around eight hours, but it depends on the type of opioid being used. You or a loved one may experience lingering symptoms like fatigue or inexplicable chronic pain for up to ten days. Then, the next stage is post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS).

Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

The opioid withdrawal timeline varies depending on the person and the drug being taken, but symptoms can appear as early, as not taking the drug for a few hours can elicit symptoms. The specific timeline of opioid withdrawal also depends on how long the opioid has been used. For example, methadone is a long-acting opioid. This means that it takes longer to leave the body, and hence someone may notice withdrawal symptoms much later than they would with another substance such as cocaine, which works very fast.

Some Tips to Help Overcome Opiate Addiction Safely

  • Get support
  • Attend detox programs
  • Keep busy
  • Get rest and sleep well
  • Incorporate exercise
  • Eat a healthy diet

Overcome Opiate Addiction at San Diego Detox

At San Diego Detox, our holistic approach to overcoming opiate addiction has been proven to give long-lasting and complete recovery. Some of the professional interventions and holistic treatment regimens we have include:


Detoxification, or medical detox, is the gradual reduction of opioids or other drugs from the bloodstream. Its focus is to safely manage withdrawal symptoms when a person stops taking opiates. This is usually done with medical professionals at an opiate detox center.

Residential Rehab

In this mode of therapy, around-the-clock care is provided by a well-trained medical staff who will respond to a patient’s needs immediately. A combination of medically supported approaches and different types of therapy is likely to result in a better outcome for long-term maintenance of recovery. The services offered here include:
  • Medically reinforced detoxification and withdrawal
  • Individual and group therapies
  • Family and couples counseling
  • Post-treatment prophylaxis is usually offered

Outpatient Rehab

Intensive outpatient programs are treatment programs used to tackle different types of addictions that need intensive opiate detoxification. You or your loved one are allowed to live at home while accessing the outpatient program, allowing you to perform day-to-day activities. These are often used with inpatient programs to help you integrate back into the community sooner by establishing robust support mechanisms.

Get Help Today

Opiate use disorder is not a personality or character issue. It is a chronic disease that, if left unattended, can not only lead to death, but can negatively affect your relationships, job, and family. Do not procrastinate; get help today. At San Diego Detox, we will be here to support you or your loved one every step of the way during recovery. We will ensure that you regain autonomy over your own life and relationships and equip you with the necessary tools for long term sobriety.