How many times have these thoughts crossed your mind?
- Feeling as though your life is hijacked.
- Imagining how different your life can be.
- Wanting a way out of the cycle.
- Hoping to become opioid free.
- Wishing you could take that first step, but you don’t know how.
Physical Component Behind Opioid Use Disorder
First, it’s important for you to know that you are not alone. Not by a longshot. Opioid use disorder (OUD) affects 3 million people in the U.S. and 16 million people worldwide. In fact, although the United States makes up only 4.6% of the world’s population, we consume 80% of the world’s available opioids.
There are many reasons why many experience OUD, but the most significant factor has been the incredible underestimation of the addictive nature of opioids. We now know that opioid manufacturers paying doctors in the United States enormous sums of money for prescribing opioids. The more the doctors prescribed, the more they got paid. In 2014 and 2015, opioid manufacturers shelled out six figures to hundreds of doctors, and about a thousand more earned over $25,000 each.
What Is the Physical Component Behind Dependence?
Regardless of whether opioids are prescribed for medical reasons or a person begins taking opioids recreationally, it’s important to know that there is a physical component behind dependence. Opioids, whether natural or manmade in a laboratory, are chemicals that bind to specific proteins called opioid receptors on the nerve cells in the body and brain to reduce the feeling of pain. With its high levels of positive reinforcement, a person is more at risk of continued use despite the adverse effects on the body.
After repeated exposure, the chemistry of the brain becomes altered. Tolerance is built up in the opioid receptors, and they no longer respond which means even more drugs are needed to feel the same effects. It makes it that much harder to once again become opioid free on your own. A person may begin to feel they need the opioid to feel normal and not just to feel pain-free. Besides the chemistry of the brain changing, the feeling of euphoria tends to erase fear, anxiety, sadness, and depression, and any other negative emotion the person wishes to avoid.
The body reacts to the increase in opioids by increasing the number of receptors. When the drug wears off, the person experiences more pain for about three days. With continued use, the pain increases due to the opioids themselves.
Our bodies produce feel-good hormones called endorphins. If the body becomes accustomed to opioids managing pain, the body’s ability to create endorphins decreases. The person’s body loses the ability to regulate pain on its own.
Types of Pain: Emotional, Physical, Psychological
Many times, pain is a combination of underlying emotional pain, physical pain, and psychological pain.
Those with OUD may start taking opioids to cover up emotional pain and trauma making them think as though the drug is the solution to their pain and not the problem. If someone tries to curb their drug usage, the pain often intensifies. There are times when pain is triggered by a traumatic experience that happened a long time ago in childhood which can cause the nervous system to be in a constant state of heightened alert causing an increase in pain, disruption in sleep, and anxiety. Other factors may include a person’s family history, their biochemistry, and their mental state. It can be difficult for the brain to differentiate between emotional and physical pain because the same area of the brain is affected by both experiences.
Humans have a reward center in the center of our brains, and whenever we do something that is necessary for our survival, for example, eating, having sex, taking care of ourselves and others, the brain releases the chemical dopamine. That makes us feel good, prompting us to continue those pleasurable activities.
Dopamine affects two areas of the brain: the memory area and the executive function which is the part of the brain that tells you to continue to do those pleasurable activities. It’s this combination of brain activity that helps our species survive.
Opioids and other drugs trigger this reward center causing our brain to release more of the dopamine and letting it last longer in the brain. After repeated use, the survival mechanism in the brain becomes, in essence, hijacked. The person then becomes torn between thinking, “How do I survive?” and “How can I get more of the drug?”
Long-term opioid use has serious health consequences, impacting many organs. That executive area of the brain tells the person that using opioids is very bad for the body. Even though the person may understand the harmful effects, the memory area of the brain reminds the person how good they feel while taking the drug. This painful struggle between wanting to become opioid free and taking the drug is difficult because the physical withdrawal symptoms make it so hard to stop.
There is a psychological component to consider as well. Over a quarter of patients with OUD believe they will always experience pain, that there is no solution, and that their doctor rarely understands how they feel. OUD can make a person’s brain and body believe that the drug is necessary for their very survival.
What Makes Diagnosing and Treating Opioid Use Disorder a Challenge?
A physician may have difficulty understanding a person’s pain level. After all, pain is a personal experience and comes from the patient’s point of view. Depending on how long the patient has taken opioids, it may be difficult to consider other non-pharmacological therapies such as exercise or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Another challenge the physician may face is that many times opioids stifle a patient’s emotions. That is why it’s so important to treat not only the dependence but the underlying issues as well.
A Successful Opioid Detox
A successful detox allows underlying issues to be more accurately assessed and addressed.
There is hope! You can overcome these treatment challenges and can, once again, become opioid free. By using knowledge and medical science, if we can safely bring a patient to their baseline, we can successfully treat them. The highly-respected, quadruple board-certified medical director at Waismann Method® and his team of specialists combine decades of experience and hold one of the highest opioid detox success rates in the United States. We understand what it takes to safely see you through your path of recovery so you can live a healthy, opioid-free life.
We custom-tailor every treatment to a patient’s specific needs. Our mission is to provide the safest, most effective, and compassionate medical opiate detox for those struggling with OUD. These are just a few of the many ways that make Waismann Method® unique.
Remember, you deserve the very best and we strive to provide our patients with the highest level of medical care. Our goal is to ensure your safety and success.
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