Opiates including highly addictive prescription drugs are abused by over 15.1 million Americans. This data from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University is a conservative number – the horror is multiplied when you include the family members and concerned friends who suffer with the addict as he or she goes through abuse and withdrawal.
Prevalence of Opiate Addiction
Opiates are so easily addictive that 9% of the population gets addicted in their lifetime. It is difficult to stop because once physical dependence is developed the user needs more quantities and more frequent use to generate the same pleasurable sensation.
Prescription drugs for pain are given for a reason but the benefits pale in the light of strong addiction potential. Celebrities are often in the limelight because of addiction-induced accidents or overdose but the scourge is not limited to people in the limelight. It is very real – anyone can get addicted.
Symptoms of Withdrawal
Users considering withdrawal should realize that with ordinary methods of detoxification, the suffering may take weeks when chronic use is reduced or discontinued. Unfortunately some patients given pain killers undergo involuntary withdrawal even in the hospital setting.
The addictive potential is so high that neither the patient nor doctor is aware of the dependence until flu-like symptoms develop after the drug intake is cut.
Withdrawal symptoms occurring as early a few hours after the last dosage can be classified into early and late. The former include increased anxiety or agitation, muscle pains, tearing, runny nose, blurred vision, hot/cold flashes, sweating and insomnia. Decreased respiration may cause yawning.
If you or a loved one treated with painkillers experience these, you need to consult a doctor to ease you into detoxification. While early symptoms mimic cold and flu, late symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. The user may also have dilated pupils and goosebumps.
Rarely fatal, symptoms are extremely uncomfortable and may start 12 hours after last heroin or 30 hours after the last methadone use. Some rapid detox programs are done under deep sedation and in a hospital setting. One of these, the Waismann Method proved very successful in long term rehabilitation.
Doctors and addiction specialists easily diagnose addiction and withdrawal through detailed history and observation of signs and symptoms. Urine or blood tests for drug screening are confirmatory.
Treatment is largely supportive. The patient is kept well-hydrated and Clonidine may be used to ease symptoms.
The number one complication is the return to drug use after rehabilitation. Medical programs such as the Waismann Method treatment, reduces this risk by ensuring smooth transition and follow-up through counseling that reduce craving and enables the patient to understand the dynamics behind the addiction. Most accidental overdose deaths paradoxically occur after some sort of withdrawal and rehabilitation.
During withdrawal, vomitus can accidentally enter the lungs and cause aspiration pneumonia. Vomiting and diarrhea cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalance that can mimic heart attacks if potassium levels decrease.
Withdrawal itself may not be life-threatening but since the relapse rate is extremely high, the addict and his family are encouraged to undergo a recovery program.