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Addiction to Opiates: Why It’s So Hard to Treat

An estimated 20.5 million American people reported having a substance use disorder during 2015. Out of the reported amount, more than 2.5 million were struggling with addiction to opiates and opioids.

Medical use of opiates and opioids is common for people in need of pain relief. There is a difference between opioids and opiates and it consists of how the drugs are made. Opiates are a chemical compound that is extracted from the natural plant called Poppy. While opioids are man-made in labs.

Some examples of opiates include:

  • Opium
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Heroin

Opioids include:

  • Hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (e.g. Oxycontin, Percocet)
  • Oxymorphone (e.g. Opana)
  • Meperidine (e.g. Demerol)
  • Methadone (e.g. Dolophine)
  • Fentanyl (e.g. Ultiva, Sublimaze, Duragesic patch)

Trying To Quit Opiate AddictionBoth groups are narcotics, meaning they induce sleep or numbness. Many opiates and opioids also produce a euphoric effect. This is what makes them particularly addictive.

Treating addiction to opiates and opioids is one of the hardest addictions to treat. There are many factors which can impede addiction recovery. Here are a few of the reasons why treating an opiate addiction is so difficult.

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Severe Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Addiction isn’t just in the mind, it’s also in the body. The more you use, the more your body becomes dependant on the chemical. This makes withdrawing from opiates and opioids a particularly harrowing affair.

Early symptoms of opiate and opioid withdrawal include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Runny Eyes
  • A runny nose
  • Yawning

These will progress to more severe symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

The physical experience of withdrawal can be harrowing. Coupled with the overwhelming cravings, many patients fail their recovery at withdrawal.

This is why many addiction experts recommend medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT is the use of prescription medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms. It helps satiate the body’s physical dependence on opioids without the euphoric effects.

Withdrawal symptoms from opioids are some of the worst an addict can experience. Withdrawals from OpiatesLessening the effects of withdrawal is, therefore, one of the best ways to help an addict recover.

Suboxone is one of the best medications available for combatting opioid withdrawal. It helps satiate cravings and physical withdrawal. It also negates the euphoric effect of any other opioids taken. Some studies clock Suboxone treatments at a 60% success rate.

Misunderstanding of What Opioid Addiction Is

For many opiate and opioid addicts, their addiction is a personal moral failing. Anti-stigma campaigning has done its best to combat this thinking. But there is still a lot of addicts that consider their addiction a sign of a weakness.

On the other end of the scale, many recovery groups push the “addiction as disease” narrative. Calling addiction a disease can be helpful in the fight against stigma. But it does come with some pitfalls.

New research is trending towards treating substance addiction as a learning disorder.

Maia Szalavitz is the author of “Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction.”Developmental Disorder causing Addiction She classifies addiction as a neuro-developmental learning disorder. She describes the path to addiction as compulsive behavior despite negative consequences. In essence, an addict fails to learn even when their actions incur punishment.

Framing addiction in this way makes the condition more akin to developmental disorders than diseases. It can also open the door to more holistic treatments. Combining pharmaceutical aid, behavioral therapy, and help groups for a more successful treatment.

Unrealistic Expectations

In part, this point is an extension of the last. Many people with an addiction to opiates and opioids have unrealistic expectations of what recovery will mean for them.

For example, many addicts treat a relapse as an absolute failure that sets them back to square one of their recovery. In reality, 40-60% of recovering addicts will relapse over the course of their lives. Most addiction programs treat relapses as an expected step on the way to recovery.

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Underestimating Opioid Recovery Time and Effort

Opiate Addiction Recovery TimeMany addicts considering treatment also have the false expectation that coming off the drug is their only hurdle. In reality, this is the first of many steps.

Longer in-patient programs increase the chances of staying sober. This is because they don’t just tackle the detox itself, they also give addicts the tools to help them manage without the drug.

Underlying Psychological Issues

At least 50% of people with an addiction to opiates and opioids have a mental illness or behavioral disorder or co-occurring disorders. This isn’t surprising when you consider opioid addiction often starts as a means to manage the symptoms of trauma or psychological issues.

Psychological Issues Leading to AddictionUnfortunately, these issues often have to play second fiddle to detoxing during treatment. This leaves them liable to resurface during recovery. This can present the addict with the same problems they turned to opiates and opioids to relieve in the first place.

Treatment of underlying psychological issues is often a major step in substance abuse recovery. Unfortunately, along with addiction, mental health comes with its own treatment hurdles.

Inability to Break Away from a Dysfunctional Social Context

Opiate Drug AddictionInpatient addiction treatment programs are ideal because they remove the addict from the environment that was enabling their addiction. Staying away from that environment after treatment isn’t so easy.

A lot of addicts return to the same environment they left for treatment. They fall back in with the same people that enabled their addiction in the first place. Both skyrocket the potential for relapsing.

Avoiding environmental triggers is one of the hardest parts of the recovery process. But it’s an essential one for ensuring success.

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Overcoming an Addiction to Opiates and Opioids Is Possible

Understanding addiction one of the best ways to tackle recovery from opioid abuse. It helps addicts approach treatment with realistic expectations. It also keeps their efforts grounded fact, rather than fantastic or fatalistic narratives.

Overcoming Opioid AddictionWhile addiction to opiates and opioids is one of the hardest addictions to treat, successful recovery is possible. Medical intervention, behavioral therapy, and social support structures are invaluable aids on the road to sobriety.

Interested in the role of addiction treatment facilities in the recovery process? Check out how they can help ease opiate withdrawal here.

Guide: The Opioid Epidemic in Arizona

If you’re up on the current news in Arizona, chances are you’ve heard of the opioid epidemic. It’s a serious problem that is sweeping the state and the nation at large, and society can’t afford to ignore it. It’s killing people every day, and more and more are overdosing on opiates.

But what exactly is this opioid epidemic? What makes it an epidemic, and what’s being done about it? In this article, we’ll go over some of the causes of the problem and go over exactly what the opioid crisis in Arizona means.

Read on for a guide to this problem and what you need to know about it. If you or a loved one are affected, there is hope for recovery.

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What is an Opioid Epidemic?

Opioid EpidemicThe opioid epidemic seems to be a buzzword that often gets thrown around in conversations, but you’d be surprised to know that only a few people know what it actually is. Even fewer know how serious it is or what can be done about it.

Opioid is the name given to a line of powerful painkillers that have been shown to be highly addictive. People usually take opioids for chronic pain. Even those who begin an opioid treatment honestly can find themselves wrapped up in something they never wanted to be part of.

What Makes it an Epidemic?

Health officials call the abuse of opioids an epidemic when the problem grows to be widespread and many people are dying due to the consumption of lethal amounts of opioids.

The opioid crisis in Arizona is not to be taken lightly. Thousands of people have overdosed on opioids in a short span of time, and many have even lost their lives to an overdose of opioids.

With well over 300,000 opioid prescriptions dispensed in Arizona in just a month’s time, it’s no wonder that there’s such a serious problem.

In fact, the governor of Arizona recently declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. This was meant to increase efforts to fight the abuse of opioids.

An epidemic shows that there is a serious problem or something very broken in the system, and it calls for action to be taken to prevent further loss of life.

How Does an Epidemic Happen?

Of course, usually, these explosions of opioid overdoses do not simply occur at random.

It’s not often that a person is prescribed an opioid to treat their pain and then overdoses by accident, or overdoses as soon as they begin their treatment regimen.

Instead, overdose-related deaths usually occur as the result of drug addiction. Opioid addiction can happen to anyone, as these substances have a high potential of causing dependency.

Opioid OverdoseOnce an opioid has its hooks in someone, they are usually reliant on opioids both physically and psychologically.

When a drug becomes popular and many people begin to abuse it, the unfortunate symptoms like overdoses begin to spread like wildfire.

Drug addiction can be a confusing topic, but the more you know, the better equipped you will be to handle it properly.

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Causes of the Problem

Addiction is one of the biggest factors leading to the abuse and eventual overdose of opioids.

In fact, a recent statistic released revealed that around 40 percent of people experiencing a suspected overdose had received opioid prescriptions from 10 or more providers.

This usually means that the person in question went to great lengths to feed their opioid habit.

Even more unfortunate, many doctors prescribing opioids to new patients are not checking the database to see how many times they’ve been prescribed the drug in the past and by how many other providers.

Checking it could easily prevent the rapid spread of drug abuse, as a doctor could quickly grow suspicious of a person who claims to desperately need more opioids but already has prescriptions from other doctors as well.

Opioid Epidemic Caused by DoctorsEasy access to a highly addictive drug are ingredients for a public disaster like an opioid epidemic. Patients simply have to visit a doctor and complain of ongoing pain, and they can be prescribed a powerful drug with relative ease.

Even those who do not set out to abuse drugs in an effort to get high or feel a certain way can find themselves addicted. Once addiction takes hold, overdoses are an unfortunate but natural byproduct of widespread drug abuse.

What is Being Done to Resolve the Crisis?

It’s clear that there’s an opioid epidemic going on in Arizona, but what’s being done about it? Are any efforts being made to stop it?

Luckily, the answer is yes. Once the governor declared the situation a public health emergency, organizations began to take the issue more seriously and possible resolutions were set in motion.

Numbers relating to the opioid epidemic are now being closely monitored and checked for progress.

The Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program was put into place. This monitoring program consists of an electronic database that collections information on substance prescriptions.

Opioid Database for DoctorsDoctors can use this database to check on their patient’s history before handing over another prescription for a drug that they’re misusing in a deadly way.

In recent months, a new mandate was passed that requires providers to check this database before prescribing opioids or benzodiazepines, which have a high rate of complication when combined with opioids.

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Treatment for Opioid Addiction

If you or anyone close to you is abusing opioids, you need to treat the situation with the ultimate urgency and seriousness.

Opioid addiction or misuse is quickly leading to deaths all across Arizona, and you don’t want the person you love to be just another statistic.

There are treatment options available for opioid abuse in Arizona. Drug rehab centers are geared up to help those who are addicted to the sneaky killers we call opioids.

From therapy and detox to outpatient and inpatient programs, there are options for people at all stages of opioid abuse. We can also help with interventions and life skills training.

Contact us today if you are ready to seek hope and healing. Recovery from drug addiction is possible, so don’t wait a moment longer to seek help.

5 Tips for Family and Friends of Opiate Addicts

Most recent statistics indicate an average of 91 Americans die a day because of an opioid-related drug overdose. The number of deaths has increased greatly over the last two decades.

But while drug abuse is potentially deadly to people with opiate addiction, its also crippling to friends and relatives. Mother and father, siblings, kids, and many others often watch from the sidelines as their loved one progressively losses their fight against abuse of substances.

Fortunately, there are activities that families and friends of opiate addicts can do to offer support. If you want to know how to help someone you care about to fight their addiction, here are five tips to get you started.

1. Recognize Opioid Addiction as an Illness

One of the most pervasive myths about drug addiction is that drug use is a behavior that addicts choose to engage in. Under this view, drug use is akin to a dangerous bad habit like driving too fast or drinking too much caffeine. If the addict could simply exercise discipline and self-control, they could kick their habit and return to a productive life. Knowing when to get into opioid addiction treatment is part of the battle.


Loved One is an Opiate Addict

When someone has this view of opioid drug addiction, it makes it difficult for them to understand and empathize. They may see the individual lose a job or custody of their children due to their addiction. If they believe this person could simply choose to stop using drugs, they can grow judgmental of the individual, and begin to believe that they deserve their situation.

In reality, addiction is a chronic disease, like diabetes or cancer. Because of this, addicts do not fail to quit because they lack the will, but rather because they lack the physical ability. Saying an addict should simply quit using would be like saying a diabetic should just produce more insulin.


Because addiction is an illness, opioid addicts do not always follow a direct path to recovery. As with other chronic illnesses, addicts may get well and relapse several times on their path to recovery.

For opiate addicts, relapse is not a sign that recovery efforts are not working. Rather, it is a sign that they have more work to do in overcoming their illness. When loved ones understand this, they can have better expectations.

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2. Know About Opiate Addiction – Get Involved

If your loved one were diagnosed with lung cancer or heart disease, you would likely spend time researching the illness so you could understand it better. Your approach should be exactly the same with drug addiction.

The more you know about drug addiction, the better you will be able to support your loved one. You will be able to identify your loved one’s symptoms, provide necessary care, and notice if they have experienced a relapse.

Additionally, look into care options that are available for friends and family of addicts. Support groups geared towards caretakers can help you manage your emotional health and learn strategies for coping with the disease.

3. Know When to Walk Away from Opiate Addict

Loving and Opioid Addict

That said, while addiction is an illness, this does not mean that friends and family are obligated to turn a blind eye to destructive behavior. If your loved one had lung cancer, you would not buy them packs of cigarettes to continue their habit. The same goes for dealing with addicts.

Providing money or a place to stay to addicts can help enable their addiction. To protect yourself, it is important to know how to set boundaries and say no to requests.

Unfortunately, because addiction often causes users to lose their jobs or homes, many addicts become accustomed to manipulating others so they can continue their addiction. Resisting this manipulation will require a strong will. Ultimately, saying no to an addict’s requests can help them reach the point where they recognize their need to get help.

4. Offer Alternatives

Helping an opiate addict achieve sobriety can be a fine balancing act. On the one hand, you don’t want to offer your home to them if they are going to continue using. On the other hand, you don’t want their only option to be living with other addicts.

So, when you offer alternatives to a loved one, make sure the expectations are clear. For instance, you can offer to provide them a place to live if they first complete a rehabilitation program. This offer can give them confidence that they will have somewhere to go if they finish rehab.

That said, do not offer more than you are capable of. There is no shame in keeping your distance if that is what you need.

5. Maintain Your Own Sobriety

Stay Sober around your opiate addict loved one.If you do not struggle with drug addiction, mind-altering substances do not pose the same threat to you as they do to opiate addicts. You can take codeine for a cough, or have a glass of wine with dinner without these activities affecting your life.

For an addict, however, it can be difficult to be around someone who uses these substances. So, if you decide to have an addict live with you while they are recovering, you should remove all intoxicating substances from your home. If you are not able to do this for any reason, you should reconsider having your loved one live with you.

Even if you do not have your loved one living with you, you should still be cautious of your activity when you see them. For instance, if you go out to dinner with a recovering addict, you should avoid ordering alcohol.

If you are prescribed opiates for any reason, make sure that your loved one does not know where you keep them.


Help the Opiate Addicts in Your Life Today

With the help of these tips, you will be better equipped to help the addict you care about to take the steps they need to get well. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that most opiate addicts will need professional help and counseling to achieve full recovery.

If you would like to connect your loved one with professional care, contact us to admit them to rehab. Know when your loved one is ready for treatment and our services can help the person you care about to get clean and to get their life back.