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Opioid Use Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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Opioids belong to a category of analgesic drugs. Doctors recommend them to provide immediate pain relief. These drugs relax the central nervous system by working with the opioid receptors in the brain.

Opioids are life-savers and have many useful medical applications. However, they are highly addictive and have potential side effects.

Have you ever experienced lightheadedness and relief under the influence of anesthesia? That is how opioids work! It may feel good temporarily. However, an overdose can be extremely dangerous.

Approximately 39.5 million globally struggled with drug abuse in 2021. Also, the use of prescription opioids is increasing due to easy availability.

Opioid use disorder is a direct result of constant recreational use of opioids. I will explain everything you need to know in this article.

What is Opioid Use Disorder?

What is Opioid Use Disorder

This section explains what exactly opioid use disorder is.

There are two types of opioid drugs – natural and synthetic. Morphine is an example of a natural opioid made from poppy plants. Synthetic opioids include Fentanyl, methadone, diamorphine/heroin, and more. They are produced in a laboratory.

Opioid intake under the supervision of a doctor is safe. Prescription opioids help reduce pain and relieve coughing or indigestion. However, uncontrolled and unsupervised consumption may result in opioid addiction and dependence.

Opioid abuse accounted for about 75% of drug overdose deaths in 2020, according to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Continuous opioid abuse to artificially induce euphoria can cause serious health issues. If the distress signs persist for at least a year, it qualifies as opioid use disorder.

Causes of Opioid Use Disorder

Causes of Opioid Use Disorder

I will cover the major causes of opioid use disorder in this part of the article.

A combination of multiple factors can lead to opioid disorder.

Most people with easy access to opioid-based medications will likely develop the disorder. Heroin addicts have confessed to starting their drug addiction journey with FDA-approved opioid medications.

Here are the major causes of opioid use disorder:

  • Easy access to prescription opioids
  • Past trauma
  • Presence of other mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, etc
  • Genetic factors
  • History of substance abuse in the family
  • Drugs taken due to peer pressure
  • Wrong company at school, work, or in the neighborhood
  • Abusive parents and bad childhood experiences

Opioid consumption causes the release of endorphins. These feel-good chemicals or neurotransmitters alleviate pain and make you feel better. Therefore, your body can get easily used to opioids, considering they are highly addictive.

Symptoms of Opioid Use Disorder

Symptoms of Opioid Use Disorder

Let us discuss the key symptoms of Opioid Use Disorder in this section.

Prolonged observation of the below symptoms may point to opioid use disorder. The more the symptoms experienced, the higher the severity of the disorder.

  • Reduced participation in previously enjoyable activities
  • Difficulty focusing on work and school assignments
  • Uncontrollable urge to take prescription medications (any medicines) for opioid-like effects
  • Avoiding meetings or social events
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Irregular or no menstrual cycles
  • Gradual speech and interaction difficulties
  • Exceeding the prescribed dosage of medication to support addiction
  • Disregarding the physical harm caused by overdose
  • Problematic opioid usage patterns, e.g., driving when high
  • Progressively taking larger doses as opioid tolerance increases with time

There is also a likelihood of relapse due to the following withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Frequent diarrhea or constipation
  • Persistent body pain and muscle cramps
  • Intense anxiety
  • Compromised immune system
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fever, chills and nausea
  • Severe addiction and cravings to consume opioids
  • Extremely fidgety behavior
  • Dilated pupils

There are also many physical health risks associated with opioid use disorder. Injecting opioids via unsterile needles can cause diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and more.

Expecting mothers should particularly be careful about abusing opioids. It can lead to many pre or post-pregnancy complications. Death of the fetus, improper fetal growth, and preterm labor are some of the problems that may arise.

Opioid use disorder can be chronic and life-threatening if not treated. Excessive dosage can affect breathing and may even cause death. So, personalized, holistic psychiatric care is crucial.

Treatments for Opioid Use Disorder

Treatments for Opioid Use Disorder

I will help you understand how to treat the condition in this section.

Opioid use disorder is best treated with an integrated approach. Long-term psychiatric care usually entails both counseling and medication management.

You must be patient and consistent throughout the treatment course for better outcomes. And also to prevent relapse.

Approved Therapies for Opioid Use Disorder

  • CBT, or Cognitive behavioral therapy, addresses negative thinking patterns. These disruptive thoughts may influence opioid abuse. So, CBT focuses on identifying these thought patterns and evaluating their consequences. It is popularly used for substance abuse disorders.
  • Reaching out to the right support groups is another effective way. You get to hear about experiences directly from the horse’s mouth. The first-hand accounts of recovered patients can help you be more mindful of the do’s and don’ts in your treatment.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy, or MET, works best to address confusion in opioid use disorder patients. The primary aim is to boost motivation for coping with conflicting emotions. It can also help fight off the urge to get high every time there is withdrawal.
  • Contingency management is another treatment approach to address opioid use disorder. The method relies on a milestones and reward system for patients. Every milestone is a behavioral goal. So, people who successfully improve their behavior to achieve their goals are incentivized.

Other than the above treatment methods, I would also recommend family counseling/therapy. This way, your family is also involved in the recovery process.

These sessions work because they educate your family members about your condition in the true sense, the progress you have made so far, and the resources to make your recovery better.

Medications are prescribed for opioid use disorder to treat severe cases. These go hand-in-hand with talk therapy.

Naltrexone, Methadone, and Buprenorphine are some commonly used drugs approved by the FDA. They help control the addiction and also alleviate painful withdrawal symptoms.

Conclusion

Your smooth recovery is in your hands. You do not want the symptoms to relapse. Therefore, being consistent with your treatment will make all the difference.

Society highly looks down upon mental health conditions and drug abuse disorders. But this should not deter you from reaching out for help. Look at the bright side. Correct diagnosis and psychiatric care will help you lead a wonderful life later. Opioid use disorder is 100% treatable with therapy and medications. And you have a lot of options at your disposal. So, you must take the call before it is too late.

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