The human body is designed to respond dramatically when something wonderful is taking place. For example, when a waitress brings a smiling toddler a piece of chocolate cake, piled high with melting ice cream, that child’s body might be immersed with the chemicals the brain releases in order to signal pleasure. The child feels warm, happy and comforted.

Adults might have these same sensations when they’re provided with pieces of cake, but they might also experience joy and pleasure through drugs. Specifically, they may find that taking opiates provides them with a sensation of euphoria that they’ve long been missing. An addiction can quickly take hold when people dabble in drugs like this, but thankfully, an intervention can help to turn the tide and allow people to experience a robust form of healing.

What Are Opiates?

opiatesIn purely scientific terms, an opiate is a drug that originates from the flower of a poppy plant. Heroin and opium are both examples of pure opiates. Studies suggest that use of these hard drugs is relatively rare, when compared to the US population at large. For example, the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggests that only 0.10 percent of people ages 26 and older took heroin in the month prior to the study.

However, sticking to a purely scientific classification could obscure the reality of the drug abuse problem in this country. That’s because synthetic forms of opiates, which work in the body in the same way but which come from labs and not plants, are quite popular among drug users. These substances, which are technically known as opioids, are responsible for about five million cases of addiction in the United States, according to Medscape.

Examples of these drugs include:
  • Vicodin
  • OxyContin
  • Fentanyl
  • Demerol
  • Lortab
  • Dilaudid
  • Percocet

Inside an Opiate Addiction

When natural or manmade opiates enter the body, they attach to receptors located in the brain, digestive system and spinal cord, and they trigger a series of chemical reactions that is similar to the one felt by people experiencing a pleasurable episode. But while natural feelings of pleasure might last for only a moment or two, fading away when the event is over, chemically induced reactions can last for hours. They can also be much stronger and much more intense than the feelings a person might obtain during a natural event.

It’s safe to say that people who take these drugs often feel the sorts of sensations that are simply unavailable to them when they’re sober.

While opiates are capable of delivering a remarkable amount of pleasure to people who take them for the very first time, the body tends to adjust and amend its processes with each and every hit a user takes. Receptors for pleasure eventually turn off, while chemical signals made for pleasure become in short supply. In time, people may feel as though they simply cannot experience pleasure unless opiates are available, and they might be forced to take larger and larger doses of drugs to keep the high alive.

Unfortunately, opiates are also remarkably powerful at sedating, and people who take big doses in search of a high are at risk of overdosing on the drug as a result. They may take doses that seem safe, but those doses might be big enough to slow breathing to a crawl, and vital brain cells might die due to a lack of oxygen. A study in BMJ suggests that 23% of people who abuse heroin overdose at least once, and often, these users get quick treatments that can keep them from dying. But without therapy, they might recover from an overdose only to take more opiates in the days that follow. The addiction is just that strong.

Two syringesPeople who abuse opiates might also use needles to take their drugs, as this delivery method allows a huge amount of chemicals to enter the body in a short period of time. Flooding the body like this means experiencing intense pleasure quite rapidly, but it can also expose the user to risks.

Getting clean needles is difficult to impossible in some communities, and some users compensate by sharing needles with one another. They might develop localized infections due to this practice, or they might obtain blood-borne illnesses like HIV/AIDS due to sharing needles with infected friends. Without proper treatment for these illnesses, which addicted people might never receive, death can follow.

Since opiate addictions can lead to emotional suffering, physical pain and even death, it’s vital for families to get involved and to confront someone who has an addiction like this. With the proper treatment, people really can get better, but they might never do so unless the family points out how addiction works and how therapy might help.

An Opiate Intervention

While an intervention might be a vital part of the recovery process for someone with an opiate addiction, it can be difficult for families to think about confronting the person they love. Sometimes, emotional difficulties are to blame. For example, in a study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers found that opiate addicts had difficulties with intimacy, and they felt socially isolated.

As the addiction unfolded, these people pulled away from their families and they turned toward those who used drugs. Some just avoided others altogether. It can be difficult to talk with someone who seems withdrawn and isolated, but families can deal with this issue in an intervention by comparing and contrasting the relationship they had prior to the addiction with the relationship that’s unfolding now.

Reminding the person of the way things once were might motivate that person to work hard to change.

Families can also structure the intervention in such a way that the person with the strongest emotional connection to the addict speaks first. Front-loading the talk in this way might be a great way to break through that feeling of isolation, prompting the addicted person to really listen. In addition to feeling lonely and isolated, people with opiate addictions can feel as though the family just won’t understand how wonderful and powerful the drug can be.

As the family discusses the dangers of the addiction, the addicted person might respond with statements such as:
  • “I love the drug, and I won’t stop.”
  • “I could stop if I wanted to, but I don’t want to stop.”
  • “I’ll pretend to quit, but I never will.”
  • “I’d rather keep using, no matter what you might say.”

Learning a little more about how this addiction works can help. When families understand that the person with the addiction isn’t thinking rationally and that chemical changes in the brain are to blame, they might be less likely to react with anger or fear when the person with the addiction expresses a love for the drugs. Interventionists can help, as they can provide the education a family needs in order to deal with these emotional responses in a calm and rational way.

Opiates can also impair portions of the brain that control behavior. People with a long history of addiction can be impulsive and angry as a result, and they might say or do all sorts of hateful things during an intervention. It can be disturbing, but it’s vital for families to stay calm and relaxed during the talk. By sticking to the script and refusing to engage in off-topic distractions, families might have a higher chance of success.

Since these addictions are so strong, it’s not unusual for addicts to refuse to enter treatment at all. They might deny the problem altogether, or as mentioned, they might want to keep using despite the consequences they’ll face. There’s nothing a family can do in the face of this denial but to keep talking. They might need to use an intervention technique that allows for multiple conversations, such as CRAFT, or they might need to plan multiple interventions that conclude with increasingly severe consequences, such as the Johnson model.

Why Persistence Matters

It can be a little daunting to think about holding so many conversations, with increasing levels of anxiety and worry coming at each step in the process. But it’s important to remember that treatment really can help a person with an opiate addiction to recover. They might never do so without therapy, but with help, people can improve.

Treatment programs for opiate addiction often utilize replacement medications, including methadone. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people who are addicted to opiates like heroin often need between 60 to 120 units of methadone each day when they first enter treatment, and some remain on a maintenance dose of the medication for the rest of life. This medication can mimic the action of opiates in the human body, allowing people to feel as though they have access to opiates when they do not. Other medication options include buprenorphine, which can be taken at home, and naloxone, which can block the action of opiates and prevent a relapse or overdose.

In addition to medication management, people who have addictions to opiates also need access to therapies that can help them to:
  • Avoid situations that spark cravings for opiates
  • Deal with a craving without relapsing
  • Verbalize their emotions, rather than blunting them with drugs
  • Connect with sober peers

Therapies like this might be augmented by support group work, allowing people to meet other sober peers and learn more about the methods they use to deal with their addictions. Support groups can also help to fill the time, so people have fewer opportunities to use and abuse drugs. Before holding an opiate intervention, families should investigate their treatment options and identify a facility that’s well-suited to help the addicted person to heal.

Families can even pull together admission paperwork before the intervention, and handle payment details. That way, when the intervention goes as planned and the person accepts the need for care, treatment can begin right away. That will allow little time for relapse, and it will help the family to build upon the success they’re bound to have after they perform a well-designed intervention.

If someone in your family has an opiate addiction, and you have no idea how to find a treatment program or how to bring up the topic of treatment, we’d like to help. Call our toll-free, 24-hour helpline now at 855-317-8377.

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