When abused, opiate drugs exert a hold on the mind and body that lingers for much longer than you might expect. The longer you abuse opiates the harder it is to stop taking these drugs. For these reasons, opiate detox facilities use medication treatment for withdrawal to help patients make it through the detox stage of recovery. Keep reading to see how opiates work on the brain’s chemical processes and how medication treatment for withdrawal can help you take back your life from addiction.
Opiate Effects on the Brain
Not too many types of drugs can interfere with the brain’s chemical makeup like opiates do. Opiate-based drugs, such as Vicodin, hydrocodone, codeine and heroin have a chemical composition that closely resembles that of certain neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. Dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin neurotransmitters all share chemical compounds that are similar to opiates. These similarities enable opiate-based drugs to change the brain’s chemical makeup over time.
As opiates change the brain’s chemical system, the brain becomes increasingly dependent on opiates to function normally. As this takes place, the brain cells that interact with opiates become less sensitive to opiate effects over time. This means, larger doses of the drug are needed to keep the brain running as it should.
After a certain point, long-term abuse of opiates or taking large doses on a regular basis will disrupt the brain’s ability to regulate the body’s systems. Once this happens, a severe physical dependence on the drug has developed. The systems most affected by opiate dependence include:
- The limbic system, which regulates emotions
- Cognitive-based systems, which regulate thinking and behavior
- Sleep cycles
- The reward system, which regulates learning and motivation
Opiate Detox Withdrawal Effects
Opiate detox facilities focus on easing the withdrawal effects that occur when opiate use stops. Withdrawal effects reflect the state of disarray the body is in due to the chemical imbalances caused by opiate abuse. When opiate abuse stops, the brain can’t yet produce the number of neurotransmitters needed to keep the body’s systems running normally. As a result, the following withdrawal effects occur:
- Severe depression
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and profuse sweating
- Mental fog
Opiate detox facilities use medication treatment for withdrawal to help the brain’s chemical system adjust to detox. In the absence of some form of medication support, withdrawal effects can quickly overwhelm your efforts to stop using. When this happens, the risk of relapse runs especially high.
Treating Opiate Withdrawal With Medication
While many may believe overcoming addiction is a matter of willpower, opiate addiction is a chronic physical condition, much like heart disease and diabetes. Long-term opiate abuse leaves behind long-term damage in the brain. Medications used to treat opiate withdrawal support the brain’s chemical processes so that it can function normally. The severity of your abuse problem will determine how you’ll need to keep taking medication.
Medications Used to Treat Opiate Withdrawal
Medication-based treatments for opiate withdrawal use specially formulated, opiate-derived drugs that interact with the same brain neurotransmitter processes as opiates. These medications produce controlled effects that don’t set off the abuse-addiction cycle like heroin and prescription painkillers do. In turn, these controlled effects work to wean the brain and body off addictive opiates.
Two medications -methadone and Suboxone- are commonly used in the treatment of opiate withdrawal. When ingested on a daily basis, these medications relieve the effects of withdrawal and also help reduce drug cravings. Methadone and Suboxone differ in how they accomplish these ends.
Methadone is a full opiate agonist, meaning it helps the brain produce needed levels of neurotransmitter chemicals. As a controlled substance, opiate detox facilities must distribute methadone on a daily basis. In this way, overdose risks can be prevented.
Suboxone contains two medications: buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It has a built-in ceiling effect that greatly lowers the risk for overdose. This mechanism also prevents patients from getting high on the drug.
Naloxone, the second ingredient, acts as an opioid antidote. As an opioid antidote, naloxone acts as a safety precaution by triggering severe withdrawal in cases where patients try to dissolve and inject Suboxone. Unlike methadone, Suboxone can be prescribed by a doctor so there’s no need for daily visits to a clinic facility.
If you’re considering medication treatments for opiate withdrawal or have more questions about how it all works, our addiction counselors can help. Call us today at 800-737-0933 and find out how to get started.