Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
What are the symptoms of opioid addiction?
Opioid addiction is a chronic condition characterized by compulsive use of opioids despite harmful consequences. Recognizing the symptoms of opioid addiction can help in providing timely intervention and support for the affected individual. Some common symptoms of opioid addiction include:
- Physical symptoms: Opioid addiction can cause various physical symptoms, such as constricted pupils, drowsiness, slowed breathing, constipation, and itching. The person may also exhibit signs of intoxication, like slurred speech and impaired coordination.
- Behavioral changes: Opioid addiction can lead to changes in behavior, such as increased secrecy, social withdrawal, mood swings, and unexplained absences. The person may neglect personal hygiene, appearance, or responsibilities in favor of obtaining and using opioids.
- Tolerance and withdrawal: Over time, individuals with opioid addiction may develop a tolerance, requiring higher doses or more frequent use to achieve the desired effects. If the person stops using opioids, they may experience withdrawal symptoms, such as restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and cold flashes with goosebumps.
- Loss of control: A key symptom of opioid addiction is the inability to control opioid use, even when the person wants to stop. They may spend an excessive amount of time and resources obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of opioids.
- Continued use despite negative consequences: Individuals with opioid addiction often continue using opioids despite experiencing negative consequences, such as health problems, relationship issues, financial difficulties, or legal troubles.
- Preoccupation with opioids: Opioid addiction can lead to a preoccupation with the drug, resulting in the person prioritizing opioid use over other aspects of their life, including personal relationships, work, or hobbies.
- Risk-taking behaviors: Opioid addiction can lead to increased risk-taking behaviors, such as using opioids in dangerous situations, sharing needles, or engaging in criminal activities to obtain the drug.
- Neglecting relationships: Opioid addiction can strain personal relationships, as the person may prioritize their opioid use over their connections with friends and family.
- Changes in sleep patterns: Opioid use can disrupt sleep patterns, causing the person to experience insomnia or excessive sleepiness.
- Cravings: Individuals with opioid addiction may experience strong cravings for opioids, often leading to compulsive drug-seeking behaviors.
How can a homeless person get help for substance abuse?
For homeless individuals struggling with substance abuse, accessing help can be particularly challenging due to factors such as limited resources, absence of stable housing, and potential co-occurring mental health disorders. However, there are a number of avenues that a homeless person can explore to get help:
Government Programs: Many cities have government-funded programs that provide services for homeless individuals, including substance abuse treatment. These may include detoxification, outpatient counseling, residential treatment, and medication-assisted treatment. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are two significant sources of such assistance.
Community Health Clinics: Community health clinics often offer a range of services, including substance abuse treatment, on a sliding scale based on income. These clinics also frequently provide referrals to other necessary services.
Nonprofit Organizations: Many nonprofit organizations offer resources and support for homeless individuals struggling with substance abuse. These may include recovery support groups, transitional housing, job training programs, and other services.
Outreach Programs: Outreach programs are designed to connect with individuals who may not seek help on their own. Outreach workers may go to places where homeless individuals congregate to provide resources and assistance.
Housing First Programs: These programs, which prioritize providing individuals with stable housing without requiring sobriety or participation in treatment first, have been shown to be effective in helping people maintain recovery and improve their quality of life.
Emergency Departments and Hospitals: In a crisis, emergency medical personnel can provide immediate assistance and connect individuals with longer-term substance abuse treatment resources.
Veterans Services: If the individual is a veteran, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers many services, including substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and housing assistance.
How does a person become addicted to drugs?
Addiction to drugs is a complex process that involves a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. It is not simply a matter of weak willpower or moral failing, but rather a chronic disease of the brain that can develop over time.
Here's a simplified explanation of how a person may become addicted to drugs:
- Initial Use: The path to addiction often begins with the voluntary act of taking drugs. This could be due to curiosity, peer pressure, seeking pleasure or relief from stress, or even for medical reasons under prescription.
- Pleasure and Reward: Drugs alter the brain's normal functioning, typically leading to intense feelings of pleasure or the elimination of uncomfortable feelings. They do this by overstimulating the brain's reward system - particularly by releasing large amounts of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which plays a significant role in feelings of pleasure and reward.
- Repeated Use and Tolerance: Over time, as a person continues to use the drug, the brain adjusts to the excess dopamine by producing less of it or reducing the ability of cells in the reward circuit to respond to it. This reduces the high, leading the person to take more of the drug in an attempt to recreate the original experience. This is known as developing a tolerance.
- Dependence: As the brain becomes used to the drug, physiological changes occur that make the person's body require the drug to function "normally." When the drug is not taken, withdrawal symptoms may be experienced, driving the person to continue using the drug to avoid these uncomfortable or even painful symptoms.
- Addiction: At this point, seeking and consuming the drug becomes a compulsion. The person may want to stop using the drug, but they find it extremely difficult or impossible to do so on their own, even in the face of negative consequences to their health, relationships, or other aspects of their life. The brain's cognitive functions related to judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control are significantly altered, leading to harmful behaviors and the cycle of addiction.