Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
Can I go cold turkey to stop abusing opioids?
While going "cold turkey," or suddenly stopping the use of opioids, might seem like a fast way to begin recovery, it's generally not recommended due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms and potential health risks.
Opioid withdrawal can be intensely uncomfortable and, in some cases, hazardous. Symptoms can include severe cravings, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, and involuntary leg movements. In severe cases, withdrawal can lead to serious dehydration or electrolyte imbalances.
Furthermore, abruptly stopping opioid use can significantly increase the risk of relapse. The discomfort of withdrawal symptoms may make it more difficult to stay abstinent, and an individual may be tempted to use again just to relieve these symptoms. If a person relapses and takes the same dose they were previously accustomed to, the risk of overdose is high because the body's tolerance to the substance has decreased.
For these reasons, opioid withdrawal should ideally be managed under the supervision of healthcare professionals. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which includes medications like methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone), and naltrexone, can be used to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. These medications work by acting on the same brain receptors targeted by opioids, but they do so in a safer manner that helps to manage withdrawal and reduce the risk of relapse.
In addition to MAT, counseling and behavioral therapies are typically part of a comprehensive treatment program for opioid use disorder. These approaches can help individuals develop the skills and strategies needed to maintain recovery in the long term.
How do addictive drugs influence behavior?
Addictive drugs influence behavior by interacting with the brain's reward system. This system is responsible for driving pleasurable feelings and motivating behaviors essential to human survival, such as eating and socializing. Addictive substances can hijack this system, leading to changes in behavior and brain function.
Here's a simplified explanation of how this works:
Alteration of Neurotransmitter Activity: Addictive substances often increase the levels of certain neurotransmitters, chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain. One key neurotransmitter affected by many drugs is dopamine, which is closely associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.
Overstimulation of the Reward System: By increasing dopamine levels, addictive drugs overstimulate the reward system, often creating a sense of euphoria. This intense pleasure can lead individuals to repeat the drug use to recapture this feeling.
Development of Tolerance and Dependence: Over time, the brain adapts to the increased dopamine levels by producing less dopamine or reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals. As a result, the drug's effects are lessened, a phenomenon known as tolerance. This can lead users to take increasingly larger doses of the drug to achieve the same dopamine high. This cycle can lead to dependence, where the brain relies on the drug to function normally.
Withdrawal and Cravings: When the drug is not taken, withdrawal symptoms can occur as the brain attempts to rebalance itself. These can include negative emotions like anxiety and depression, physical symptoms like nausea or restlessness, and intense cravings for the drug.
Compulsive Drug-seeking Behavior: As the cycle of tolerance, dependence, withdrawal, and cravings continues, individuals may engage in compulsive drug-seeking behavior, even when faced with negative health, social, or legal consequences. This is a key characteristic of addiction.
Impairment in Decision-making and Self-control: Long-term drug use can also cause changes to other areas of the brain that impair decision-making, self-control, judgment, learning, and memory, further fueling the cycle of addiction.
How to help someone that is detoxing from opioids?
Helping someone detoxing from opioids is a delicate process that requires careful attention, support, and understanding. Here are some ways you can assist:
Encourage Professional Help: Detoxing from opioids should ideally be done under the supervision of healthcare professionals. Encourage them to seek professional help, as this ensures their safety throughout the process and provides them with the best chance for successful recovery.
Learn About Opioid Withdrawal: Understanding the process of opioid withdrawal can help you be more empathetic and supportive. Symptoms can include anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and flu-like symptoms such as sweating and diarrhea. Also, be aware of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), which can present psychological symptoms like mood swings and depression for weeks or months after the initial detox period.
Provide Emotional Support: Be patient, understanding, and supportive. Listen to them, be there for them, and reassure them that they're not alone in this process. Avoid shaming or blaming, which can increase feelings of guilt and discourage recovery efforts.
Support Their Treatment Plan: Help them stick to their treatment plan. This could involve driving them to appointments, ensuring they take prescribed medications, or helping them manage their schedule to accommodate therapy or support group meetings.
Promote Healthy Habits: Encourage them to eat healthily, exercise, and get enough sleep. These habits can help strengthen their physical health and resilience during detox and recovery.
Limit Triggers: Help create an environment that minimizes triggers for drug use. This might involve clearing out substances and paraphernalia, or avoiding places or people associated with drug use.
Join a Support Group: Consider attending a support group for friends and family members of people with substance use disorders, such as Nar-Anon. These groups can offer valuable advice, resources, and support for you as you help your loved one.
Take Care of Yourself: Supporting someone through detox can be emotionally demanding. Make sure to take care of your own mental and physical health, too. Self-care isn't selfish�''it's crucial for you to be able to provide sustained support to your loved one.