Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a medical diagnosis given to those who suffer serious impairment or distress due to a continuous use of opioids. While other definitions like opioid addiction do exist, OUD is more commonly accepted among healthcare professionals.
OUD diagnosis is based on specific criteria, ranging from unsuccessful attempts to reduce or stop opioid use to social or family problems. Individuals with the disorder may report having trouble meeting obligations at work, school, or home. However, as OUD is an extensive disorder, healthcare specialists assess many more signs and symptoms to provide proper diagnosis and treatment.
Over 2 million individuals aged 12 and older were diagnosed with an opioid use disorder in the United States, comprising 0.7 percent of the population.
Opioids come in many different forms:
Another way to classify different types of opioids further is through the chemical composition of the drug:
Opioids are powerful substances that can reduce the body’s perception of pain.
When an individual takes the drug, the opioid binds immediately to specific receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract. This opioid-receptor interaction then triggers a series of bodily signs and symptoms that could include slowing breathing, drowsiness, nausea, and more.
Similarly, because opioid use produces a sense of euphoria or high, the risk of drug misuse, abuse, and overdose is high.
In 2018, misuse of opioids occurred in approximately 10.3 million people aged 12 or older.
Given that opioids affect the receptors of various nerve cells in the body, the following opioid withdrawal symptoms may occur after stopping use:
Withdrawal symptoms will lengthen or shorten in time, depending on many factors. Some factors that can influence the withdrawal timeline the most are as follows:
For short-acting opioids like heroin and oxycodone, symptoms may appear within 12 hours and peak within 24 to 48 hours. Symptoms then tend to subside in 3 to 5 days.
However, for long-acting opioids like methadone, symptoms may arise within 30 hours since the opioid was last taken and not go away until 10 days have passed.
The goal of detoxification is to rid the body of opioids. While detox may be short-lasting from a few days to a couple of weeks, it is the beginning step on a path to recovery and additional treatments.
Those going through withdrawal may mistakenly believe that their current pain is the same as the original pain that led to the use of opioids. This type of experience during withdrawal is known as the “rebound effect”, in which symptoms that were either absent or controlled due to medication reappear because of a lack thereof.
Opioid withdrawal is rarely life-threatening; however, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional to structure the most suitable approach to pain or discomfort management during that period. Sudden discontinuation of the drug or “going cold turkey” could ultimately lead to relapse in opioid use and even an unintentional overdose.
As detoxification can cause many symptoms and pain, medical specialists may use one of the following prescribed medications to support the withdrawal period:
Methadone and buprenorphine DO NOT substitute one addiction for another. Unlike heroin or other opioids that produce an instant rush or high, methadone and buprenorphine have a more gradual effect on the brain. This means that patients can reduce their cravings to use opioids little by little.
For those who suffer from an opioid use disorder, a “one-size-fits-all” treatment does not exist. It can be extremely difficult for many to overcome this problem, many healthcare professionals recommend that detoxification is coupled with additional psychological or support services.
A more well-known therapeutic approach for OUD is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This line of strategy aims to combine prescribed medications with behavioral counseling to address the symptoms caused by OUD as well as the underlying factors that may have led to the misuse of opioids.
According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA), MAT has been proven to provide the following benefits:
If you believe that you or a loved one suffers from an opioid use disorder or may be at risk of developing an OUD, please reach out to your nearest healthcare specialist to determine the best therapeutic approach.
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