The first truth about opioid dependence or addiction is there is no one truth for everybody. Each body is different.
Each reason for dependence is different. Were there bad choices? Or no choice? Was the pain unimaginable? So painful someone couldn’t go on without hurting themselves in the long run?
Every opioid-dependent person has his or her own story to tell. But what they hear from others is often the same line of misconceptions. “If you choose to use, you can choose to stop.” “You have to have will power and self-control. You’re just weak.”
It’s true that many people who become addicted arrived at this place because of bad choices — and they are often the first to admit it. There are also a lot of people who ended up addicted not because of any choice, but because of an accident, an injury, or because of debilitating pain caused by an illness.
For people who must rely on pain medication to simply get out of bed or walk far enough to use a bathroom, medication is both a lifesaver and a shackle. Without meds, they could be bedridden, unable to move. Where is the choice in that?
Putting yourself in another person’s shoes is the key to empathy and understanding. We offer this illustration to help you imagine what it feels like to be addicted. Those who haven’t experienced addiction can’t know, but they can try to understand.
Imagine you quit drinking water cold turkey.
Water is a must to survive and to feel healthy and normal, we all know that. But what if you had to go without it for one day? For two? For three? Or more? Most of us haven’t experienced severe life-threatening dehydration. What would that be like?
Surviving one day is probably may be no big deal. Sure, you’re a little thirsty but you’re not too distracted by it.
Going into day two though, your thirst is growing and your mouth is dry. While you’re still able to go about the tasks of life, you find yourself thinking about water a lot and with each hour that passes, you’re getting more uncomfortable.
By day three and four, life is interrupted. Things are changing in your body and you’re really feeling it. You have a headache and decreased urine output. Your desire for water is consuming your thoughts.
As the hours continue to morph into days, you get unbearably tired, sleepy or even dizzy. Your mouth is sticky and you’re becoming irritable and increasingly obsessed.
It’ll be horrible soon. You’ll get constipated, lightheaded, and you’ll feel your skin drying up. You’ll get muscle cramps and pretty soon, your blood pressure will drop and you’ll have a rapid heartbeat.
As water deprivation continues, you’ll break into a fever and then you’ll begin the process of dying. The word ‘desperate’ describes you and every fiber of your being.
On your mind is nothing but water. Not work. Not family. Not money. Water. It doesn’t even have to be clean. You’d drink from the toilet if you could.
Now, ask yourself: Would you lie to get water? Would you steal it? Would you lie to the ones you love just to get one sip? How far do you think you would go to feed your biological need for water?
Opioid addiction works in a similar way.
Once the body has become physically dependent, the brain will kick into survival mode when it’s not getting the thing it believes it needs to survive. It will send out signals resulting in the symptoms that parallel the water example. Desperation will take over the mind and every physical sensation from head to toe.
Without the drug, you will believe you’re dying.
There are a small number of people who can overcome and survive these symptoms without assistance. But we can’t make the truth of that small percentage everybody’s truth. They might say, “I did it on my own, so you can do it”. But the fact is, their body isn’t your body. What works for one person may not work for the next.
People end up addicted to opiates for different reasons. Each person has his or her own truth for why they ended up in that situation.
You may disapprove of their choices. On the other hand, if you listen to their experience, you may gain a new understanding of just how vulnerable we all are to the possibility of addiction.
As the US Surgeon General said in his report on Addiction in America, “We can never forget that the faces of substance use disorders are real people. They are a beloved family member, a friend, a colleague... and ourselves.”
The path to recovery.
What makes opioid addiction unique and so difficult to manage is where opiate receptors are found in the brain. The “survival” section of the brain—the part that tells you to eat and drink to stay alive—is also the area affected by opiates. Opiate addiction specifically and successfully convinces the brain that it needs opiates to survive.
Once anyone reaches this stage of physical dependence, if they try to stop using, they will experience withdrawal symptoms similar to what they would experience if they tried to go without food or water. It is this reality—the strength of the opioid addiction— that led to the opioid epidemic.
Opioid recovery requires knowledge and compassion.
Crossroads Treatment Centers specializes in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) utilizing medthadone — recognized as the most effective treatment for opioid dependence including pain killers and heroin — in combination with counseling and toxicology services.
It is this simple, but highly effective, 3-pronged approach (medication / counseling / toxicology) that the Centers for Disease Control and National Institute of Health refer to as the “Gold Standard” of care for Opioid Use Disorder.
Results of this “Gold Standard” treatment speak for themselves: patients who enroll and remain in medication-assisted treatment have a rate of remission that is four times higher than those in other forms of treatment.
It is not uncommon for patients wanting to enter treatment to be in a difficult or stressful financial situation, therefore it is important to note that Medicaid and many commercial insurance plans are accepted.
The professionals at Crossroads Treatment Centers understand that opioid use disorder is a disease, not a choice. The help to get one’s life back is treatment. If you, or someone you care about is ready to take the first step to living an opioid-free life, contact Crossroad Treatment Centers or make an appointment today.