What is EMDR Therapy? Can it Help My Recovery?

woman sitting in her therapist office discussing EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic practice for treating past trauma. It uses movement of the eyes to stimulate the brain in a way that assists in processing difficult emotions. Officially, EMDR can only treat trauma disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, emerging studies show it to be effective at treating depression, anxiety and stress. Research also shows it to be helpful in addiction, particularly if previous trauma helps drive that addiction.

How EMDR Works

The EMDR therapeutic method is simple. The patient sits in a comfortable position and moves their eyes back and forth along a horizontal line. They do this while recalling hurtful memories. Doing this allows easier processing of difficult emotions.

Biologically, it is still unclear exactly how and why EMDR works. Theories suggest that it stimulates better communication between the hemispheres of the brain. By engaging the brain in this way, the mind is better able to work through difficulties, because the movement forces the brain to employ more neurons in different areas of the brain. Stimulating different regions of the brain gives it more power of different kinds to work through painful issues.

Theories also posit that the back-and-forth action is similar to the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) experienced during dream sleep. The idea is that since people who have less REM sleep have higher stress levels, performing a similar eye movement can alleviate some of the pain of past memories.

EMDR does not only use eye movement for neural stimulation. Walking, tapping on alternate sides of the body or any motion that engages first one side of the body, then the other can work. Merely taking a walk to calm down is a simplified form of EMDR.

EMDR and Addiction Recovery

On some level, everyone suffers from memories of their past. These memories and their associated suffering help to drive addiction. Pleasant memories of previous drinking or using are frequently the cause of cravings. One of the other major causes of cravings is a desire to ease painful feelings.

EMDR strategies such as bi-lateral movement reduce all emotional reactions to memories. This includes happiness. Therefore, employing EMDR can lessen the joy from memories of using. Reducing the false happiness from the memories then lowers the desire to use.

Hurtful memories also drive the desire to use. These can be memories of past trauma, memories of humiliation or anything that brings about mental suffering. Addicts frequently report thoughts of the past help precipitate a relapse. Even memories of normal events such as the loss of a job, a relationship, or a family member can cause an addict to resort to previous behavior. EMDR helps to interrupt this cycle by easing the distress of these memories.

Though research on EMDR is positive when it comes to addiction recovery, it is rarely the only answer. It is merely one helpful tool for those who are haunted by the good and bad of their past.

If you or someone you know needs assistance in their battle with addiction, reaching out is the first key to success. Addiction thrives in isolation. Overcoming it requires help.

How to Help Someone Struggling with Addiction

woman comforts young woman with addiction

Have you ever loved an addict? Maybe an intimate partner or spouse? A sibling? What about a parent or a child? You may remember how happy they used to be. How they could light up a room just by walking into it. How just being around them made you feel a little better. And then they changed. And it likely wasn’t overnight. You probably noticed them behaving in a way that was out of the ordinary. Something about them just wasn’t quite right. And then you found out the truth – this person you love is an addict. And they need help. You know they need help. So what can you do? How can you help someone struggling with an addiction?

You Can Only Control Yourself

You might be familiar with what’s called the “Serenity Prayer.” It usually goes something like, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” It’s commonly attributed to the Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. But whether or not you are a person of faith isn’t relevant. What is relevant is the genuine and practical wisdom in that prayer. That serenity prayer isn’t just for addicts – it’s also very helpful for the people that love them through their struggle.

There’s a tremendous amount of freedom that comes from realizing that we can’t control other people. We can beg, we can threaten, and we may even try force. But ultimately, we only control our own thoughts and actions. Your loved one’s choices are their own. Their choices may hurt you; they may cause you grief. But you are only responsible for loving and supporting them, not fixing or curing them. That’s an unfair responsibility to put on yourself. You control you, and they control them.

Practice Active Listening

Most people don’t really know how to listen. Especially in a modern world with so many digital distractions. Listening is a skill. And like any other skill, it takes practice to do it well. Getting your loved one to open up about their addiction involves actively listening to them. To actively listen, first look at your loved one when they speak. Make solid eye contact, and communicate with body language. Nod, and give verbal affirmations that you understand them. Say things like, “I see,” “uh huh,” or “go on.” Focus not on their words, but on what’s underneath their words. The underlying thoughts and feelings below their actual words. When they finish, repeat back to them, in your own words, your understanding of what they have said. Start with something like, “Let me make sure I understand…” or, “So it sounds like you’re saying…”

Establish Trust

Active listening can help you establish trust with your loved one. If they trust you, they might be more inclined to follow your lead regarding treatment. Trust is elemental in your loved one’s recovery. If you say you’ll do something for them, then do it. If you make an agreement, then keep it. The life of an addict can be very unstable. Their trust in you might provide what little stability their lives have.

If someone you love is struggling with addiction, call Recovery By The Sea. Call 877-207-5033 now.

Can Someone Suffering From Addiction Be Cured?

man sitting on a bench smoking

Can someone suffering from addiction be cured? If you or someone you love is currently struggling with a substance abuse disorder, this is probably a question you’ve wondered about for a long time. If so, you’re certainly not alone. In the following sections, we’ll have a look at this rather thorny question.

Problem Use Vs Addiction

Before we can address the question of ‘curing’ addiction properly, there are a few basics we need to go over. First, most addiction professionals make a fairly sharp distinction between ‘problem use’ and ‘addiction.’ Problem use is pretty much just what it sounds like. It’s a term that applies to someone whose drinking or drug use has started to cause problems for them in one or more life areas. Perhaps the best way to think of ‘problem use’ is as an intermediate stage between, say, a casual or social drinker and someone who has developed a full-fledged alcohol use disorder.

Addiction is different. Although the DSM-5 has a fairly specific set of criteria for substance abuse disorder, things can get a bit more ‘fuzzy’ in real life. Unfortunately, it is beyond the scope of this article to delve too deeply into the technical definition of addiction. For our purposes, it’s enough to say that the term ‘addiction’ is typically applied to someone whose substance abuse has progressed far beyond that of a ‘problem user.’ In short, if drugs or alcohol are controlling your life, you’ve probably progressed into the so-called ‘addicted’ stage.

In any case, this is the set of people to whom the question ‘can someone suffering from addiction be cured?’ actually applies. Generally speaking, if someone is still in the ‘problem use’ stage of drinking or drug use, they can stop or reduce their use without professional help. But what does that mean for someone who is truly ‘addicted?’

So, Can Addiction Be Cured or Not?

The short answer to this very complicated question is a resounding ‘no.’ While there are exceptions, most people who have progressed into a full-blown substance abuse disorder need professional help to begin to recover. The word ‘recover’ can cause some confusion in this area. The same goes for the idea that addiction is a disease. After all, ‘recovery’ means ‘cured’ most of the time, right? And if you suffer a disease, you can sometimes be ‘cured’ as well.

Well, this is where it might seem like we’re crossing over into semantics. However, substance abuse involves a great deal more than words. Perhaps the best way to think about a substance abuse disorder is in terms of a ‘disease model.’ What this means is that a person who is suffering from addiction displays the characteristics of a disease and should be treated as such. When you look at it this way, it doesn’t matter if substance abuse is a disease like diabetes or cancer.

We can sum up with a brief discussion of the word ‘recovery.’ In terms of substance abuse disorder, recovery is a process, not a permanent state of being. At the present time, there is no cure for addiction. However, an addicted person can recover. But this can only come about with professional help and a consistent aftercare program.

Why is Fentanyl So Dangerous?

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl belongs to a class of drugs called opioids. Like other opioids, it has a legitimate medical use: easing pain. Opioids work by changing how the body responds to and deals with, pain. Fentanyl’s original purpose was to abate pain in cancer patients (1). Doctors will prescribe fentanyl to patients recovering from surgery, or to those experiencing chronic pain. Prescription fentanyl may appear under brand names such as Duragesic, Subsys, Ionsys, Actiq, and Sublimaze. These prescriptions may take the form of a dermal patch on the skin, an injection, or even lozenges.

Without A Prescription

On the street, fentanyl might be known as Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, Tango and Cash, or TNT (3). Since fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine (2), a little goes a long way. For this reason, dealers will mix fentanyl with other drugs. It’s not unusual to see it combined with ecstasy (MDMA), cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin. Buyers have no way to determine how much fentanyl is in their supply. Therefore, overdoses can be very common.

Where Is The Danger?

As with other opioids, fentanyl alters how our brains respond to pain. A person under the influence of fentanyl might feel relaxed and mellow. They could experience some drowsiness and be sluggish. Fainting, nausea, and seizures are frequent side effects. Users often experience shortness of breath and can stop breathing altogether. Subsequently, the blood is deprived of an adequate supply of oxygen, a condition known as “hypoxia” (3). If a person remains in this state for too long, they could become comatose. During the COVID-19 pandemic, opioids like fentanyl have caused a tremendous spike in overdose deaths (4).

Is Treatment Available?

Absolutely. No two recovery journeys are exactly the same. Different treatments provide different results for different people. But recovery is always possible.

One option, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), is a two-pronged approach to recovery. MAT combines the use of medication with counseling. In conjunction with medication, therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can provide a person with a holistic path to recovery (5). Another alternative might be partial hospitalization (PHP), a semi-structured method of recovery that allows for plenty of outside activities. However, a recovering person might require less regimented options. Intensive Outpatient (IOP) programs could involve extended group meetings, taking place either in the morning or evening. Recovering persons might opt for family therapy, or nonverbal therapies like art, music, or yoga. For a person interested in learning more about aftercare, resources on future relapse prevention are readily available.

Recovery Is A Lifestyle

Outpatient (OP) treatment might involve a once-a-week commitment to group meetings, individual meetings with a therapist, or life-skills training. Continuing support is available from aftercare options like Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous. Other alternatives include Rational Recovery and faith-based programs like Celebrate Recovery. Recovery doesn’t end with the completion of a program. Or even several programs. Recovery never ends; it’s a lifestyle.

What’s Next?

If you or someone you love is struggling with fentanyl addiction, contact Recovery By The Sea now. Hope is real, and recovery is possible. Call us at 877-207-5033 now.

Sources
(1) https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/fentanyl
(2) https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl#ref
(3) https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/drug-street-names/
(4) https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/p1218-overdose-deaths-covid-19.html
(5) https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment

What Does Evidence Based Treatment Mean?

male doctor holding a patient's treatment plan

You may have noticed some treatment centers describing their programs as ‘evidence-based treatment’. Your next thought may have been ‘what does evidence-based treatment mean exactly?

Evidence-based treatment is not limited only to the drug and alcohol rehabilitation sphere, but we will focus there. To understand how drug and alcohol treatment became what it is today, it’s helpful to know where it has been. Prior to the 1970s and 80s, drug and alcohol treatment occurred primarily in hospitals, psychiatric facilities and some dedicated rehab centers. The best most hospitals could do was to medically detox a patient safely and perhaps bring in a few Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Many people managed to get sober this way, however, the treatment providers themselves weren’t necessarily vetting every therapy for effectiveness.

By the 1960s and 70s, it was widely understood that the 12-step fellowships did help a great number of people when it seemed nothing else could. Hospitals, psychiatric facilities and rehabs relied on the fellowships to help patients remain on the road to recovery following treatment. In fact, 12-step programs are recommended to this day and they do help. However, what was largely missing in the treatment of addiction was a standardized approach to choosing treatment methods. Ideally this would mean using methods proven by peer-reviewed research. Furthermore, internal research, as to which therapies were working best for which patients and which were failing them was rarely done. The grim recidivism (relapse) rate was well known, but there were few concentrated efforts to determine what worked best and for whom. Without that critical information and a standards-based approach for therapies, the new substance abuse treatment facilities that began to appear in the 1980s were left to their own devices. Many had “alumni departments” that did some limited follow up, but almost no one was tracking the results of specific treatment methodologies. As a result, treatment for drug and alcohol abuse did not change dramatically during the latter half of the 20th century. New medications appeared and new forms of therapy, but there wasn’t a great deal of science or technology being brought to bear on the problem.

Several changes in the addiction medicine paradigm and the world around it came together to inspire adoption of the evidence-based approach. So, what does an evidence-based model look like?

A rehab that follows an evidence-based treatment model utilizes methods that have the following qualities:

  • The method has undergone study and research by reputable organizations.
  • The method has been proven effective and this is documented in peer-reviewed research.
  • The method can be repeated faithfully. There are guidelines that clearly define it.
  • The rehab rejects treatment methods that are not proven or may even harm the patient.

In essence, evidence-based treatment means using techniques that have been scientifically studied, are proven effective, and are standardized. (1) Examples of evidence-based methods include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Eye Movement Desensitization, and Reprocessing (EMDR). It may surprise you to know that attending Alcoholics Anonymous is also considered a part of evidence-based treatment. While AA itself conducts no research into its members, numerous studies have shown the 12-step method and meeting attendance is effective. (2)(3).

The adoption of evidence-based treatment is improving the outcomes for addiction care patients. This approach is also contributing to the evolution of care as more facilities conduct their own internal studies. The National Institutes of Health received substantial increases in funding to facilitate substance abuse research. Studies from the National Institute of Drug Abuse and others have helped bolster certain methods and discredit others. Most importantly though, the quality of treatment is better than ever before thanks to the embrace of scientific validation.

 

Sources
(1) https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-therapies

(2) https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/03/alcoholics-anonymous-most-effective-path-to-alcohol-abstinence.html

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2746426/

Can Heroin Withdrawal be Fatal?

heroin needle, spoon, and pill bottles on a table

Any person who has been addicted to opioids for a while is well-acquainted with the fear of withdrawal symptoms. Nearly everyone knows that heroin use is inherently dangerous. The specter of overdose and withdrawal are constant companions. Many are aware that withdrawal from alcohol or benzodiazepines can result in deadly seizures. What is not as clear is whether or not heroin withdrawal can be fatal. The answer is a bit complex, but it is safe to say that overdose presents the greatest risk of fatality for any heroin user.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms can include cold chills, muscle spasms, vomiting, and diarrhea. While these symptoms typically are not fatal a great deal depends on the person and the circumstances. Someone caught in the throes of heroin addiction generally is not taking good care of their health. This puts them at greater risk for any number of complications. Vomiting and diarrhea are both ways the body tries to rid itself of toxins. However, the side-effects of those symptoms include severe dehydration and higher blood sodium (hypernatraemia). Those conditions can lead to cardiac arrest and heart failure. (1) While deaths from heroin withdrawal are uncommon, they aren’t unheard of. Withdrawal puts extraordinary stress on the body. Combined with poor nutrition, personal hygiene and a lack of self-care makes it worse. Add just one more element like a congenital heart condition or a propensity for seizures and it is quite possible that heroin withdrawal can be fatal.

Another risk associated with withdrawal comes from the psychological effects. The physical agony is not the only potentially dangerous symptom of heroin withdrawal. Anxiety, depression, and anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) can be intense during and following heroin withdrawal. Combined with the physical discomfort it can be too much to bear for some, making it a risk factor for suicide.

There is reason to be hopeful, however. The opioid use epidemic in the U.S. has led to innovations in treatment and an increase in accessibility of care. Tens of thousands of people recover from opioid addiction every year in this country. Regardless of how awful your story may be, there are people out there who will genuinely understand and are willing to help. Turning the corner from heroin addiction starts with the addict themselves though. It takes willingness and courage in equal measure to admit you have met your match and you no longer want to live that way.

A range of options awaits anyone who is ready to give up the fight and get off of heroin for good. The ideal for most people is to start with an inpatient medical detox. This is generally the safest and most comfortable way to begin. After detox, it’s best to attend a residential program for at least 30 days if possible and follow that up with a stint in a sober living of 6 months to a year. The ideal protocol may not fit everyone’s life or means, however, and there are choices to be made. Outpatient detoxes and Medication Assisted Treatment have grown in popularity recently and make recovering from heroin addiction within reach for even more people.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with heroin addiction, pick up the phone and give us a call. We are happy to provide information about treatment options or just advice on how to proceed.


Sources
(1) https://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/blog/yes-people-can-die-opiate-withdrawal

How is Heroin Addiction Treated?

man outside searching on his phone for how heroin addiction is treated

The Heroin Epidemic

It’s no secret that heroin addiction has reached epidemic proportions in the United States over the last couple of decades. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found heroin overdose deaths increased by almost 50% since 2010. (1) There were 14,996 OD deaths from heroin in 2018 alone. That’s not including OD deaths attributed to fentanyl, which have skyrocketed to over 30,000 since 2014 alone. The positive side to these grim statistics may be that more people are going to treatment for heroin addiction than ever before. Demand for effective heroin addiction treatment has also driven innovation in care.

The Front Line Assault

The initial approach to anyone entering treatment for heroin addiction is medical stabilization. Anyone who has endured opiate withdrawal knows the terrible physical and mental discomfort it entails. Job number one is getting a patient stable and as comfortable as possible. This is ideally accomplished in an inpatient detox setting. Opiate detox protocols have become increasingly targeted and effective in recent years. Someone who detoxed years ago may well have an obsolete idea of what the process is like in the present day. A new class of medications is being deployed in an evidence-based model that delivers results. Buprenorphine (Subutex®) is part of most detox protocols, but only a part. Long-acting medications like IV Vivitrol may be used. Clonidine is a blood pressure medication that has been found to reduce adrenaline. By subduing the body’s “fight or flight” response, a patient can be made calm and more comfortable. Lofexidine is another non-narcotic medication that has proven effective at relieving heroin withdrawal symptoms. Certain antidepressants including Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Venlafaxine (Effexor) can also produce positive results. In some cases, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medications may be used. (2)

Supporting Early Recovery

After the initial week or so of heroin detox, most patients are ready to phase out of the medical detoxification portion of treatment. Research has shown dramatically better long-term outcomes for patients who remain engaged in treatment beyond the detox phase. (3) The options here vary from a longer inpatient stay to Partial Hospitalization (PHP, Intensive Outpatient (IOP), or a combination of these. An old adage in the treatment field says that there is no such thing as too much help for a problem, there is only ‘not enough’ and the research supports this idea. Heroin addiction is about more than chemical dependence. It is a complex ailment that involves the mind as much, or more than, the body. In order to have a fighting chance at recovery, a heroin addict must learn entirely new behaviors. These must become ingrained as habits they can sustain for a lifetime. Modern medicine has made total recovery more accessible than ever before. But there is no ‘easier, softer way’ that doesn’t involve dedicating oneself to a lifetime of recovery.

Holistic Recovery for Heroin Addiction

The term holistic is often misunderstood. This may be especially true as it relates to recovery. Simply put, holistic means treating the entire person, rather than just the symptoms. The detox phase of treatment is about relieving symptoms and allowing the body to rest. Little else can happen until a person is well enough to engage in therapy and activity. Effective heroin addiction treatment is a transformative experience. The detox phase is only the beginning. Assessments and accurate diagnosis of any co-occurring disorders usually follow. Then the real work begins. Individual and group therapy. Reading. Working on yourself becomes your primary purpose. Overcoming heroin addiction for a lifetime is a process. Luckily, many have followed the path before and they know the way.

The results any person gets from addiction treatment are proportional to the degree of dedication they apply. Change isn’t easy, but you don’t have to go it alone. Call us at Recovery By The Sea to discuss your options for care. A new way of living is just a phone call away.

(1) https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4014033/
(3) https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

What Alcoholism Does to Relationships

man and woman sitting on a bench arguing

Let’s get straight to the point here– alcohol use disorder is a disease that eventually has a negative impact on every life it happens to touch. In other words, it’s virtually impossible for an active alcoholic to maintain healthy and mutually beneficial relationships. It’s an unfortunate fact, yes, but one that every addict has to confront if they are to have a chance at true recovery.

In this post, we’ll examine some of the most common difficulties that alcoholics and other addicts face in their romantic and family relationships.

The Effect of Alcoholism on Romantic Relationships

The effect that alcoholism has on any type of intimacy is almost always destructive to both parties. No matter how much two people might love one another, an active alcoholic (often with a great deal of help from their well-meaning partner) is often so cruel, absent, erratic, and unhappy that the relationship ends in disaster.

Here are just a few examples of what alcoholism does to romantic relationships:

  • The erratic behavior of the heavy drinker leads to feelings of anxiety and fear
  • Deep feelings of mistrust can arise because of the alcoholic’s unreliability
  • A preoccupation with alcohol and self can lead to systematic neglect of the drinker’s partners
  • Social embarrassment, job loss, and obviously low self-esteem can lead to a loss of respect
  • Personality changes can destroy the shared values that make a relationship stable
  • Alcoholism can also result in mental, physical, and verbal abuse
  • Codependency is a frequent outcome of a relationship that’s poisoned by alcohol

Again, this is just a small sample of the destructive effects alcoholism has on romantic relationships. Fortunately, a little recovery often goes a long way in resolving even the worst conflicts. 

Alcoholism and The Family Dynamic

Alcoholism can damage a once healthy family dynamic in a distressing variety of ways. Here’s what can result if one or more family members progress into alcoholism

  • Fractured relationships
  • Suspicions and mistrust
  • Deep resentment
  • Divorce, separation, or the alcoholic being forced to leave the family home
  • Neglected and traumatized children
  • Enabling behavior and/or codependency
  • Various types of familial abuse

Perhaps worst of all, certain family members can end up feeling disregarded when everyone is forced to deal with the alcoholic’s chronic instability. If possible, these relationships must be repaired if the alcoholic is to recover and the other members want to live happier, more productive lives.

The Importance of Healthy Relationships in Recovery

It might seem like a contradiction in terms, but stable, supportive relationships are critical to individual recovery. This doesn’t mean that romantic partners and family members should jeopardize their quality of life just to give an alcoholic one last chance, but it does require the heavy drinker to make the internal changes that healthy relationships demand.

Unfortunately, most alcoholics can only make these changes with the help of supportive relationships. But this isn’t the stalemate it might look like on the surface. There is strength and wisdom in numbers, especially when the persons involved are pursuing similar goals. For good or for ill, relationship skill-building usually has to begin with other people working toward recovery.

While this might sound frustrating at first, it won’t take long before these newly learned skills start to bleed over into your non-recovery based relationships and you start to build a network of friends, family, and, just maybe, a romantic partner that inspires you to improve your insides even further.

What Is Opioid Withdrawal Like – What to Expect

distressed man sitting on the floor suffering from opioid withdrawal

Ask anyone who’s ever gone through it and they’ll tell you– opioid withdrawal is an agony like no other. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that opioid withdrawal is one of the most distressing conditions a human being can experience. Depending on the level of abuse, the symptoms associated with the abrupt cessation of opioid drugs can be so harrowing that it can be almost impossible to stop without extensive professional help.

Fortunately, there’s some good news to report as well, even in the face of an opioid epidemic that seems like it might never end. The good news is that anyone willing to accept help can stop using opioid drugs permanently and begin to recover. One of the keys to this success is knowing what to expect when you stop using opioid drugs abruptly. The information in this post will also be very helpful to the user’s family, friends, and other loved ones.

Opioid Drugs: Use, Abuse, and Why It’s So Hard To Stop

The pharmacology behind opioid addiction and withdrawal is extraordinarily complex, but the upshot is actually pretty simple. First, opioid drugs like heroin, morphine, oxycontin, hydrocodone, etc are extremely addictive and can send even the healthiest person into a hellish spiral in a very short amount of time.

The reasons for this are essentially twofold. First, opioid drugs induce an intense euphoria that many people spend years trying to recapture. Second, the withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid abuse (or even normal use) are probably the most grueling in the entire drug world.

To put it bluntly, stopping opioid drugs without professional help is so incredibly unpleasant that most people prefer the horrors of continued addiction to the experience of sudden withdrawal. And this ugly fact, as much as anything else, is the most powerful jet fuel of the opioid epidemic. Next, we’ll have a more detailed look at what happens to the user when opioids go away in a hurry.

Opioid Withdrawal: What To Expect To Start When You Finally Stop

Here’s the short version. When you stop using opioids abruptly, even after a fairly short amount of time, you will immediately start experiencing ugly and possibly life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Here are just a few of the symptoms you can expect to encounter when stopping opioid drugs without help:

  • Constantly high levels of anxiety
  • Extreme agitation, anger, and other negative emotions
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Deep, ongoing muscle pain
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, sneezing, runny nose, and diarrhea
  • Watery, itchy eyes
  • High amounts of sweating even in cool temperatures
  • Persistent insomnia
  • Painful stomach cramps
  • Significant increases in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Depression and/or suicidal ideation

Obviously, the intensity and duration of these symptoms depend on the person and their usage patterns. However, you will most likely feel intense physical, emotional, and mental discomfort for at least 3-4 days.

The physical symptoms typically decrease in severity significantly after between 7-10 days. And make no mistake about it– these will be among the worst– if not the absolute worst– 5-10 days of your life. Most people don’t make it that far. Moreover, even if opioid users can somehow endure these physical torments long enough, the depression, anxiety, and a sense of profound emptiness often continue for months.

Why Do it Alone?

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. If you or someone you love experiences this level of opioid withdrawal when they stop using, please find a medical detox facility immediately. Coming off of opioids will never be easy, but medical professionals can do a great deal to reduce your suffering or prescribe long term medications like Suboxone, methadone, or Naltrexone that will reduce your withdrawal symptoms and help ease you into recovery.

Managing Chronic Pain Without Opioids

black and white photo of man grabbing his neck in pain

The CDC estimates that more than 20% of U.S. adults experience chronic pain. Perhaps more significant is the fact that 8% of have high-impact chronic pain. (1) High-impact chronic pain is characterized as pain which lasts at least 3 months and comes with at least one major activity restriction. In other words, pain that someone lives with and has a significant effect on their life.

Risks of Prolonged Opioid Use

Since the dawn of modern medicine, opioids have been the traditional go-to for any serious pain. The options to relieve pain without opioids were quite limited. Aspirin and acetaminophen have been around since the late 19th century and were effective, but relatively short-acting and not nearly as effective for moderate to severe pain.

Opiate medications are still unsurpassed for effectiveness when it comes to severe short-term pain. But chronic pain patients have a unique predicament because they need solutions that are compatible with their lifestyle. What is effective for short-term pain may not be appropriate or even safe as a daily regimen for years. But until relatively recently, doctors did not have viable alternative non-opioid pain relief options for chronic pain patients. Even today, millions of chronic pain patients find themselves stuck in a vicious cycle.

People can begin to become opiate tolerant after just a week of use. Over longer periods, they not only experience withdrawal if they stop, but the same amount of opioid medication no longer delivers the same relief. Doctors, increasingly aware of opioid abuse are often reluctant to prescribe more medication. The chronic pain patient may find themselves running out of prescribed medications too early for a number of reasons. Then the panic sets in. They are faced with a terrible dilemma. Suffer until their next doctor visit? Or seek opioids in whatever form they can find them on the black market.

Alternatives to Traditional Opioids

To call this an imperfect situation is an understatement. Between opioid side-effects like constipation, withdrawal symptoms and tolerance, it’s a lot to endure. The demand for better solutions for chronic pain patients has been present for decades. Acupuncture, therapeutic massage and chiropractic have been helpful supplementals. But science is finally delivering a diverse array of options for chronic pain patients to relieve pain without opioids. Here are just a few.

  • Long-acting non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and COX-2 Inhibitors
  • Select Anticonvulsants (e.g. Pregabalin, carbamazepine)
  • Select Antidepressants (e.g. Tricyclics and SNRIs)
  • Topical Agents (e.g. Lidocaine, Capsaicin, topical NSAIDS)
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

We are even beginning to see non-opioid pain relief for post-surgical pain. A new generation of local anesthetics such as Exparel (bupivacaine liposome) has shown a lot of promise in this area. Medical science still hasn’t eliminated the need for opioid medications. There is a good possibility we won’t transcend opiates entirely for decades, if ever. There may also be circumstances under which doctors still feel an opioid medication is the best option for a chronic pain patient. We have now seen many thousands of chronic pain patients successfully relieve pain without opioids. As always, you should follow your doctor’s guidance. But be aware that non-opioid pain management is a reality and more and more professionals are informed about the issue. If you are a chronic pain patient who is tired of being opioid-dependent, give us a call to discuss the options for care.

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