Oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, heroin, and fentanyl are all examples of a class of drugs called opioids. Opioid abuse has steadily increased over the past two decades. Opioids are highly addictive and once a person is addicted, it is very difficult and dangerous to stop.
Addiction is widely accepted as a form of illness, but so many times, a person struggling with addiction is treated as if they are criminals. Every imaginable demographic is susceptible to opioid addiction. People of all age groups, ethnicity and income levels are addicted to opioids. It is important to acknowledge this addiction as an illness in order help an addicted person get the help they need and put an end to opioid abuse in America.
Why Do People Abuse Opioids?
Originally, opioids were believed to be safe and have a low risk of addiction. Prescribed as oxycodone, codeine, and other variations, these drugs were used to treat a wide range of pain. If you were in an automobile accident or sprained an ankle, you were likely to be prescribed an opioid.
Over time, it became clear that people were becoming dependent on these medications for their pain. People were taking more medication than their doctors prescribed and over time they had to take higher doses to achieve the same effect. This resulted in widespread opioid addiction illness.
How Do Opioids Work?
Opioids are a class of drug that bind to opioid receptors. They block the pain signals that your body sends to the brain. These medications are still widely used for medical purposes and are safe, if used as directed. Some opioids are very powerful, such as fentanyl, while others, like VICODIN®, are used for moderate pain.
Opioids are incredibly useful in controlling pain after surgery and for people who are chronically ill. Many terminally ill patients are able to find relief using more powerful forms of opioids. Some terminally ill patients in end-life stages are commonly prescribed pain relief to be freely administered. In cancer patients, it greatly reduces their pain and provides relief throughout treatment. Higher doses may also cause sedation and can depress the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, so dosage must be monitored closely by a physician to prevent death.
Opioid Addiction is an Illness
After taking an opioid for an extended period of time, a person becomes less sensitive to the effects of the medication. If he or she attempts to stop taking the medication, they may suffer unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.These symptoms and the desire to relieve the pain can spur a person to take more and more of the medication. This is how most people enter into a cycle of opioid addiction.
Addiction is now recognized by most as a chronic, relapsing brain disease, however, more often than not, a person abusing opioids is treated more as a criminal than a person with an illness. In 2015, 1,249,025 people were arrested for possession of a controlled substance in the U.S. The actual number of people who actually abuse opioids and other narcotics annually is likely significantly higher than this number.
Addressing Addiction as an Illness
The only way to end the cycle of addiction is to address it with proper addiction treatment. As it is today, once a person is arrested, he or she is often released within a short time of their arrest. This allows the person to resume their opioid abuse quickly, thus prolonging the cycle of abuse.
Instead, people with addiction problems need to be treated as someone who is ill. Qualified substance abuse intervention and treatment is necessary to end the cycle of addiction permanently.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.