The Journey of the Opioid Addiction is devastating America. Overdoses have passed car crashes and gun violence to become the leading cause of death for Americans under 55. The epidemic has killed more people than H.I.V. at the peak of that disease, and its death toll exceeds those of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq combined. Funerals for young people have become common. Every 11 minutes, another life is lost.
So why do so many people start using these drugs? Why don’t they stop?
There was a study done by the New York Times interviewing users, family members, and addiction experts. They took the insights from those interviews to better understand the journey that an opioid abuser goes through. Below is a brief summary of the findings.
Stage 1 – Gateway
Your brain produces endorphins which makes you feel good after doing certain things, like working out or eating your favorite food. Drugs like opioids impact that same part of the brain and causes some to feel good. One user said it feels like they were hugging Jesus. As the high wears off, the brain regains its balance – but not for everyone. That’s the opioid trap for many people: In the beginning, no serious ill effects are apparent. But the brain rewires little by little with each use.
Stage 2 Tolerance
The brain balances the endorphins like a thermostat. When outside sources flood the brain it throws off the system off. The dopamine that is released in the brain from opioids tells the brain that this is good keep using it and helps to rewire the brain even more. As the brain gets more rewired it makes life difficult without the drug causing stress and irritability that only the drug can satisfy. You find yourself no longer getting as much pleasure from the drug but you want it all the more. The more you take the drug, the more the brain demands it.
Stage 3 Withdrawal
Most people don’t even realize they are experiencing addiction until they try to quit and experience withdrawals. There might be crippling pain, vomiting, insomnia, spasms, hot and cold flashes, goosebumps, congestion, and tears. All this on top of debilitating anxiety and depression. This misery could last for weeks.
“Everything hurts. It hurts to comb your hair. It hurts to shave. You have no energy. You feel weak. Probably you’re feeling a sense of desperation. You have constant impending doom and anxiety because you realize that with one pack of dope you can change how you feel within a matter of 10 seconds.”— Raj Mehta, 51, Michigan
Stage 4 Addiction
Of course, the next stage is addiction. This is where its the next fix versus the symptoms of withdrawal. You may feel like only a fix can save you. It makes no sense, but this compulsion takes over all logic, judgment, and self-interest. You may do things you never thought you could. Many people lose jobs, shut out family members, and abandon children causing families to be torn apart. You are now addicted and you no longer take the drug to feel good but just to cope.
Stage 5 Treatment
You begin to dread what you have become. Also, you’ll realize that willpower alone is not enough to quit. You hear different stories about treatment. Treatment centers that promote abstinence are at odds with the medical standard of care. The medications that these facilities provide soften the cravings without causing euphoria. They help reset the brain’s thermostat, so it can stop thinking about opioids 24/7 and the hard work of recovery can begin. Every person is different, but therapy and community help increase the chances you stick with it.
Stage 6 Relapse
Relapse can be a normal part of recovery. Relapses can be dangerous as your body after abstaining from the drug for a while can no longer tolerate the same amount of the drug as before. You will find it easier to overdose on the drug than before.
“A lot of times in your addiction, things are getting better. You see a light at the end of the tunnel. And it ends up being the freight train coming at you.”— Jasmine Johnson, 29, Pennsylvania
Stage 7 Recovery
Recovery is complicated but it is not impossible. Recovery can take months or years. It could take being on medication indefinitely while others may be able to be tapered off the medication. However, only one in five people who need treatment for drug use actually receive care, and only about half of those are given medication, experts say. Those given medications rarely receive them for long enough.
Our society has a long battle on its hands to help those addicted to opioids. People can recover and live healthy lives again after addiction.
If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, call 913-755-4357
Source of Quotes: New York Times