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Opioid Use Disorder

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Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid abuse also carries the risk of overdose. Taking opioids in excessive amounts or combining them with other substances, such as alcohol or sedatives, can lead to overdose.

Navigation: What is Opioid Use Disorder?, Effects of Opioid Overdose and How to Prevent Them, Most Effective Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder, Medication-Assisted Treatment for OUD, Counseling and Therapy for Opioid Use Disorders, The Role of Support Groups in the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder, Rehab is Your Best Chance


Opioids are a class of drugs that are primarily used for pain relief. They include both prescription medications like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, as well as illegal drugs like heroin. Opioids work by binding to specific receptors in the brain and body to reduce pain sensations.

While opioids can be effective in managing acute or chronic pain, they also carry a significant risk of misuse, dependence, and overdose. A lot of opioids have a high risk for drug abuse, dependence, and addiction.

Opioid dependence is when a person’s body adapts to the constant presence of opioids that it begins to exhibit withdrawal symptoms whenever they reduce their intake or attempt to quit the drug. On the other hand, opioid addiction refers to the compulsive urge to seek and use these drugs despite harmful consequences. Substance abuse can lead to these conditions.

Opioid abuse also carries the risk of overdose. Taking opioids in excessive amounts or combining them with other substances, such as alcohol or sedatives, can lead to overdose.

Opioid overdose can be life-threatening as it can cause respiratory depression. If not promptly treated, this can be fatal.

Because of its various risks, it is important to take a closer look at the different programs for treating opioid use disorder (OUD). Here we will talk about the most effective substance abuse treatment programs for people struggling with OUD.


What is Opioid Use Disorder?

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a medical condition characterized by a problematic pattern of opioid use that leads to significant physical and mental health effects.

People with an opioid use disorder may experience a range of symptoms including cravings, difficulty controlling their opioid intake, increased drug tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms.

Loved ones may notice behavioral changes as well. The addicted individual may begin to neglect their responsibilities, prioritizing opioid use over important obligations, such as work, school, or family commitments.

Addicted people also tend to struggle with social and interpersonal problems. They have difficulty maintaining relationships, often experiencing conflicts due to their opioid use. They may even struggle financially in their attempt to obtain more opioids through illicit means. Most of their days will revolve around acquiring, using, and recovering from the effects of opioids.

It is also common for those with an opioid addiction to engage in dangerous behaviors, especially while under the influence of opioids, such as driving or engaging in unsafe sexual activities.

Opioid use disorder can have severe consequences for an individual’s physical and mental health, as well as their social and occupational functioning. Just like other addictions, it is considered a chronic relapsing condition, but with appropriate treatment and support, recovery is possible.


Effects of Opioid Overdose and How to Prevent Them

Aside from addiction and dependence, one of the most dangerous effects of opioid use disorder is opioid overdose. In fact, the opioid epidemic is a national concern because of the steadily growing number of opioid overdose deaths in the country.

An opioid overdose can have severe effects on the body. In some of the worst cases, these effects can be fatal. This is because opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers like oxycodone, can depress the central nervous system, leading to respiratory depression, decreased heart rate, and loss of consciousness.

It is important to call emergency services immediately if you think someone you love is struggling with an opioid overdose. Here are some of the signs and symptoms to watch out for:

Respiratory depression: Opioids can slow down or even stop a person’s breathing, leading to a lack of oxygen in the body. This can result in respiratory distress, brain damage, or death if not promptly addressed.

Cyanosis: Oxygen deprivation caused by respiratory depression can cause a bluish discoloration of the lips, nails, and skin, known as cyanosis.

Unresponsiveness: Opioid overdose can lead to loss of consciousness and unresponsiveness. It becomes challenging to wake the person up or get any response from them.

Pinpoint pupils: One of the characteristic signs of opioid overdose is extremely constricted or pinpoint pupils. However, it’s important to note that pinpoint pupils alone may not indicate an overdose, as there could be other causes for this symptom.

Pale, clammy skin: Opioid overdose can cause the skin to become pale, cool to the touch, and excessively sweaty or clammy.

Gastrointestinal symptoms: Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of opioid overdose. This can be particularly dangerous if a person is unconscious or semi-conscious, as they may choke on their own vomit.

In order to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, you can follow certain prevention strategies. The best way to avoid opioid overdose or at least minimize its risk is through education and awareness. Educating people about the risks associated with opioid use, the signs of overdose, and the importance of seeking immediate medical help can help prevent overdose incidents.

It is recommended that you have access to naloxone, which is a drug that can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Making naloxone widely available to at-risk individuals, their friends, and family members can save lives. Ask your doctor about naloxone and find out more about how to use it.

Healthcare providers can do their part in reducing opioid overdose deaths by carefully assessing a patient’s medical history and closely monitoring their opioid use to prevent excessive doses and substance abuse.

At a community level, harm reduction programs can be implemented such as needle exchange programs, safe injection sites, and opioid substitution treatment to reduce the risks of OUD and opioid overdose.

Finally, expanding access to substance abuse treatment programs, counseling, and support groups can assist those who are trying to overcome their opioid addiction.

Most Effective Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

The most effective treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) is a combination of medications and psychosocial interventions. This approach is commonly referred to as medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

MAT tends to have high rates of treatment retention. Treatment retention refers to the ability of individuals to remain engaged and actively participate in a particular treatment program or intervention over a specific period of time. Higher rates of retention generally suggest that individuals are more likely to complete the recommended course of treatment, which can lead to better outcomes.

A medication treatment program, as the name suggests, will make use of medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone to get the person’s symptoms and cravings under control.

Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist that helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It is typically dispensed in specialized clinics on a daily basis.

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that also helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It is available in different formulations, including sublingual tablets, films, and implants. Physicians with a special waiver can prescribe buprenorphine in an office-based setting.

Finally, naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids and reduces cravings. It is available in oral and extended-release injectable formulations. Naltrexone is usually used after a person has completed detoxification and is no longer physically dependent on opioids.

In addition to these medications, psychosocial interventions can also play a crucial role in the treatment of OUD. For example, individual counseling, group therapy, and behavioral therapy are often used to address the psychological and social aspects of addiction. These interventions can help individuals develop coping skills, address underlying issues, and avoid relapse.

These traditional therapies can be supported by more alternative approaches such as art therapy, music therapy, dance therapy, equine therapy, yoga, acupuncture, and many other treatments. Alternative treatments work best when complementing more traditional psychotherapy programs because they allow patients to explore their creative side, find new inspiration, and work on channeling their energy into healthier habits.

Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and SMART Recovery provide a supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences, receive encouragement, and learn from others who have successfully overcome opioid addiction.

Opioid addiction is such a complex condition that it often requires comprehensive treatment. Comprehensive treatment programs take all of the elements listed above and combine them to provide the best outcomes for patients. These programs provide a holistic approach to address the various needs of individuals with OUD.

Because addiction affects everyone differently, it is important to note that the exact treatment approach may vary for each individual. The best treatment programs are tailored to the specific patient’s individual needs and circumstances.

It is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or addiction specialist to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for someone with OUD.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for OUD

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a widely accepted and evidence-based approach for the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD). It involves the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a comprehensive approach to recovery.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the most common medications used to treat AUD are buprenorphine, methadone, and naloxone. These medications can help normalize brain chemistry and body functions while also blocking the euphoric effects of opioids. With these, patients can handle their physiological cravings.

These three medications are particularly effective when it comes to treating OUD for short-acting opioids like morphine, codeine, and even heroin. Even in the long-term, these medications are generally considered safe as long as you consult your doctor and ask for their recommendation.

The primary goal of MAT is to reduce the harm associated with opioid use and support individuals in achieving long-term recovery. It has been shown to be more effective than non-medication approaches alone, as it helps address the physiological and psychological aspects of OUD.

Methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist that activates the same receptors in the brain as other opioids. It helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms without producing the euphoric effects associated with opioid abuse. Methadone is usually dispensed through specialized clinics on a daily basis.

Buprenorphine treatment makes use of the partial opioid agonist to also reduce cravings and keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. But unlike methadone, which is dispensed in specialized clinics, buprenorphine can be prescribed by qualified healthcare providers in an office-based setting. Some formulations of buprenorphine also contain naloxone.

Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids. This is a life-saving drug as it can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose if administered. Do take note that the person still needs proper treatment after going through an overdose even if you reverse its effects with naltrexone.

Naltrexone can be administered orally on a daily basis or as a monthly injection called Vivitrol. There is also an extended-release injectable naltrexone, also known as naltrexone XR or Vivitrol. This is a medication used in the treatment opioid and alcohol dependence. This extended-release formulation of naltrexone is administered via injection, typically once a month, allowing for the sustained release of the medication over an extended period, providing continuous therapeutic effects.

MAT addresses the physical effects of OUD, but in order to facilitate long-term recovery, it needs to be combined with counseling, behavioral therapies, and other support services.

MAT is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and the choice of medication should be based on individual needs and preferences. The treatment plan should be developed in collaboration with a healthcare provider who is experienced in addiction medicine.

Counseling and Therapy for Opioid Use Disorders

Counseling and therapy play a crucial role in the treatment of opioid use disorder as part of a comprehensive program. These programs can help patients understand and address the underlying factors contributing to their substance use.

During therapy, they can pick up and learn new coping mechanisms that are healthier and do not rely on illicit or prescription drugs. Here are some common counseling and therapy approaches used for OUD:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It helps individuals develop strategies to manage cravings, avoid relapse triggers, and develop healthier coping mechanisms. CBT can also address co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.

Motivational Interviewing (MI): MI is a collaborative approach that helps individuals explore their ambivalence about changing their substance use behaviors. It aims to strengthen intrinsic motivation and build a commitment to change. Therapists using MI employ empathy, active listening, and open-ended questions to help clients explore their goals and values.

Contingency Management (CM): CM is a behavior-based therapy that provides tangible rewards for maintaining abstinence from opioids or achieving treatment goals. It typically involves a system of incentives or rewards, such as vouchers, prizes, or privileges, which are contingent upon drug tests or meeting specific treatment objectives.

Group Therapy: Group therapy provides a supportive environment where individuals with OUD can share experiences, provide mutual support, and learn from one another. Group therapy can help individuals develop social skills, build a sober support network, and reduce feelings of isolation.

Family Therapy: OUD affects not only the individual but also their family members. Family therapy involves the participation of family members to address relationship issues, improve communication, and foster a healthy and supportive family environment that promotes recovery.

Trauma-Informed Therapy: Many individuals with OUD have experienced trauma, which can contribute to substance use. Trauma-informed therapy focuses on addressing trauma-related symptoms, developing coping mechanisms, and building resilience.

There are many different treatment pathways and therapies that can be used for OUD. This is because every individual is different. Even if you abuse the same drug as someone else, you will have different symptoms, different risk factors, different motivations, different co-occurring disorders, etc.

The best treatment programs use a personalized approach. Treatment providers create a plan based on the individual patient’s needs and circumstances.

It is recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare professional or addiction specialist to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for OUD.

The Role of Support Groups in the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder

The recovery journey doesn’t end after you leave rehab. That’s why they say addiction recovery is a lifelong journey. Even after completing a treatment program, you need help and support from other people.

Support groups play a crucial role in the treatment of OUD because they provide a supportive and understanding environment where recovering individuals can share their experiences, gain emotional support, and learn from others who have gone through similar challenges. it’s easier to get proper advice from people who understand what you are going through.

These support group meetings often have facilitators or experienced individuals who can provide practical guidance and advice on navigating the challenges associated with OUD. They can share information about treatment options, healthcare providers, and community resources. Members can also learn strategies for managing cravings, coping with triggers, and building a healthy and fulfilling life in recovery.

Support groups bring together people who have firsthand experience with OUD. This peer support is invaluable as it helps reduce feelings of isolation and shame, providing a sense of belonging and understanding. Sharing stories and challenges with others who have faced similar struggles can provide a sense of validation and hope.

Dealing with OUD can be emotionally draining and challenging. Support groups offer a safe space for individuals to express their emotions, fears, and frustrations without judgment. Members can provide empathy, encouragement, and reassurance, which can help improve the participants’ emotional well-being.

Members can even exchange information about effective coping strategies, treatment options, relapse prevention techniques, and resources for additional support. Learning from others who have successfully overcome OUD can be both inspiring and informative.

Finally, being part of a support group creates a sense of accountability and motivation. Members can set goals and share their progress with the group, fostering a supportive and encouraging environment. This accountability can help individuals stay committed to their recovery and maintain their treatment plans.

OUD is a chronic condition that requires ongoing support. Support groups can offer long-term assistance by providing a continuous network of support and understanding. Regular group meetings and events can help individuals stay connected, even after completing formal treatment programs. This long-term support can be crucial in preventing relapse and maintaining recovery.

Medication-assisted treatment, counseling, therapies, and support groups can provide a comprehensive treatment for those who are struggling with opioid use disorder. Look for a rehab near you today to learn more about your options for dealing with this medical condition. The road to recovery starts here.


Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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