Opioid addiction is life-threatening not only for the person suffering from it but also to those around them. Addicts overdose, contract and spread infectious diseases, and even engage in criminal activities to obtain their next dose. Those who try to quit opioids experience severe withdrawal symptoms and usually relapse. That is why addiction treatment is required. In some cases, the treatment includes opioid replacement therapy.
As the term suggests, this therapy involves replacing opioids with medication with longer-lasting, euphoria-decreasing effects meant to lower the risk of criminal behavior and relapses. A brief overview of how opioids affect the brain may help understand the reasons behind prescribing opioid replacements.
Opioids and the Human Brain
Opioids like heroin, oxycontin, vicodin, or percocet have short-term effects. The body process them within hours. Used regularly and high dosage, they induce tolerance, so the user needs higher or more frequent dosages to obtain the same effects.
Opioid act on the brain receptors responsible for regulating emotions and pain. They disrupt the production of natural neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in the brain. Instead of regulating its own activity and responses by using naturally occurring chemicals, the brain starts relying on the drugs.
When it does not receive them, cravings and physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms set in. Their intensity and duration varies according to the type of opioid, use length, dosages, administration methods, and other factors.
They can get so severe that the sufferer will start using opioids again to relieve them. To prevent relapse, medical professionals sometimes prescribe opioids that have longer-lasting effects and do not cause euphoria.
The most commonly used drugs used in opioid replacement therapy are methadone and buprenorphine. These are touted to help the addict to detox and gradually regain their brain function. However, their use is not without risk, so it is important that it take place under close medical supervision.
Methadone for Treating Opioid Addiction
This is a full opioid agonist with effects lasting for up to 36 hours. It has milder intoxicating effect compared to other opioids. Methadone is only prescribed in federally regulated clinics. It too binds to the brain’s opioid receptors, activates them, and helps eliminate cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Long term treatments seem to yield higher recovery rates.
However, methadone itself is a Schedule II controlled substance with high abuse potential. Although less harmful than heroin and other opioids, it is still dangerous. Abuse, overdoses, or misuse can have severe negative consequences.
By itself, methadone is not enough to treat opioid addiction. In order for the addict to refrain from further use and avoid relapses, they should be closely monitored and benefit from numerous other treatments and therapies.
Buprenorphine and Buprenorphine/Naloxone for Treating Opioid Addiction
Unlike methadone, buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. Its action on the brain’s opioid receptors is milder. Initially used as a painkiller, it reduces pain and induces a feeling of well-being. It alleviates withdrawal symptoms. Its effects may last up to 72 hours.
Taken as prescribed, buprenorphine does not cause euphoria. However, there is a tendency to abuse it in order to obtain the “high”effects. It was combined with naloxone precisely to deter abuse. The latter is an opioid antagonist that blocks opioid effects at brain receptors level. When abused, naloxone may induce precipitated opioid withdrawal.
For this reason, suboxone, the buprenorphine/naloxone combination is considered more effective and is more frequently prescribed than its alternative. However, both drugs can have side effects. These range from constipation and nausea to diziness, headaches, and drowsiness.
Moreover, their exclusive use does not guarantee recovery. Behavioral therapies and counselling are fundamental to opioid recovery. Whether or not these should be combined with medication is something that only doctors can determine by evaluating the patient’s addiction stage, physical and mental health condition, and treatment needs.
Discover the Most Effective Opioid Addiction Treatment Options at Asheville Recovery Center
Each person is different, be they addicted to opioids or not. At Asheville Recovery Center, we focus on offering personalized, holistic, opioid addiction treatment programs that see our patients to recovery. Whether or not they should include opioid replacement therapy is something that we determine on a case-to-case basis.
What matters is that, in our center, you or your loved one can overcome your opioid addiction. All you have to do is get in touch and schedule a free consultation. It is the first step to recovery and it will not cost you anything!