Archive for June, 2013

I recently spoke with a young man who was “having a problem with opiates.”  In actuality, he was trying hard to convince both himself and me that his prescription medication abuse wasn’t serious.  Certainly he felt it would be wrong to call himself an “addict.”

The hard facts make it impossible to offer comfort or minimize the severity of opiate addiction, whether to painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin, or street drugs like heroin.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 2 million Americans are addicted to opiates that can be found in your medicine cabinet and almost 2 million more to illegal opiates.  They are now the #1 cause of accidental death in this country (and rising!).

opiate addictions are incredibly difficult to overcomeThe severity of an opiate addiction cannot be stressed enough; they hijack the brain and can quickly lead to behaviors that destroy relationships, careers, financial success and character.  Prescription drug use is also fueling a heroin epidemic because the high cost of an addiction to Percocet, Oxycodone or other painkillers often forces a switch to heroin, which is less expensive but much more dangerous.

Here are 7 hard truths about opiate addictions:

  1. Addiction to opiates occurs very rapidly and withdrawal symptoms can occur after only a week.  One study suggests that addiction will inevitably occur within 12 weeks of continuous use… but the struggle will last a lifetime.
  2. The “physical” pull of addiction is short-term and is not the major trigger that creates cravings.  The more powerful pull is “psychological” because the brain remembers the change in feelings produced by the drug. The addict must learn to manage this pull to avoiding using again.
  3. Detox from opiates – without a proven, effective recovery program – is usually a waste of time and money.  Until an addict has learned how to manage his or her thoughts, and the “psychological pull” of the disease, the cravings will most likely return and cause relapse.
  4. Using medications to manage opiate use has a very poor success rates. 70% to 90% of methadone users relapse soon after treatment ends.  The success rate for Suboxone, even after years of use, is not much better.  The only lasting road to recovery is a lifestyle change in which stress and emotions are managed, and a solid support network is established.
  5. Tolerance toward opiates (and all other drugs for that matter) increases with use.  A progressively larger amount is needed, which increases the likelihood of overdose.  One study recently calculated that the average life of an opiate abuser is 10 years after the first use if they do not enter into recovery.
  6. The physical pull of withdrawal is hardest in the first week, as opiates leave the body fairly quickly. The rebalancing and repair of the brain takes months, and while the psychological pull of addiction may be strongest for the first 90 days, many different things can trigger it at any time.
  7. Opiate addicts who try to manage their addiction with “willpower” rarely have more than 60-90 days of sobriety.  The majority of those people relapse in less than 30 days.  The people who truly succeed in overcoming their addiction are those who work hard to stay in recovery every day for the rest of their lives.

There were no easy or comforting words that can be offered to an opiate addict without minimizing the dangers of their addiction or the importance of committing to recovery.  Too many people underestimate the severity of an addiction to painkillers because they are legal drugs.  We must all realize that opiate addiction is truly a national crisis.  We must help people break free of this addiction that is destroying so many families, so many futures and so many lives.

Call 888-777-1098 or click here to get help now.

I don’t like to voice criticism of other rehab programs.  Every business has some players that are focused more on making money than providing quality service.  But when there are lives being hurt, it’s time to speak out.

This morning I was contacted by a mother who was frantic following a phone call from her daughter.  Almost a year ago her daughter had been the victim of a brutal sexual assault.  She experienced nightmares, panic attacks and lived in constant fear.  After privately wrestling with the aftermath of her abuse for more than six months, the daughter started to self-medicate with drugs, progressing to the occasional use of heroin.  Now she desperately wanted to go to rehab, get clean, and address the mental demons that were ruining her life.

Our drug & alcohol rehab center is a great place for recovery

The rehab facility she went to claimed expertise in addressing mental health conditions, but the staff working with her had no advanced training in mental health.  The therapist assigned to help her address the issues arising from the sexual assault was a young male with a bachelor’s degree who would see her for less than one hour each week.  The principal therapy would be mixed discussion groups, where most of the participants were court mandated, selecting rehab rather than going to jail.  And to make matters worse, the staff was recommending that the best treatment for her brief heroin use, (she was no longer abusing opiates), should be a long-term methadone program that would start immediately.

This type of “treatment” makes me angry.  Significant co-occurring mental and emotional conditions — such as those resulting from an assault — demand compassionate, one-on-one therapy with a skilled professional.  People should not be forced to share deeply personal thoughts and feelings before a group, unless they feel strong enough to deal with the inevitable anxiety and pain.  Methadone has a very poor record of success, and should never be used to treat someone who does not have a chronic history of drug abuse.

My hope is that greater integrity comes to all aspects of the addiction treatment industry.  Addicts and alcoholics are people suffering from a progressive, chronic and potentially deadly disease.  They deserve our best efforts and great compassion.  They should expect professional competence and advice that is serving their best interests.  May a desire to heal always be the motivation behind our daily work.