Categories
Opiates (Heroin and Prescription Pain Pills)

Opiate Addiction and the Brain

Opiate Addiction and the Brain

As human beings we have a long history of using opiates, such as morphine. And if a person gains unlimited access to opiates, they can easily and quickly become tolerant and addicted to it. The drugs have an intense effect on the human brain. Prescription opiates are after all intentionally designed and created to make a person feel good within a short period of time. The drugs increase the level of dopamine released in the brain and copy the effects of endogenous opioids. More often than not, people who have taken opiates with consistency often have difficulty feeling normal without taking the drugs and little or no knowledge of what really happens with opiate addiction and the brain.

Our brains produce a natural morphine known as endorphins. They stimulate the opioid receptors to lift our mood when we are under stress; helping us feel more motivated and relieving pain when there is an injury. These hormones are produced during excitement, exercise, feeling loved, orgasm, pain, or even eating spicy food.

The production of endorphins also leads to the discharge of dopamine, which is the chemical that activates the reward system of our brain. Dopamine acts as natural “go system” that helps humans pursue stuff that we need to survive. Our brain also has a “stop system” found in the prefrontal cortex at the front of our brain. It helps us determine the consequences of our impulses. When a person is addicted to opiates, the “go system” of the brain acts on its own, and the “stop system” can no longer control it.

Some Examples of  Opioids

Heroin

Codeine – ingredient found in many cough syrups

Hydrocodone – Vicodin, Lortab or Lorcet

Oxycodone – Percocet, OxyContin or Percodan

Hydromorphone – Dilaudid

Morphine – MSContin, MSIR, Avinza or Kadian

Propoxyphene – Darvocet or Darvon

Fentanyl – Duragesic

Methadone

What Opiates do to a Person’s Brain?

Opiate drugs activate the dopamine pathway (also known as the reward pathway) that sends out a rush of pleasure chemicals to the brain. When talking about opiate addiction and the brain, opiates are much more stimulating than natural endorphins, which is partly why they are so addictive. Once a person uses opiates, the brain stops creating natural endorphins because the body thinks that there are already enough levels of it in the brain. Within six to 12 months of using opiate drugs, the cells that produce endorphins can be significantly reduced in size and even die off.

One of the most commonly abused illegal opiate drugs is heroin. When it is injected into a vein, heroin reaches the brain within 15 to 20 seconds. It then binds itself to the opiate receptors found in the different parts of the brain that include, you guessed it; the reward pathway. When the receptors in the reward pathway are activated, the person feels a brief and very intense rush of euphoria. This is followed by several hours of what many report as a “contented and relaxed” state. This feeling of euphoria is what draws people back to opiates again and again.

The effects of opiates are similar to the ones from naturally occurring opioid peptides. When used for medical purposes, opiates can stop diarrhea, depress breathing, and relieve pain. They come with side effects that include vomiting and nausea. But when used in large doses, they can make breathing shallow or even make it stop altogether. Thousands of opiate addicts have died due to overdose. And mixing alcohol with opiates only increases the risk of death.

Opiate Addiction and the Brain vs. Opiate Dependence

Dependence happens due to the normal adaptations to prolonged exposure to opiates. People should not confuse the term dependence with addiction because they are not the same. Addiction is described to be the compulsive seeking (psychological) and use of the drug that results to deadly consequences. Addiction can include some type of dependence (physical) as well.

Another way to understand it is this: dependence is typically acute and holds the potential to be resolved or cured. Addiction on the other hand can be acute or in remission – but it is always chronic and life long (i.e. it is not cured or removed). This is why we say a clean/sober person is “in recovery” and not that they are “recovered”.

A person who is dependent on opiates will experience some type of withdrawal symptoms when the use of the drug is suddenly stopped or reduced. The symptoms can be mild to severe. Withdrawal symptom includes flu-like discomfort, stomach cramps, unpleasant mood, diarrhea, and severe muscle pain, just to name a few. The withdrawal symptoms are most commonly managed medically through the use of a slow drug taper.

Dependence is often accompanied by tolerance, which is the need to take higher doses of the drug in order to get the same effect. Once a person experiences tolerance, it can be difficult for the health care provider to evaluate whether the patient has a drug problem or if there is really a need for higher doses to control one’s symptoms. This is the reason physicians are attentive and vigilant to their patients’ symptoms, as well as the level of functioning to provide them with the most accurate information needed to prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Connection of Opiate Addiction and Brain Damage

While it has already established that opiate overdose can result to slow breathing, its effects on brain function are still being studied by researchers. Depressed respiration can affect the oxygen level in the brain. Researchers are still trying to determine the long-term effects of opiate addiction on the brain. Previous studies have shown that there is some deterioration of the white matter among heroin users that affect their ability to respond during stress situations, regulate behavior, as well as their decision-making abilities.

“One of the worst health epidemics facing this country is the belief

that successful pain management actually means the absence of any pain at all.”

BW Carrettin, 2003

Getting Off Opiates

Once a person stops using opiates, the natural chemical system of the body can’t turn on right away. It has already been damaged, and it will take a while to recover. The person will go through severe withdrawal that can last up to a week. Then the person will also undergo a long process called post-acute withdrawal syndrome that can last several months or even years.
When the person is suffering from withdrawal, they are typically depressed and with no motivation to do anything. Removing opiates from their system will suddenly bring lots of pain because there is no base level of endorphin found in their system.

Treatment for Opiate Addiction in Houston, Texas

Opioid addiction is a chronic disease, like diabetes or heart disease, and like all chronic diseases it is a medical condition for life. While it can be managed and kept in remission – it cannot be cured and will not go away. However, a person with an addiction can regain a healthy, active and productive life.

There had been a lot of growth and improvement in the field of addiction treatment and one aspect of that is medication-assisted treatment or MAT. Because of a lack of up-to-date training, antiquated ideas about addiction and a general ignorance of neurology and physiology – many people, even those in the addiction treatment field, find the idea of medication-assisted treatment to be controversial. This is sad and detracts from the core intention of recovery work. It’s important to know that the goal of medication-assisted treatment is to recover from addiction. These medications, prescribed and monitored responsibly, do NOT replace one addictive substance with another. They provide a safe and controlled level of medication to overcome the use of a problem opioid. Medication-assisted treatment only works if all three of it’s equally important parts are upheld: medication (monitored and taken as prescribed), counseling (with a seasoned professional who specializes in addiction) and community support (meetings as well as family and friends)

In the past, the standard treatment for opiate addiction involved the use of methadone. (Even in the face of better options methadone is still widely used today for treatment of opiate addiction.) Methadone is a long-acting opioid that is used to keep the withdrawal symptoms at bay. It also controls the craving and relapse of the patient. Whether methadone treatment is actually an effective tool for rehabilitation remains a subject of great controversy.

Another medication used in the rehabilitation of opiate addicts is Buprenorphine. It contains a partial agonist opiate, has a weaker effect on the receptors in the brain than some newer medications and has a limited high, which some health care providers believe can deter the addict from abusing the medication. This medication is also surrounded by controversy – some have suggested it is due to improper use, others suggest negligent monitoring by treating physicians.

Naltrexone and Naloxone are used as antagonists at opioid receptors to block the pleasurable effects of the opiates. These do not contain opiates nor do they produce a high. When coupled with counseling or other therapeutic treatments these blockers have more recently been reported to help people quit their opiate addiction. There is an intramuscular injectable (IM) version called Vivitrol which lasts approximately 30 days and has been reported to successfully block highs and help to control not only opiate cravings but alcohol as well.

Succeeding in Recovery from Opiate Addiction

For addiction recovery to be successful over a lifetime requires a great deal of desire, commitment, persistence, humility and support. One of the most widely available community-based support organizations is 12 Step with meetings across the globe and in nearly every city in the United States. Churches, community centers and many other venues are also available depending on your area.

A seasoned and experienced counselor who specializes in chemical addiction can also help the recovering addict through the challenges that arise in the recovery process. If the counselor is also licensed and experienced in mental health, they can also assist with issues such grief, anxiety or relationship conflicts that may come up during treatment and recovery. Counseling or psychotherapy is helpful not just for the addict but also for the partners, friends and family who love them.

Change is hard and for many it can also be a bit scary. Patience and compassion, but not coddling or excusing, is necessary. Learning how to set good boundaries – new boundaries – is important for everyone involved. Remember – getting better doesn’t mean back to how things were. It will never be the same way it was in the past. That was the past. But it can be better, more than better. It can be really good.

If you or someone you know is struggling with opiates, or any drug or alcohol, reach out and get help. A better life is possible and attainable. I’ve worked in this arena for a long time and I’d like to help you.

Stop.    Take a moment.    Breathe.

You CAN do this.

Call Now (346)-493-6181

For More Resources

Ben Carrettin is a Nationally Board Certified Counselor (NCC), Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor (LPC-S) and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC). He is the owner of Practice Improvement Resources, LLC; a private business which offers an array of specialized counseling, evidenced-based clinical consultation, Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) and targeted ESI-based services to individuals and businesses.

Opiate Addiction and the Brain

Categories
Alcohol

Alcohol Addiction Counseling

Alcohol Addiction Counseling

Alcohol has been around since ancient times and has consistently been an accepted part of almost every culture since. Alcohol has a routine and casual presence in society from weddings, to funerals, after work “happy hour” gathers, family vacations and even everyday meals. Despite it’s commonplace in our culture, there is nothing common, simple or easy about alcohol addiction.

For many of us, consumption will likely never result in addiction. For even more us, alcoholism is not only likely – it’s almost genetically guaranteed. It’s typical today to take precautions if we know that diabetes, cancer or cardiac disease is in our family tree – but it’s fairly rare to meet someone who takes the same precautions with the alcohol. Unfortunately, the costs for this oversight is staggering and the battle to regain a healthy and happy life once dependency has been established is not an easy one. Alcohol addiction counseling can be a part of getting you or your loved one back to healthy, happy living.

What is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol Addiction is described as a chronic and progressive brain disease.  A person who is suffering is unable to control their craving for alcoholic substances. They are physiologically impaired and there is no choice involved in this. All disease revolves around a central organ or system that is impaired. Alcoholism is not a weakness and it is not a choice. There is measurable change in the brain and to heal there has to be a significant treatment intervention and a significant period of recovery followed by lifelong recovery maintenance. An alcoholic cannot just stop. Period.

The urge to drink alcohol is so strong, that people suffering from alcoholism find it difficult to even reduce consumption, despite the increase problems that arise. Even when the losses are high and the awareness of the destruction apparent, the strength of the urge to drink usurps the rational mind and plunges the alcoholic back to drinking.

Alcoholism is caused by an unending desire to consume alcohol, which is due to both a physiological and a cognitive dependence. There is also extensive literature describing a “spiritual malady” as also being present. So the body, mind and spirit are all three debilitated. To heal – all three must be treated.

Becoming overly dependent on alcohol can cause major issues for a person, such as resulting in extensive damage to the tissues, and spreading of other diseases throughout the body including heart problems, certain cancers, liver and kidney problems and a host of gastric disorders as well. The physiologic risks go on and on. Keep in mind that the brain takes physiology damage too.

Risks of Alcohol

When a person drinks, the alcohol is absorbed in the body through the stomach and enters the bloodstream. The alcohol flows through the blood and reaches the various organs, tissues, and muscles of the body. Temporarily, the drinker feels pleasant effects, but when taken in excess it can have serious effects on health, even leading to terminal illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, alcohol poisoning, etc. Not to mention the losses of employment, marriage, friends, home, respect and trust of children and even freedom (such as in DWIs and incarceration).

Detoxing on your own from alcohol is extremely dangerous. Going into withdrawals for an alcoholic can be life-threatening and your home is not equipped to handle it – nor is an ambulance guaranteed to make it to you in time. In patient medical detox is necessary and provides more protection and 24 hour monitoring to assure your safety. This is not a situation to tough it through or dismiss casually. Please, do not do this at home – go to an addiction treatment center – there are many options available.

How Does a Person Become An Alcoholic?

There are a lot of opinions on this. Most widely accepted is that a person becomes an alcoholic through consumption. Various factors are included here; drinking to excess, drinking regularly, starting at a young age, etc. After all, alcohol is addictive and dependency can be reached easily. But there are also other factors – such as genetic predisposition. If there are people in my family tree who struggled with alcoholism or addiction then my chances are much greater. There is also a greater risk in family legacies that include certain anxiety and mental health disorders.

Consider it this way; there is a base chance that any human being may have to become dependent. Whatever that chance is for you, it increases if you start drinking as a kid/teenager, it increases again if there was alcoholism/addiction on one side of your family, goes even higher if on both sides of your family, goes even higher if you drink to excess or daily or to sooth your feelings and so on.

There are 6 progressive stages of alcohol consumption:

Euphoria: The feeling of happiness that is experienced after the first drink

Excitement: The drinker starts losing control of his or her feelings and emotions.

Confusion: This is the beginning of the feeling of dizziness. The drinker becomes unable to perceive situations correctly, and his or her responses become slow, unable to take responsible decisions.

Stupor: The person loses all control over motions, and is unable to move or respond.

Coma: In this state, the person is unconscious, and may find it difficult to breathe.

Death: this is the extreme stage of alcoholism, where the drinker may die from respiratory arrest, a situation where the drinker is unable to breathe.

Admitting You Have a Drinking Problem

It is commonly thought that people should stop drinking before or once they reach the Euphoria stage. However, there are many who do not stop – many who find they cannot stop. Before there is any hope of healing an alcoholic has to realize they have a drinking problem, and admit it. People who deny it, find it difficult to accept help and are very unlikely to ever overcome this problem. Families who deny the problems of their loved ones only make the problem worse.

How Can Alcohol Addiction Counseling Help You?

Various treatment options, alcohol addiction counseling tools and techniques can help you regain control of yourself. After medical detox and residential treatment, out patient therapy is one of the most widely accepted tools to help you reclaim control of your life. A seasoned and experienced counselor will address thinking and behavioral patterns, which led to alcohol addiction, and gradually can help you make and keep better choices, diminish relapse risk and increase development of a healthier, happier and more balanced you. Brief Therapy, Solution-Oriented Therapy, ESI Coaching, CBT, Mindfulness techniques, Motivational Interviewing and a variety of other approaches offer a pragmatic and applicable route to long-term recovery for today’s intelligent and fast-paced professional.

Spouses, Partners and Families Need Support.

The idea that the addict is the one who is sick and the only one who needs to get help is toxic and misleading at best. This is a disease that affects the whole family – whomever those loved ones may be. Whether your addicted loved one is in treatment, headed to treatment, just out or even refusing to go and actively in their disease – you need support too.

I work with many spouses, partners and parents of adult addicts and alcoholics. The suffering and wounds they carry as a result of the disease have to be addressed as well. There are specialized alcohol addiction counseling and support groups for family and friends – and there is also private alcohol addiction counseling. For real and lasting healing to take place for any addict/alcoholic or loved one – you have to get help. A family, marriage or relationship is a complex, unique and delicate system. To help it, we have to help all the parts. You need help too, and you deserve it.

Services We Offer

Our specialized Recovery Consultation service has only one purpose; “to help you free yourself from the slavery of addiction and get you back to living a happy, fulfilling and meaningful life.” Recovery from alcohol is a massive challenge, but also know, that together with appropriate treatment and community support, we can overcome your impulse to drink and get you back to leading the life you want.

Ready for Life?  Call Now (346)-493-6181

 

Ben Carrettin is a Nationally Board Certified Counselor (NCC), Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor (LPC-S) and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC). He is the owner of Practice Improvement Resources, LLC; a private business which offers an array of specialized counseling, evidenced-based clinical consultation, Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) and targeted ESI-based services to individuals and businesses.