Understanding Opioid Addiction

Addiction is a disease—one that causes actual changes to the brain. It can have a destructive effect on personal health, finances, professionalism and relationships. The good news is that recovery is always possible, but it hinges on getting the right diagnosis, and seeking treatment on an ongoing basis.

Addiction comes in many forms, and one of the most crushing and common is opioid addiction. Opioids come in different forms, and include both legal, prescription drugs (such as many of the most common painkillers) as well as street drugs, like heroin. Opioid addiction has reached an epidemic level in the United States, with pain medicines seen as the culprit—but frequently, addiction to pain pills leads ultimately to a struggle with something harder.

How Addictive are Opioids?

Opioids are considered to be some of the most addictive substances on Earth. The reason they are so addictive is because opioids work on the pleasure center of the brain; they stimulate a good feeling, but that feeling becomes harder and harder to obtain. Prolonged opioid use can make it impossible to have a good feeling without the use of drugs, even as higher and higher doses of opioid drugs are needed to feel happy and peaceful again. This rising physical dependence characterizes opioid addiction, and makes it necessary to seek treatment right away.

What are Common Opioids?

Again, note that opioids come in different forms. Some of them are illegal street drugs, such as heroin. However, some of the most widely used and addictive opioids are not only legal, but are actually used in medical settings sometimes—though most physicians are beginning to shy away from them. Three of the most common, legal opioid drugs include:

  • Methadone
  • Oxycontin
  • Vicodin

When used in a way that is contrary to the physician’s recommendations, these drugs can all create a sense of physical or mental dependence. In fact, even using them as prescribed can sometimes lead to a struggle with addiction.

What Comes First, Drug Addiction or Mental Illness?

Often, drug use occurs at the same time as mental illness. When addiction is present at the same time as another mental health disorder, they are called co-occurring disorders. Because one condition can mask the symptoms of the other, dual diagnosis care is necessary.

A common question is which comes first—the addiction or the mental illness? There is no simple answer to this question. Sometimes it may be true that the mental illness happens first—and drugs and alcohol are sought out as forms of self-medication, ultimately leading to addiction.

Just as frequently, though, addiction and mental illness stem from the same abnormalities of the brain—the brain topography or the brain chemistry. In these cases, dual diagnosis care becomes especially vital, as it allows both conditions to be treated at the same time.

Causes of Opioid Addiction

It is hard to determine the single cause for a person developing opioid addiction. The truth is that there can be many factors involved. Consider some of the following:

  • Genetic factors: Those who have a first-degree relation who has addiction are at a much higher likelihood to have addiction themselves.
  • Biology: There is evidence to suggest that addiction may sometimes stem from physiological distinctions in the brain itself.
  • Environmental causes: Those who grow up in a home with a lot of stress, trauma or dysfunction may be at an increased risk for addiction.
  • Psychological: As noted earlier, an underlying struggle with a mental health disorder may lead to attempts at self-medication, which can in turn snowball into a struggle with addiction.

The culprit may be any one of these factors, or several of them working in tandem.

What are the signs and symptoms of opioid addiction?

There are numerous signs and symptoms that suggest a struggle with opioid addiction. If you witness any of these signs in your friend or loved one, or observe them in your own life, it is important to take action immediately.

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy

Other Symptoms of Opiate Addiction Include

  • Hallucinations, delusions, or memory loss
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Using prescription opioids even when they are no longer needed
  • Forging a prescription for an opioid medication
  • Stealing or using someone else’s opioid medications
  • Decreased interest in things that once brought passion or pleasure
  • Denial of drug use, or attempts to hide the ill effects of a drug
  • Decreased performance at work, in school, or in family commitments
  • Preoccupation with getting, hiding, and using opioids
  • Restlessness
  • How do you know if there is a co-occurring disorder?

A common problem with addiction of any kind is that it hides the presence of other underlying conditions. This can include mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and more. How can you tell if there is another underlying cause, or if the problems all stem from addiction?

Once more there is no easy answer. The best approach is to seek a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis care, like that offered at 1st Step, seeks to get to the true bottom of the issue—to determine the presence of any and all co-occurring conditions.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for opioid addiction and mental health disorders

Dual diagnosis care puts you in a position where you can seek treatment for the real issue, and not just some of the external signs or symptoms. In dual diagnosis care, you receive treatment for whatever mental health issues while you receive the tools you need to obtain lifelong healing and recovery from opioid addiction. 1st Step Behavioral Health is proud to offer dual diagnosis care to those who are dealing with opioid addiction as well as other, related issues.

Learn more about how to get help

Get freedom from opioid addiction. Start your recovery journey today. Receive the dual diagnosis you need, and begin treatment at 1st Step. Learn more by contacting our team right away. We stand ready to help you or your loved one down the path to addiction recovery. Contact us today!