Naturally occurring in nascent pods of the poppy plant, opium is a potent sedative that has given way to intoxication over the course of thousands of years. Acting on the body’s Central Nervous System (CNS), opium acts as a depressant with euphoric properties, causing users to experience a combination of painlessness, psychological numbing and euphoria – largely due to the effects of morphine, which comprises 12 percent of the drug.
Modern-day opium has been bred selectively in order to increase its natural content of morphine, codeine and thebaine, making the drug more powerful than its prior incarnations. Though opium smoking no longer experiences the widespread prevalence it once did, the drug is still harvested today – largely for conversion into opium-derived heroin.
The Severity of Dependency
Opium is one of the most physically addictive substances in circulation – and the drug and its derivatives (known as “opiates” or “opioids”) have reputations for being notoriously hard to kick. In addition to acting on the body’s pain receptors, sited primarily throughout the brain stem and spinal cord, opium also takes action on chemicals known as neurotransmitters in the brain.
These chemical changes initiated by opium are largely responsible for the “high” that users experience when the drug is ingested. As opium affects two important chemical messengers in the brain – particularly GABA and, subsequently, dopamine – users experience euphoria. Over time, dopamine levels become disrupted, leaving users craving opium in order to achieve baseline feelings of well-being and happiness.
In addition to the physical aspects of opium addiction, psychological addiction can take hold as well. The brain’s reward centers become affected by ongoing opium or opiate use, leading to their operant conditioning by the drug. As a result, even cues that remind users of impending opium use – such as drug paraphernalia – can even begin to elicit a reward response in the brain as time and association build.
Issues in Treatment
Treating opium and opiate addiction dependency presents one of the foremost challenges in addiction treatment.
Due to the strength and severity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings that opium, heroin, morphine, and prescription opiates create, physical addiction can be notoriously hard to break.
As a result, many forms of opium addiction treatment rely on pharmaceutical methods of detoxification, despite controversy surrounding the employment of such treatment regimens. Other treatment regimens favor natural detoxification in combination with intense therapeutic work instead, guiding patients through the withdrawal phase without the use of heavy pharmaceuticals.
Drugs Used in Medical Addiction Treatment
While most residential opium recovery centers will include some form of detoxification and therapy, the targeted treatments used in opium addiction treatment programs vary by facility. Here are a few of the most popular drug-based treatment modalities used in opium addiction recovery.
- Methadone Opium Treatment
Methadone has gained much attention for its ability to act as a substitute for strong opiates such as opium, heroin and morphine. As a synthetic opiate, methadone has the ability to impede targeted effects of heroin and other opiates, helping to prevent the severe withdrawal symptoms in users that often drive opiate addicts back into use.
Used for decades in the treatment of heroin, methadone does not emotionally numb, alleviate pain in or intoxicate the user and provides roughly a day free of cravings for those on the drug. However, methadone use remains controversial, partially due to its addiction potential, overdose complications and its potential interference with other medications.
- Buprenorphine Opium Treatment
Buprenorphine initiates less potent opiate effects in the body than other medications used in opium treatment. Unlike methadone, buprenorphine does not tend to carry a high risk of overdose.
- LAAM Opium Treatment
Another pharmaceutical method of treatment for opium and opiate addiction is known as levo-alpha-acetyl-methadol (LAAM). Also a synthetic opiate, LAAM prevents the euphoric high that drugs like opium and heroin produce while keeping cravings and withdrawal symptoms at bay. Lasting up to three days, LAAM is often used in outpatient settings where patients receive tri-weekly doses. However, when patients stop receiving LAAM, heroin or opium cravings will generally recur.
- Naloxone and Naltrexone Opium Treatment
Two other drugs, known as naloxone and naltrexone, act as opiate antagonists. When users take heroin, opium or morphine, the pleasurable effects they would normally incur become blocked by these pharmaceuticals. Withdrawal symptoms may still occur with naloxone and naltrexone use, but the drugs have been shown effective in opiate relapse prevention – particularly in studies of those recently released from prison.
- Rapid Detox Opium Treatment
Some treatment centers engage in “rapid detox” methods – essentially combining anesthesia-induced sleep with dispensation of medications that are intended to accelerate the withdrawal and detoxification process.
Rapid detoxification methods remain controversial, because addicted individuals become enabled to simply “sleep” through the majority of the withdrawal phase – considered an integral experience in recovery by many in the addiction treatment field. Additionally, the rapid detox method has also remained controversial due to serious – and fatal – complications that can arise.
Despite pharmaceutical measures aimed at temporarily preventing relapse, drug-free opium addiction treatment methods tend to bring about lasting sobriety for many. Methods of drug-free, medically supervised detoxification and targeted therapies can help individuals comfortably and safely pass through the withdrawal and cravings stages of recovery.
Here are just a few drug-free options employed in effective opium addiction treatment:
During natural detoxification, medications dispensed to opium or opiate addicts remain conservative. Anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and anti-psychotics may be prescribed to alleviate any withdrawal-induced or preexisting mental health issues that may impede recovery. Over-the-counter medications may be given to help the patient remain comfortable during his or her stay and mitigate withdrawal symptoms. Medical supervision is provided during natural detoxification as well, to guard against complications and to ensure monitoring of vital signs and overall health.
Clinical Therapy as Opium Addiction Treatment
Sessions with a qualified mental health counselor have been shown to make rehabilitation more effective than simply detoxification or group meetings alone.
Clinical therapy methods used in opium or opiate addiction treatment can range widely, from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approaches that focus on behavior and belief modification to reward-based contingency management therapy (CMT). Depending on the opium treatment facility, patients may also undergo other therapies alongside traditional cognitive therapy, such as EMDR or art therapy.
12-Step Opium Treatment Modalities
One of the most time-tested methods of opium and opiate addiction treatment help is the 12-step model. Through participation in group meetings and working of the 12 tenets of addiction recovery, patients can gain understanding, insight, and support for practical, daily recovery. Best of all, 12-step group meetings can be located in virtually any locale throughout the nation, allowing recovering opium addicts to continue their recovery upon graduation from a residential drug treatment facility.