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Are opiates addictive?

Opiates: What’s all the hype about?

Drugs do not discriminate when choosing their prey. As a pharmacist-turned-patient-turned-addict, I’ve learned about addiction from more perspectives than I ever could have imagined. Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States. Symptoms of prescription pain killer abuse include doctor shopping or taking more medication than prescribed.  And while opiate drug addiction can be treated with opiate substitution prescribing or through behavioral changes, it is a long and arduous process.

In 2010, enough painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for an entire month. According to the CDC’s Policy Impact: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses report, In 2010, about 12 million Americans over the age of twelve reported non-medical use of prescription painkillers in the past year. Every patient needs to be armed with the knowledge necessary to survive in our pharmaceutically dependent society.

My doctor prescribed them, so I thought they were safe.

I thought so too.

Are opiates safe?

The assumption that opiates are safe because a doctor prescribed them is wrong. Opiate pain medications such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are intended for short-term use only. Unfortunately, doctors prescribe them frequently and allow patients to stay on them too long.

After a hard fall from a grand-mal-seizure, I ended up with a broken nose and sinus surgery. I took prescribed Lortab (hydrocodone and acetaminophen) for two months. When the nasal nightmare was over, I stopped taking the Lortab. Within twenty-four hours I ached and poured sweat, developed a severe headache, and started vomiting non-stop. I thought I had the stomach flu. Since I was in such pain, I took another Lortab, and within minutes, I felt fine. Well, physically I felt fine. Emotionally, I panicked, because in that very moment, I knew I was addicted.

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Why are opiates so addictive?

When God created us, he gave us built-in pain relievers, endorphins, which are secreted by the pituitary gland and bind to receptors in the brain when we need them. In instances of severe pain due to an acute situation, opiate pain medications are prescribed by physicians to further bind to those receptors resulting in faster, more complete pain relief. But once the opiate is taken consistently for more than one or two weeks, the brain undergoes changes resulting in physical addiction.

When the receptors on our brains receive an opiate on a regular basis, they send a message to the pituitary gland—no more endorphins are needed. Our pituitary gland temporarily shuts down production of our God-given pain reliever, leaving our receptors hungry. The opiate used for pain relief is now needed just to feel normal. The result? Addiction.

As we continue to feed these receptors the opiate food, which it now requires, those receptors begin to multiply like stray cats under a house. Not only must they be fed consistently to keep them happy, they now require more frequent and larger opiate snacks to keep them full and satisfied.

Withdrawing from opiates: a necessary evil

Once these changes occur in the brain, depriving those receptors of the opiate food they need puts them into attack mode, resulting in withdrawal.

As a pharmacist, I thought my education and experience with prescription drugs were enough to protect me from every falling into the trap of addiction.

I was wrong.

The withdrawal from addiction to opiates affects every fiber of your body and feels like a hopeless battle. If I’d known then why opiates are addictive and how they actually change the chemistry of the brain, I could have avoided addiction. Instead, I had to endure and suffer through it.

Which I did.

What I learned through addiction is invaluable. Addiction is not permanent. It can happen to anyone. It can be overcome, but typically not alone. With the right treatment, determination, and prayer, your brain can return to the normal, healthy brain God created in the beginning.

Photo credit: NIDA

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10 Responses to “Are opiates addictive?
Ellen Andersen
8:29 pm September 29th, 2012

Insightful article Celeste. Your knowledge and experience may well help prevent someone else from going through what you did.

Cathy Baker
11:06 pm September 29th, 2012

Great article — informative, and very inspiring! Thank you for sharing, Celeste.

Elizabeth B. Meaders
1:07 pm September 30th, 2012

This is a great explanation in that it is simple and direct. I never would have dreamed you’d become addictive and you kept it hidden well as you struggled with it. I feared for your life as you fell with the grand-mal-seizures about 15 times over those 7 years, getting hurt over and over again. The depression was so severe I never thought you’d be able to take care of your home and children again. Your knowledge of your medical field and your knowledge in your heart of your Eternal Savior and Belief in God, and our/your prayers changed you from being so weak you couldn’t hold your head up after the last seizure and depression session August 2010, to pray a “final” prayer of turning it all over to God!!!! Then I saw the miracle. I was with you much, even overnight, Sept. 23 and 24, then Sept. 25, 2010 during your sleep, GOD HEALED YOU. You called me Saturday morning and said, “Mom, I’ve got MY JOY BACK.” You could not stop talking and rejoicing and giving God THE GLORY for TWO MONTHS! You were on a spiritual high the miracle made, so you told EVERYONE!! David said, “I have the best miracle, my wife back!” God is so Good!! Thank you God! Thank you, Celeste, for having the courage to share your story to minister to those others who need cure from addictions.

Celeste Vaughan
12:04 am October 1st, 2012

Thanks guys, I just hope that I can get the message through that you do not have to be an addict forever. Our world may label you as an addict, but I know God can take it away completely!

Susan Stilwell
7:20 pm October 1st, 2012

Wow, Celeste – what great info. I volunteer at a home where women receive inpatient therapy to battle their addictions. Their stories are amazing. I didn’t realize that the drugs could actually alter your brain chemistry!

I’ll be bookmarking this to share. Thank you for your transparency.
Susan

Patsy Dalton-Sutherland
7:29 pm October 1st, 2012

I am so proud of you. I know that thru your experiences during the last few years that you can give other addicts hope. Hope is the most important thing for an addict, because the devil will tell them daily that there is no hope and that survival is only by getting and taking more drugs.

As you know, my son is addicted to crack cocaine and has been for 20 years now. Even his counselors tell him that there is no hope for him, but I know better. As long as he is alive, God is not through with him and there is hope for a better future for him.

I am so thankful that you have been healed and I pray every day that my son will be healed by God too. I believe that he will be, but I also realize that God does not answer prayers on my time but on his time.
He allowed you to struggle for 7 years and now you are using that time of torture to help heal others. God is good!

Kim Lyons
7:54 pm October 6th, 2012

Celeste, you article is wonderful and is going to help so many people that are struggling. You really put it in terms that anyone can understand!

Tom Cahillane
8:49 pm October 9th, 2012

So many people think if a doctor subscribes an opiate they should take the opiate. What many don’t know is most physicians only have a couple of hours training in regards to addiction. So many factors are involved including does addiction run in your family.

I am a recovering alcoholic so I have never experience withdrawals from an opiate. I understand there are new drugs like suboxone to help but can’t give my opinion on that drug due to the fact I can’t share my own personal story. I do know many people who have used suboxone with positive results so I would endorse it. Again, it should only be prescribed by a suboxone trained physician and the patient should be drug tested on a regular basis,

Experience has taught me when dealing with alcohol or drug withdrawal its best to seek a physician who is a member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Celeste Vaughan
2:41 am October 22nd, 2012

Sorry I’m just now replying to some of your comments. I have been out of town, and did not have access to internet most of that time.

Susan, thanks for your comment and please do share with anyone it may help. They are welcome to contact me through my blog as well.

Aunt Patsy, I think of y’all often and pray that John will get a miracle healing as I did, but unfortunately I don’t believe it just happens. We must SEEK him with our whole heart. That’s when he can change us.

Kim, You are so sweet. Thanks for commenting! And I do hope that I have put things in a way that is easily understood.

Tom, Thanks so much for your for your comment and transparency. Suboxone is a topic I will be discussing in an upcoming article. And yes, getting the help of a physician is key, but most importantly the RIGHT physician. Best wishes for you and your continued recovery!

Pat Sherman
4:13 am August 23rd, 2013

I am so thankful that I read your story of drug addiction. My reason for commenting is my Grandson he is doing Heroin and I am praying to God that he does not overdose. I know God can help him if he only asks because with God all things are possible. Please pray for Justin. (He overdosed May 18th 2012 but he was revived.) I can not believe he is still doing drugs, they must be very powerful.

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About Celeste Vaughan

Celeste Vaughan is the author of Celestial Prescriptions. She graduated from the USC College of Pharmacy and settled comfortably into her life as a pharmacist, wife, and mom of three children. After 14 years working as a pharmacist, Celeste found herself on the other side of the counter and suffered for 7 years with seizures, depression and prescription drug addiction. On September 25, 2010 God intervened in her life and changed her forever.

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