Cut Through The Confusion: What Is An Opiate and Why Can’t a Person Quit On Their Own?

An opiate is a drug derived directly from the opium the opium poppy. There are only three true opiates in common use: the alkaloids known as morphine, codeine and opium. All three of these are naturally present in the latex, or sap, of the mature opium poppy flower pod. Opium also contains many other alkaloids. Some have narcotic properties. Many don’t.

Opiates and Opioids

The terms opiate and opioid are often used interchangeably. However, there is a technical difference between the two. An opiate is a substance naturally present in the opium poppy. It is simply extracted and purified from its opium source, while an opioid is either semi-synthetic or totally synthetic.

Oxycodone is an example of a semi-synthetic opioid. It’s synthesized from a naturally-occurring opium alkaloid called thebaine. Thebaine has no narcotic properties of its own. Oxycodone can also be synthesized from codeine. Hydrocodone and oxymorphone are other examples of semi-synthetic opioids.

Other opioids are totally synthetic. They are not derived from opium at all. They are synthesized from scratch in the lab, using complex reactions and chemical processes. Examples of synthetic opioids are meperidine, fentanyl and methadone.

Whether opiate or opioid, all such drugs act on the same brain receptor sites. The brain has several types of these sites. Opioids and opiates tend to have their strongest actions on a type of brain receptor known as the mu receptor. Here, the hallmark effects of analgesia and euphoria are the most pronounced.

For simplicity, for the purposes of this article, we will use the term opiate. The body also produces its own natural opiates, which act on the same brain receptor sites as pharmaceutical opiates do. Known as endorphins, enkaphalins and by other terms, these natural endogenous opiates quell pain and produce feelings of happiness and well-being.

Once someone has become addicted to an opiate, profound brain changes have occurred. Natural production of endorphins has diminished, often dramatically. To handle the onslaught of exogenous, or outside, opiates, the brain has likely grown extra opiate receptor sites. The brain’s whole chemical makeup has been markedly altered by the presence of exogenous opiates. It can no longer function normally without them.

These brain changes are a major reason why most people cannot stop taking opiates without professional help. The misery of the withdrawal process is yet another.

If an addicted person suddenly stops taking opiates, they will experience an extremely unpleasant withdrawal syndrome. Common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anorexia
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme weakness
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Feelings of worms crawling in the stomach
  • Horrific insomnia that may persist for a month or more
  • Anxiety
  • Drug cravings

Many people cannot tolerate the symptoms and relapse just to get relief. Acute symptoms often abate after a week or so, but insomnia, restless leg syndrome, extreme weakness and anxiety can persist for a month to six weeks and even longer. Drug cravings can also be intense during this time. These cravings can persist for months on end. Other people crave the emotional and physical relief that their drug of choice provided and cannot stand to be without that relief. They have lost the ability to live without it.

When you look at all these things you’re up against, it’s no wonder that you can’t stop without help. You have some real physical issues to deal with. Seeking and accepting help is just the smart thing to do. It doesn’t mean you’re weak.

While some people manage to stop taking opiates on their own, it’s not the norm. The percentage of people able to do this, and who can stay clean for a year or more, is very small.

There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of techniques proven to help you withdraw safely and comfortably. Most of all, professional help offers your best chance to stay clean.

Without professional help, the vast majority won’t make it even past the first week on their own. You will most likely find that the process of withdrawal and recovery is just too daunting. It’s bigger than you are. And that’s allright. You’re not alone. Not only that, but professional detox lets the client withdraw from their drug of choice safely and in relative comfort. Why suffer unduly when it’s not necessary? Would you let the dentist do your root canal without anesthesia? Of course not.

Further Increasing your Long-Term Chances of Quitting for Good

By the time you’ve become addicted to an opiate, this opiate has become the central focus of your life. Everything else has become secondary. The drug is king. Not only is the drug itself the most important thing in your life, but so is everything you do to obtain the drug. That includes getting the funds, setting up the exchange and associating with certain persons who have access to the drug you want. The whole process can take vast amounts of your time.

When you quit taking your drug of choice, you are left with a huge void in your life. This void isn’t just about the drug itself, but also all the machinations you had to do to obtain it. If you’re in a rehab facility, they will keep you very busy there as you work on your recovery. Sooner or later, though, you will be leaving the facility. When you do, be prepared to face the void left in your life by your former drug use. Have a plan in place before you are released from your rehab facility.

You must replace this void with something else. You must be able to keep your mind occupied. If you don’t, your chances of a near-immediate relapse are extremely high. Think about hobbies you once truly enjoyed. Think about helping others. Maybe you could start your own business.

Consider volunteering. It helps others and is a great way to fill that extra time. You can help animals, children or adults. For example, say you can crochet beautiful blankets. Do some in cartoon and animal motifs. Donate them to children in group homes and just imagine their delight!

Can you play the piano? Perhaps you can help entertain seniors in a nursing home with a sing-along. Many seniors would also like to learn how to surf the internet, upload and send photos and communicate with family via email. There are many ways to bring joy to others, while also working on your own sobriety. Giving back is highly satisfying and will do much to give you feelings of reward and satisfaction.

Don’t Forget Exercise

Exercise is another key thing you can do to stay clean. Remember those endorphins? Well, exercise helps your body to release more of them. Just a half hour of brisk walking will encourage your body to release healthy endorphins. It will boost your mood, lower blood pressure, normalize cholesterol levels, help keep your weight down and reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes, too!

Do you Need Help?

If you’re ready to get your life back, we are here 24 hours a day to help you. Just call us at (866) 840-6411. A trained counselor will assist you in finding the right rehab for you. It’s all confidential. Don’t hesitate; we truly look forward to your call.