The U.S. has been reeling from an ongoing opioid epidemic that has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Now, with the synthetic opioid fentanyl significantly enhancing the crisis, the need to better understand the dangers of opiates and opioids is vital. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between opiates and opioids, as well as how addiction treatment works for each substance, read on.
What is the difference between opiates and opioids?
Both opiates and opioids provide powerful pain-relieving properties, serving an invaluable purpose within the medical profession. These substances are able to bind to the opioid receptors in the brain. This action, in essence, blocks the pain signals that emanate from the source of the pain through the central nervous system to the brain.
The word “opioid” is the general term used when referring to substances that bind to these opioid receptors — whether they are of natural, semi-natural or synthetic origin. Some examples of synthetic opioids include oxycodone, fentanyl and hydrocodone. Examples of opiates, which are derived from poppy plants, include heroin, codeine and morphine.
This means that heroin (an opiate) and hydrocodone (an opioid) are both categorized as opioids because they each bind to the opioid receptors in the brain. People may use the terms opioid and opiate interchangeably, although that is incorrect as all opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates.
What is opioid use disorder?
When an opiate like morphine or an opioid like oxycodone or hydrocodone is ingested, it causes a flood of dopamine to be released into the body. This produces feelings of euphoria while also reducing pain — a pleasurable event that becomes imprinted in the brain’s reward system.
Tolerance increases with the ongoing use of opioids, with the body becoming more resistant to its effects. The individual begins to need more and more of the substance just to avoid feeling ill.
Eventually, the brain stops producing its own dopamine as it becomes reliant on the drug to provide this function. Any attempt to stop taking the opioid results in the onset of highly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. To avoid withdrawal symptoms, the individual returns to the substance, which perpetuates the cycle of addiction.
Over time, the effects of opiate use disorder may include impaired reasoning skills, poor problem-solving skills, problems with behavior regulation and impaired memory. Physical consequences of long-term opiate addiction may include liver disease, heart problems, blood pressure problems, weight loss and collapsed veins due to intravenous use.
What is painkiller addiction treatment?
Regardless of whether the opioid use disorder involves an opiate or a synthetic opioid, the path for painkiller addiction treatment is virtually the same.
Before beginning the treatment process, the individual must first complete the withdrawal management phase of recovery. During this process, the individual’s withdrawal symptoms are closely monitored by medical staff, which provides the medical interventions needed to relieve discomfort as needed.
Once the substance has cleared the system, it is time for the individual to embark on the treatment phase of recovery. By participating in these core therapeutic activities, individuals learn essential coping skills that help them succeed in recovery. These can include:
- Psychotherapy: Individual therapy sessions with a mental health professional provide a core treatment element in substance use recovery. Therapists select from a wide range of evidence-based approaches to assist you in making needed changes in thoughts, emotions and behaviors.
- Group therapy: These sessions involve joining peers in recovery to discuss relevant topics and sharing personal experiences.
- Medication: Medication supported recovery (MSR) is often included in the treatment planning for individuals with opioid use disorder. These medications substantially improve the chances of recovery by helping to reduce cravings, which also reduces the risk of relapse.
- 12 Step Programs: The Narcotics Anonymous 12 Step program offers social support through their recovery meetings.
- Holistic activities: Several holistic activities are included in the treatment schedule, as these help improve mood by reducing stress and anxiety.
Although opioid use disorder is a chronic disease, it is a condition that is manageable. With the help of a comprehensive treatment program, the pathway to health and wellness is possible.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307