Opiate addiction is often a frustrating and frightening experience for those who care about the addicted person, as well as for the addict.
Part of the frustration arises from various misconceptions about the nature of opiate addiction and the addict’s inability to control the compulsion to use opiates. As pointed out in Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment, a publication by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a brain disease with a multidimensional effect on overall physical and mental health and well-being. For this reason, long-term success in treatment for this disease typically involves opiate rehab, especially those who take a holistic, or whole-person-based, treatment approach.
Trending Towards the Holistic
In recent years, the trend towards more holistic methods of treating opiate addiction has been notable. Earlier treatment plans focused more on resolving the physical dependence and its associated withdrawal symptoms, and, in many ways, this is a sensible point of view as withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Indeed, being afraid of experiencing withdrawal symptoms can contribute to some people not trying to stop the drug use. Fear during the peak, most intense period of withdrawal is often a factor in relapse.
Opiate withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cramping in stomach and legs
- Headaches and dizziness
- Suicidal thoughts
However, dealing with just the physical dependence on opiates, as science has revealed, doesn’t produce long-term success in abstinence. For most people, it takes a more whole-person-oriented approach to achieve lasting success, a concept that has become the standard in addiction treatment and care, especially with the more challenging of addictive substances, a category that opiates do fall into.
Why the Holistic Approach Is Necessary
According to Drugs, Brains, and Behavior, The Science of Addiction, a National Institutes of Health publication, opiate addiction is “a brain disease because drugs change the brain _ “they change its structure and how it works.” The primary parts of the brain that experience structural change include the brain stem, the limbic system and the cerebral cortex.
The brain stem is the part of the brain that is responsible for many of the body’s involuntary functions, such as breathing and the beating of the heart. The limbic system is the part of the brain that deals with pleasure and emotions, and the cerebral cortex manages information garnered from the senses and handles various elements of thinking and reasoning, such as planning and decision making.
Thus, those changes in the actual, physical structures of the brain have the potential to have a strong impact on how a person perceives the world around him and conducts himself in it, affecting his control of his emotions and his behavior. Such changes can lead to problematic personal and professional relationships, as well as a variety of other life problems.
Everything in the brain works via electrical impulses and chemical reactions. That is how the brain communicates within itself and with the rest of the body. Opiates affect the chemical balance of the brain, and can result in long-term, even permanent chemical changes that affect mood and brain function, as well as overall mental health and well-being.
Mood disorders can stem from the chemical imbalances produced by opiate abuse. Damage in the decision-making part of the brain can lead to compulsive behavior and difficulties in self-control These can lead to shame and guilt, and reinforce the need for the “feel better” element of opiate use. Mental illness can precede drug abuse, making a person more likely to try to self-medicate and more susceptible to addiction.
Drug abuse has a negative impact on physical health, as well. In the direct sense of causing physical ailments, such as the respiratory issues that are associated with heavy use of opiates, as well as in the indirect sense of being the cause of choices that have poor physical consequences. Addicts often, for example, have bad teeth, as dental hygiene is low on the list in comparison with the time, effort and money expended in the procurement of drugs. The inadequate nutrition and exercise typical of the average addict contribute to a variety of illnesses and ailments. Addicts may do things under the influence, such as sharing needles or engaging in unprotected sex, that can result in life-threatening diseases.
In order to sustain abstinence successfully for the long term, it is necessary to deal with far more than just the physical dependence on opiates. This is borne out by solid scientific, clinical research, which is why the holistic, whole-person approach in opiate rehab has become standard in most reputable rehabilitation clinics and programs.
Characteristics of Whole-Person-Oriented Rehab
Formal rehab begins after the detoxification period, which is done on site in some opiate rehab facilities. Some programs do not do on-site detox, but instead the patient first goes to a facility specializing in detoxification prior to arriving at the rehab center. Whole-person-oriented, or holistic, opiate rehab acknowledges that each person is individual and complex, thus there is no one-size-fits-all sort of treatment plan.
People have different needs, and while there are common characteristics to the holistic approach to opiate rehab, these treatment elements are typically implemented in a balance geared towards meeting the specific needs of the patient. This balance will fluctuate as needs change throughout the rehabilitation process and during the period of support that follows formal rehab.
According to a September 2009 fact sheetreleased by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these are some of the common characteristics of the holistic approach to opiate rehab:
- Medical treatment of drug addiction, if necessary, with medications that help control cravings and lingering withdrawal symptoms
- Assessment and treatment of physical health issues
- Attention to diet and nutrition, which supports physical health and mental function
- Assessment and treatment of mental health problems
- Cognitive and behavioral therapies aimed at changing behavior and thoughts to enable the addict to develop abstinence success strategies against the stresses of daily life
- Family counseling to strengthen support system
- Life skills training
- Ingoing assessment of needs and progress to continue to adjust treatment according to changing needs
What Is the Most Effective Type of Opiate Rehab?
There are a variety of opiate rehab programs available, offering different degrees of support to the addicted individual. Opiates can be a very difficult addiction to treat, especially in long-term abuse situations. Residential opiate rehab treatment is the best option if at all possible, particularly in the case of a person who has been using and abusing drugs for a long time.
With the structural changes in the brain relating to the pleasure-reward system in the limbic area and the cerebral cortex changes that have helped to alter the ability to make sound decisions, as well as the physical dependence, the highly structured and very supportive atmosphere of a residential treatment facility can make a real difference in the degree of success that the patient experiences, not just in the immediate period, but over the long term.
That is a direct result of addressing the multiple needs of the addict, firmly setting in place the skills necessary to achieve abstinence-related goals. Psychological support is essential in the aftermath of addiction, because not only has the continuous use of opiates caused direct damage to mental functioning, but also most addicts have a laundry list of behaviors and actions that, once the opiate use is brought under control, are going to be a source of ongoing pain, guilt and shame.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical” to recovering successfully from drug addiction. Residential opiate rehab programs with a holistic, whole-person treatment philosophy have an important role in providing the solid foundation that a recovering addict needs, during and after the rehab program, and can be considered among the very best of opiate addiction treatment strategies.
For more information on opiate treatment options, contact us today. We are here to answer any questions you have and assist you on your journey to sobriety.