When you’re in pain, it’s almost as if nothing else matters. You can barely think of anything but getting the pain to stop. And that’s exactly how so many people fall victim to an opioid addiction.
When you start taking opioids to address chronic pain, it’s easy to become addicted. At first, you may preserve your pills for the worst days or the days when you really need to perform at your best. Before long, you realize how easy it is to have a “good day,” and you’re taking the opioids a bit more frequently.
The problem is that your body becomes accustomed to the painkillers, and you need higher doses to get the same effect. It doesn’t take long for addiction to take hold.
So let’s start with the most important thing first. If you’re addicted to opioid painkillers, there’s absolutely no reason to be ashamed. Addiction is a disease that changes your brain chemistry, so it’s not your fault that you’re craving drugs.
Now, let’s talk through some strategies for taking control of your life again.
Check into a detox center
Part of addiction is becoming physically dependent. This is why recovering addicts experience physical detoxification symptoms. If at all possible, it’s best to go through this phase under medical supervision. Everyone has a different detox experience. One person may get mild muscular pain while others experience tremors with extreme bouts of nausea. You won’t know which person you are until you’re in the situation, so it’s best to be safe.
Generally speaking, the longer you’ve been reliant on drugs, the more intense symptoms you’ll experience, but again, everyone is different.
Regardless of whether your symptoms are mild or intense, you will experience some discomfort. This discomfort often sends people searching for drugs to make them feel better. Find addiction treatment, so you backing out isn’t as much of an option. Going to a detoxification or rehab center will help improve your chances of success.
Once the physical symptoms subside, the mental struggles really begin. The physical symptoms take place in the acute withdrawal phase. After your physical symptoms subside, you enter what’s called post-acute withdrawal. In this phase, also known as PAWS, your body is relearning how to function without drugs.
Opioids provide an artificial dopamine surge that your body gets used to experiencing. The surge is so intense that the brain can only react by “turning down the volume.” In response to opioids, the brain produces less natural dopamine and also turns off some opioid receptors. It’s akin to turning off a speaker when the volume is too loud.
But once you remove the external opioid surge, your brain needs time to regulate. It eventually adjusts to producing appropriate levels of neurotransmitters. But this takes time.
As your brain is adjusting, it’s common to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. Eventually, these symptoms should subside, but that’s little consolation while you’re struggling.
Fortunately, there is a natural way to boost the feel-good chemicals in your brain: Meditation.
A 2002 Cognitive Brain Research study found that participants experienced a dopamine surge during a meditation-induced change of consciousness.
Find sober supports
As you recover from addiction, you’ll need to make many life changes. One important change is to remove any toxic people from your life. This includes anyone who may still be addicted and anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself.
Replace those toxic people with sober supports. Sober supports are people who have walked the path of addiction and can help you get through your dark days. These are people you can call when you’re on the verge of a relapse, and they can help because they’ve been there too.
If you don’t have anyone like this in your life, consider joining a support group for recovering addicts. It’s important to build a network of people you can lean on whenever you’re feeling vulnerable.
Remember that there’s no shame in addiction, regardless of how far you think you’ve fallen. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just take the first step, and then take it day by day. You’ll get there.