Understanding the Opioid Epidemic
By Contributing Author, Ainsley Lawrence
Addiction is a thief, a tyrant, and a killer. It destroys sufferers’ health and their relationships. It robs its victims of their peace, and all too often, of their futures.
But what is even worse, perhaps, is that addiction is subtle. It sneaks up on you and you may not even realize you are falling into dependency until you are so deeply involved in the disease it feels impossible to escape.
If you are worried that you or someone you love is falling prey to addiction, there are things you can do. It begins with learning how to recognize the warning signs and taking action before the initial embers of addiction ignite into a full-fledged wildfire.
The Scope of the Problem
Despite all of the publicity surrounding the “opioid epidemic” in recent years, it’s difficult to appreciate the real magnitude of the problem unless you’ve spent some time on the front lines of the disease. In 2015 alone, more than 33,000 people in the US are estimated to have died from an opioid overdose.
This massive death toll is due in part to the fact that the drugs are still so accessible despite recent efforts to crack down on opioid prescriptions. But that’s just part of the story. The drugs continue to take tens of thousands of lives each year because they are becoming more potent and, as a result, more lethal. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are up to fifty times more potent than traditional opioids, and they quickly began to claim more lives than heroin.
One of the most difficult parts of addiction is knowing when and how to get help. Those who have developed a substance abuse disorder are often in denial about their condition. As a result, they tend not only to refuse to acknowledge the problem but even to listen to your concerns.
If you fear that someone you love has become addicted, you absolutely must not stop talking or trying to communicate, and above all else, you must not stop caring. Your loved one is listening, even when you think they aren’t. They need you even when they say they don’t.
There’s no one “right” route to recovery. However, if you or your loved one is trying to get sober, there are steps you can take to develop an effective recovery strategy.
First, it’s important to understand the origins of the addiction. Is it genetic? Did a prescription for post-op pain, for instance, trigger a physiological dependency? Or is the addiction rooted in some past trauma, anxiety or depressive disorder? Understanding what, exactly, is driving the addiction is essential in developing a strategy to end it.
Beginning recovery also means preparing for withdrawal. The withdrawal symptoms that a recovering addict can expect will depend on a number of factors including the type of drug and the length and intensity of its use.
No one should ever try to withdraw from a drug without first having a plan for managing the symptoms and for recognizing the signs that require immediate medical attention. The detox process can be unpredictable, and it should never be attempted without the addict’s safety as the utmost priority.
Recovery without Rehab?
Addiction recovery does not necessarily involve rehab, particularly once you’ve detoxed from the drug. If the situation doesn’t make rehab medically necessary, there are a number of holistic alternatives that have been proven to be highly effective.
A holistic approach involves treating the whole person rather than focusing solely on the addiction. It often includes strategies for promoting physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual wellness. A holistic recovery tends to encompass a range of techniques, from biofeedback and acupuncture to meditation and massage. These techniques help the patient manage stress, control pain, and reduce depression and anxiety.
One of the more innovative and promising approaches to addiction recovery is using art and music therapy. At its core, art therapy is designed to help addicts get in touch with and process their emotions in a healthy way rather than turning to their drug of choice to mask feelings they don’t understand or can’t deal with.
Above all, art therapy gives addicts an outlet to help them persevere. It gives them a tool to make it through the inevitable bad days with their sobriety intact.
Addiction is a cunning disease. It sneaks up when and where you least expect it. But whether you are the one who is facing addiction, or it’s threatening someone you love, there are ways to recognize the warning signs. Once the problem has been acknowledged, it can be dealt with. Creating a plan for detoxifying safely and then following up with an effective, customized recovery strategy will salvage the bright future that the subtle encroachment of addiction had threatened to steal.