How is an Opiate Dependence Treated?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 17 December 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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Opiates are a large class of prescription and illicit narcotic drugs that are derived from opium plants. Drugs such as heroin, morphine, codeine, and oxycodone can be very addictive, quickly causing both physical and psychological signs of opiate dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal. Treatment for opiate dependence usually involves a combination of medications to gradually wean the body off of the substance and behavioral therapy to develop healthier lifestyle habits. People who suffer from opiate addictions can find the help they need to begin recovery by contacting hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, social service centers, or government hot lines.

When a person becomes dependent on an opiate, he or she can experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not available. Intense aches, chills, fever, and seizures can set in within two days of withdrawal. When a patient is in critical condition due to withdrawal symptoms, he or she is usually given an intravenous drug called naloxone to counteract the devastating physical symptoms. Clonidine is commonly given in combination with naloxone to further relieve pain and chills. Following emergency treatment for opiate dependence, a doctor will usually prescribe a less-potent opiate to be taken in carefully regulated doses to slowly reverse physiological cravings.


Methadone and buprenorphine are forms of liquid opiates commonly prescribed for addicts to help them progressively decrease their opiate dependence. The medications produce similar effects to heroin and morphine, albeit less intense. A doctor may suggest injections or oral solutions depending on a patient's specific needs. Initial doses are usually provided at a clinic or hospital, but a patient who has the proper supervision may be given final rounds of supplies to take at home. The length of time a patient needs to stay on methadone or buprenorphine can range from a few weeks to several years based largely on the severity of the addiction and his or her willingness to get clean.

In addition to medical care, a person who wants to beat opiate dependence needs the appropriate psychological and emotional support. Inpatient rehabilitation clinics offer professional medical supervision and psychological counseling for patients who are ready to change their lives. Rehab centers vary in their approaches and lengths, but most programs focus on helping individuals uncover the reasons why they use opiates and how they can learn to live productively without relying on drugs.

Ongoing counseling at mental health centers, private sessions with psychologists, and community support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous can provide addicts with the support they need to stay clean. Psychologists and recovering addicts can help individuals cope with their emotional issues and develop positive attitudes about recovery. Most people who are willing to be honest and put all of their effort into improving themselves are able to eventually overcome opiate dependence.



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