Opium is one of the most addictive substances on the planet, and it comes in many forms. Heroin, OxyContin, Percocet, and hydrocodone are just a few of the names for opium-based substances, and all of them sport a high rate of addiction.
For those suffering from addiction to opioids, whether illicit or prescription, there is one very important question: Is there anything I can do to make these cravings go away?
There is, but it isn’t something easy, and it may not be something you can do yourself. But before we get to that, let’s help you understand the nature of these cravings.
Why You Feel Cravings for Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Just to start off, it can’t be said enough that addiction isn’t a choice or a moral issue, and it can’t be fixed with willpower alone. Addiction is a disease that causes a chemical imbalance in your body to compel you to use substances that are harmful to you.
Cravings are simply the way your body expresses addiction, and opioids cause some of the strongest cravings of any addictive substance. When opioids enter your body, they activate special receptors that reduce your pain and bring feelings of relaxation and happiness. Although those effects seem positive, the reality is that your body has a difficult time coping with the presence of these opiates – even the safe, prescription ones.
Because your body is adaptive, it works to accommodate this new substance, rather than reject it. And because your brain is telling you that using opium brings your happiness and relaxation, it starts to tell you to get more of it.
These signals combine to tell you not just that you should take more, but that you need to. It’s a compulsion, sometimes strong enough to make you feel like these opiates are necessary to keep you alive.
This is the nature of your cravings. It isn’t just about willpower, it’s a chemical reaction in both your brain and your body. Refusing to satisfy these cravings makes them even more intense, to the point that they become withdrawals. So it doesn’t make sense to just rely on willpower to fight it.
Drugs Fight Drugs: Medicine That Limits Opiate Cravings and Fights Opiate Withdrawals
Because opiates cause a chemical reaction in the body, acting on opiate receptors in the body, the best way to fight them is with medicine that blocks those reactions.
Naltrexone is one such type of medicine. Naltrexone has been proven to reduce cravings for both opiates and alcohol but is much better known for opiate treatment. It is a once-a-day pill that blocks opioid receptors, largely preventing them from sending out the signals they create the desire for a “fix.”
Naltrexone is often used as part of drug rehab treatment, as it is effective in blocking cravings and eliminating withdrawal symptoms. However, Naltrexone is primarily a post-treatment drug. It should never be taken with opiates (even prescription ones), as it can cause sudden severe withdrawal symptoms.
Methadone is often used during detox and in drug treatment as a “step down” drug from heroin or prescription painkillers. Methadone is itself, an opioid. It’s designed to activate the same opioid receptors in the brain as heroin and opiate painkillers, but without any of the euphoric or pain-killing effects.
Because it satisfies your body’s chemical “craving” for the opium without providing the effects, this is a way for people to detox while avoiding withdrawals. It gives you time to adjust mentally to not having the drug-induced rush while mitigating your body’s desperate signal for it.
The problem with methadone is that while it is effective as a drug in detox and rehab, it is an opioid, and as such, it carries some addiction risks itself, even at prescribed doses. It’s important to stay in close contact with your doctor about this if you are prescribed methadone.
Buprenorphine is another drug that is similar to naloxone (the primary ingredient in Naltrexone). The two medications are combined in Suboxone. Buprenorphine is considered a more effective craving-stopper than naloxone and doesn’t carry the addiction or overdose risks inherent to methadone.
It works in a similar way to other opioid-antagonists, blocking your opioid receptors by pretending to be the same substance, but without the effects. Because it’s only a partial fit, your body accepts it as an answer to your cravings, but it keeps you free of the mind-altering effects.
Naturally, none of these medications are legally available without a prescription, and all are dangerous if misused. Nobody should be anywhere near these medications without doctor’s orders and a full recovery and treatment plan in place.
After all, even if you can get ahold of these medications, that won’t be enough to beat addiction. You can’t brute-force it away, that will just lead to relapse.
Dealing With Opioid Addiction and Cravings in the Long-Term
There is no medication that “cures” addiction. It doesn’t work that way. There are medications that can ease the pain of withdrawal symptoms and take the edge off your cravings, but that isn’t true recovery.
True recovery starts with you. Addiction creates some deeply-rooted habits and embedded beliefs in you, and those are the most important things to fight when you’re fighting your opioid addiction. If you try simply taking medicine and hoping it goes away, it’s just going to come roaring back when the medicine stops.
Recovery isn’t just about forcing the drugs out of your system because on some level, the cravings never really stop. The decrease in intensity once you’ve been sober for a while, but true recovery means knowing how to deal with constant temptation, and keeping yourself clean long after the medicine has stopped.
Some people will stay on medicine to reduce their cravings for months after they’ve stopped using it. Medicine is often an important part of heroin rehab, but it’s just a component, it’s not the whole program. The goal of recovery is to be able to move on and beat your addiction for good, without the extra support. And a big part of that is beating the mental side of addiction, which is what you’ll learn to do in a professional opioid rehab facility.