Overcoming Opioid Use Disorder

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7 Tips for Overcoming Opioid Use Disorder

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    An Honest Look at Opioid Use Disorder
    More than 2.5 million people in the United States are struggling with opioid use disorder. Opioids are pain-relieving narcotics that include prescription medicines such as oxycodone and hydrocodone and “street drugs” such as heroin. If you develop opioid use disorder, that means you have a problematic pattern of opioid use that leads to serious impairment or distress. You may be physically or psychologically dependent on opioids, or you may be addicted to opioids, seeking a high and become emotionally attached to the drug. Using opioids inappropriately is dangerous because it can lead to overdose and death. It can be challenging, but getting sober is possible with the right tools

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    1. Know the signs.
    Every prescription medication comes with benefits and risks to weigh with your doctor. Opioids are effective at relieving pain from major surgery, traumatic injury, and some chronic conditions. A significant downside is the possibility of dependence and addiction, both of which are included under the umbrella of opioid use disorder. Behaviors that signal you may be dependent include continuing opioid use even after your pain has ceased or experiencing physical or emotional symptoms when you stop taking the drug. Signs of addiction include seeking a high, taking more of your medication than prescribed, borrowing someone else’s medication, and using illegal drugs.

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    2. Get a medical assessment.
    If you think you might have opioid use disorder, it’s important to seek a professional assessment. It can be performed by a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, or nurse, and usually involves three parts. First, you can expect to have an open conversation about how long you’ve been taking opioids, what other medications you take, and your health issues. A physical exam is typically performed, and a urine analysis test is ordered to check the level of opioids in your system.

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    3. Try medication assisted treatment.
    The primary approach to treating opioid use disorder is to combine medication with behavioral counseling. You may hear this approach referred to as medication assisted treatment, or MAT. Buprenorphine and methadone are two medicines that can be used early in the treatment process to help curb cravings for opioids and decrease withdrawal symptoms. The World Health Organization considers them “essential medicines.” Once your body is opioid-free, naltrexone may be recommended to help prevent relapses by making it impossible to feel high.

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    4. Don’t be afraid to accept help.
    Some people think taking medicine for opioid use disorder just replaces one addiction with another. This is simply not true. Opioid use disorder is a chronic brain disease where the normal workings of the brain are disrupted. Medications help the brain to heal while making it easier to avoid the temptation to use opioids. Medication for opioid use disorder may not be appropriate for everyone, but research has shown more people stick with their treatment plans if medication is a part of it.

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    5. Talk to a mental health professional.
    A treatment plan for opioid use disorder aims to give you the best possible chance of recovery. Medication alone usually isn’t sufficient. Behavioral counseling helps you address the mental, psychological, emotional, and social aspects of dependence and addiction—not just the physical. Counseling can help you improve your self-esteem, manage stress, and identify and avoid situations that could trigger a relapse. Counseling and support groups are also available for family and friends of those going through recovery.

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    6. Know what to expect with withdrawal.
    Opioid withdrawal symptoms can range far afield, from sweating and fevers, to vomiting and diarrhea, to rapid heart rate and confusion. It can help to know symptoms typically usually only last three to five days. Remember that experienced healthcare professionals, effective medications, and trained counselors are available to help you with these challenges. Keep your care team aware of what’s happening. Try to distract yourself with things you enjoy and use “positive self-talk” to encourage your recovery. Staying hydrated and eating healthfully can help, too.

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    7. Be engaged in your health.
    Opioid use disorder can make you feel like you’ve lost control. Each step toward recovery can help you regain it. Those who actively participate in their treatment plans have been shown to have better outcomes than those who don’t. Make every recovery-related appointment a priority and take medicines only if prescribed and exactly as prescribed. Stay in touch with your care team. Remember, they’ve helped a lot of people recover successfully, and they want the same for you.

Opioid Use Disorder | Opioid Withdrawal

About The Author

Evelyn Creekmore has more than 15 years of experience writing online educational health content, including nearly 10 years full-time at WebMD, where she was the director of brand content. She holds an MPH in Applied Public Health Informatics from Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and an MA from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 May 31
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