Mental Health And Opioid Addiction
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A CRAVING?
Everyone experiences cravings, the got-to-have-it-now feeling that can strike at any hour of the day. Your craving might be for chocolate, mangos, or buffalo wings. Cravings can also be mental or emotional; you can crave a feeling or an emotional experience. Often, cravings are more likely to come when you are vulnerable, either emotionally, mentally, or physically. That’s why pizza and ice cream sound so good when you’re sad or lonely.
The same thing happens when your body is given a mind-altering substance, like a painkiller. Painkillers, or opioids, don’t just reduce the pain receptors in your brain, but also give you a feeling of euphoria, almost a “high”. Your brain likes this feeling, and craves it. After a major surgery or injury, painkillers can be very useful and allow you to live with less pain when used correctly. The problem is when opiates are used over a longer period of time than necessary, or for another purpose instead of just reducing pain.
If you are dealing with emotional and physical pain, you are much more likely to use opiates for more than just physical pain management. Read on to find out how mental health and opiate addiction are intertwined, and how taking care of your mental health can help prevent you developing an opiate addiction.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND OPIATES
Opiates work by binding to pain receptors in the brain and mimicking pain relieving chemicals that are naturally produced in your brain. The difference is that opioids overload your brain with these pain relieving chemicals, so much so that your brain thinks it doesn’t need to make them anymore! Along with reduced pain, opiates cause a relaxed, euphoric feeling, but also come with the side effects of nausea and dizziness.
As with alcohol and other illegal drugs, over time, tolerance is built up and you have to take more opiates to achieve the desired effect. Once your brain becomes dependent on opiates, and loses the ability to regulate its own pain receptors, it becomes an addiction. If the addict loses access or runs out of their supply of opiates, they still have an addiction to contend with and will often turn to illegally obtained or manufactured drugs. Sadly, this is how most overdoses happen. Illegal opiates and other drugs on the street are often laced with poisonous chemicals or drugs that the user doesn’t know about, and the unknowingly overdose in trying to satiate their addiction.
In 2018, 168 million opiates were prescribed globally. Although America only accounts for 4% of the world’s population, it accounts for 27% of the global overdose deaths, which equates to 200 people dying a day in America from drug overdose.
Women aged 40-64 are the fastest growing demographic for opioid overdose, and young people are currently the highest demographic for drug overdose related deaths. Considering that 37% of college students have depression, it correlates that teens and young people struggling with their mental health and under the pressure of navigating adulthood would be more common to experiment or self-medicate with opioids.
THE STORIES BEHIND THE STATISTICS
Like we’ve learned, addictions don’t always discriminate. Sadly, opioid addictions affect anyone, from children to grown adults. The opioid crisis is marked by its lack of discrimination. Nearly anyone can be prescribed painkillers, which means anyone can become addicted. You might be reading this, and just now realize that you are still taking your pain medication even though it’s been 3 months since your surgery. Do you really still need them? Maybe your husband, son, or daughter is abusing leftover opioids from your medicine cabinet and you might not even realize it. With doctors overprescribing opioids, many people have them lying around their house and don’t think to dispose of them properly. The people who die from drug overdoses aren’t always junkies searching for a fix, but sometimes teenagers experimenting, children playing, or the mom down the street self-medicating a migraine or anxiety.
MENTAL HEALTH AND OPIOID ADDICTION
Normal, everyday people struggle with depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Just like cravings, addictions become worse if you are struggling with your mental health. Have you ever heard of eating your feelings? In the same way, if you are unhappy, depressed, or dealing with trauma, selfmedicating begins to become an appealing option. Statistics say that struggling with your mental health makes you more than three times more likely to abuse opioids.
If you have to take opioids for legitimate pain, taking care of your mental health is paramount. Just like people sometimes keep their mental health struggles to themselves, opioid abusers are often too ashamed to get help for their addiction. You might not want your friends to think of you as an addict, and if you convince yourself you really aren’t doing anyone any harm, who needs to know? When opioids become the main source of satisfaction for your brain, real relationships and communications become unimportant and less fulfilling. Mental health and opioid addiction is like the riddle, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Does bad mental health lead to addictions, or do addictions lead to bad mental health? We don’t really know for sure, but we do know that not taking care of your mental health makes you more susceptible to addiction.
When the opioid abuser tries to quit their addiction to the pills, they experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be general severe pain, head and muscle aches, cough, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and depression. Quitting your addiction to opioids often leads to the same symptoms that led to you taking the opioids. Being trapped in an addiction is overwhelming. Feeling like you have no control over your own choices is depressing and lonely.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Addiction won’t just ruin your body, but also your mental health. If you have realized that you or someone you know has been abusing opioids, purposefully or not, do not wait! Don’t waste time feeling ashamed or guilty, but find professional help now. Dispose of your unfinished opioids correctly by taking them to a pharmacy, and don’t leave them somewhere a child or family member can reach them. Addiction affects both the mind and the body, so if you are struggling with one, find professionals to help you heal in both areas.
Sadly, many people feel like they have to fight their addiction alone. I’m here to tell you that you are not alone. I am always a resource; I have worked with a wide range of addictions and would love to help you take back your freedom and confidence. If you are struggling with an opioid addiction and you are local to Florida, call the number 211 to reach an addiction hotline with 24/7 support.
Addictions can be overcome. It might not be easy, but it’s worth it. Living freely and confidently, the way God intended, is worth it. Don’t let addiction ruin your mental health and relationships, but take the initiative to get the help you need or prevent addiction in your future so you can live a fulfilling, confident life.