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Archive for the ‘Addiction’ Category

Understanding Opioid Receptors, The Opioid System, and the Risks for Opioid Addiction

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Understanding Opioid Receptors, The Opioid System, and the Risks for Opioid AddictionThe United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that around 2.1 million people in the United States are currently suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioids. Another nearly 500,000 are addicted to heroin, another opiate. Opioid addiction is, in the words of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a national epidemic. The CDC estimates that about 91 Americans die every day from opioid overdose. This is more than four times the number of opioid-related overdose deaths since 1999. To get to the bottom of the ongoing opioid problem in the U.S, one must first understand the brain’s opioid receptors and the opioid system.

Taking a Look at the Brain’s Opioid System

The opioid system is the part of the brain that controls feelings of pain, pleasure, and reward. It is also in charge of addictive behaviors. Neurons in the brain release a family of endogenous peptides, such as endorphin and dynorphins, during activities such as eating, sleeping, exercising, and sexual activity. These peptides activate opioid receptors in the brain, triggering the reward system and generating feelings of pleasure and happiness. The opioid system is the brain’s way of keeping the body alive – offering rewards for activities necessary to sustain life.

The opioid system contains three G protein-coupled receptors: mu, delta, and kappa. It is these three receptors that the release of peptides stimulates in the brain. Mu receptors trigger the brain’s reward system. Studies suggest that it is the mu-opioid receptor that initiates addictive behaviors. The delta receptor is in charge of emotional responses, such as depression and anxiety. These two receptors may hold the key to why people become addicted to opioid drugs – and how to stop addiction in the future.

How Opioids Work on the Brain

Taking a Look at the Brain's Opioid System

Opiates are any drugs naturally derived from the opium poppy. Opioids are the synthetic and semi-synthetic drugs that stem from modified opiate foundations. For the most part, however, people use the terms “opiate” and “opioid” interchangeably. Opioids are a category of drugs that act on the brain’s opioid receptors to create feelings of euphoria. They include morphine, heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and fentanyl. Opioids work by acting on the brain’s opioid receptors, activating them as the natural releases of peptides normally would. In this way, opioid drugs act as painkillers – and highly addictive recreational drugs.

When a person consumes opiates, they bind to the opioid receptors in the brain. This is possible because the chemical structure of opioids mimics that of the brain’s natural transmitters. Once attached, the drug blocks pain and slows down breathing, creating a clam and pleasant effect. The drugs do not activate the nerve cells the same way as natural transmitters – instead, they send abnormal messages through the brain’s opioid system. They flood the brain’s reward circuit with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates feelings of pleasure, emotion, motivation, and cognition. It is the overstimulation of the reward system that leads to the euphoric feelings, or “high,” of consuming opiates.

Understanding Opioid Addiction

After consuming opiates, the brain associates them with pleasure. Opiates trick the brain into thinking taking the drug is a life-sustaining activity. This deception is what leads to a person wanting to take the drug again and again. Sometimes an opiate is strong enough to create this reaction after just a single use. When taken over a long period of time, opioids change the way the brain’s nerve cells function. Eventually, the user is unable to experience pleasure without the drug. At this point, the person is addicted. An opioid addict will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms without the regular use of the drug.

Opioids act on the body’s limbic system, brainstem, and spinal cord. The limbic system is responsible for controlling emotions such as relaxation, contentment, and pleasure. The brainstem controls the body’s automatic systems, such as breathing. Opioids in the brainstem can slow breathing and reduce feelings of pain. The spinal cord transmits sensations from the brain to the body and vice versa. Opioids on the spinal cord can decrease feelings of pain, such as after a serious accident. Injecting opioids into the bloodstream creates a faster, more intense reaction to the drugs. Taking an opioid by mouth results in slower effects, but is safer.

Opioids change the brain’s reward system, leading to addiction regardless of a person’s age, gender, or income. Opiate addiction does not depend on a person’s willpower, strength, or other dispositions, despite common misconceptions. Opiates are a dangerous and common substance for abuse. Understanding opioid addiction as a disease, and not a pitfall of a certain personality type or demographic, is the key to preventing addiction.

Opioid Addiction in America

The current opioid epidemic is due in large part to lax prescribing practices and lack of awareness and education about opioid addiction. Doctors around America issue prescriptions for strong painkillers to treat chronic pain and certain conditions, such as migraine headaches. Often, doctors fail to warn patients of the risk of addiction to prescription drugs. Patients typically do not associate prescription medications with drug abuse and addiction, since they are legal and given to them by a doctor. The combination of lack of addiction awareness and loose prescribing practices has led to the current opioid epidemic in the nation.

Heroin is just a step behind, with studies linking the increase in heroin use to the increase in prescription opioid addiction. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), heroin use in the U.S. tripled from 2007 to 2014. The number of deaths involving heroin skyrocketed from 3,036 in 2010 to 10,574 in 2014. As of 2015, the DEA estimated there were about 600,000 heroin users in the U.S. Understanding opioid addiction is the first step toward reducing the opiate powerhouse overtaking America.

Hope for the Future

In spite of the frightening rise in opioid abuse and related deaths in recent years, there is hope for the future. Many states have enacted systems to monitor prescribing practices in an effort to limit the number of prescription opioids that go to patients. Drug awareness programs have sprung up around the country, as have treatment centers. If you or a loved one is struggling with an opioid addiction, get help. Contact The Treatment Center.

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Why Anxiety and Addiction
Are So Closely Related

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Why Anxiety and Addiction Are So Closely Related

Affecting an average of 18.1 percent of adults living in the US, chronic persistent anxiety and anxiety disorders are characterized by restlessness and worry that is seemingly “out of nowhere,” or without cause. For those suffering from anxiety, it is a constant struggle to feel comfortable or “normal.” When you compare the symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders with the symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawals, a very clear relationship develops between anxiety and addiction.

Similarities between Anxiety and Drug
and Alcohol Withdrawals

The medical community has recognized the incontrovertible evidence that anxiety and drug and alcohol withdrawals are both very similar in nature. In fact, when addicts are within their first year of recovery, there may come a time – often around six months to a year of sobriety – when the individual starts to get feelings of anxiety and wonders, “Is this just an anxiety attack, or are my withdrawal symptoms returning?”

The likely answer, in most cases, is usually both. In the first year of sobriety, coming off drugs and alcohol, it is not unusual to have bouts and flare-ups of withdrawal symptoms from time-to-time. These attacks are usually short, intense, and often have weeks or months between any episodes – mimicking non drug-related anxiety attacks. This is opposed to the peak severe withdrawals one goes through during the initial detox and withdrawals of the first few weeks and months of cessation of drugs and alcohol.

Relationship Between Anxiety and Withdrawals

Drug and Alcohol Use Can Cause Anxiety

It is a fact that the use and abuse of illicit drugs, prescription drugs, and alcohol can cause anxiety in numerous ways. The use of cocaine – even in small amounts usually gives users slight anxiety as the drug enters the bloodstream, and this anxious feeling is part of the “high” that the drug user gets. Marijuana-induced “paranoia” is nothing more than anxiety and the body’s reaction to the chemicals in the bloodstream. That all-too-familiar hangover you get after a night of too many drinks also usually comes with shakiness and worrisome feeling that is attributed to anxiety. All of these chemicals cause very mild symptoms of anxiety when they are used, and while these symptoms may be slightly uncomfortable for a moment, are not usually alarming to the individuals experiencing them. However, the more an individual uses drugs and alcohol, and over longer periods of time, those mild symptoms of anxiety build up over time, and anxiety becomes a not uncommon response by the body.

The Cycle of Anxiety and Addiction

We had previously stated that the use of drugs and alcohol causes mild bouts of anxiety during their use, and that it is often so mild that it is not worrisome. Coming off of drugs and alcohol, however, causes anxiety that is much more intense, and can be very worrisome.

For an addict experiencing feelings of dread, panic, trouble breathing, and experiencing pains and feelings similar to a heart attack are often too painful to experience, and will use drugs or alcohol again to battle back these feelings of extreme anxiety. And usually, the drugs and alcohol do work, and the intense anxiety subsides into the milder, less intense sense of discomfort – rather than fear. However, the anxiety never fully went away, the core problem was never sufficiently addressed, and the intense anxiety will come back the next time the individual tapers off of drugs or alcohol. This is the beginning of the anxiety-addiction cycle.

Anxiety Addiction Cycle with Alcohol Use

Alcohol is a chemical with broad potential for abuse, and in modern addiction studies have been referred to as the most dangerous drug known to man, and “worse than heroin” by some. The seriousness of alcohol abuse cannot be overstated – alcohol is addictive, does significant damage to all of the organs and tissues of the body, can lead to death, and is a major contributor to anxiety and panic disorders in those that abuse it.

Alcohol abuse is also one of the most obvious examples of the continuation of the cycle of anxiety and addiction. Anxiety is one of the main symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, characterized by long anxiety and panic attacks that are intense and worrisome. Even withdrawals from smaller amounts of alcohol – seen in next-day hangovers – can be quite severe. A common term in popular culture, “hair of the dog that bit you” is the practice of consuming alcohol the morning after drinking to “lessen” the negative effects of the hangover – hangover, being mild withdrawal symptoms. Moderate to severe alcoholics often continue this cycle for days, weeks or months allowing the addiction to feed the anxiety, and the anxiety feeds the addiction.

Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety and Addiction

Now that we understand just how individuals get caught up in the cycle of addiction and anxiety, the obvious question is now, “how does one break the cycle of anxiety without suffering through the anxiety and withdrawals?”

Vitamins and Nutrition to Combat Anxiety and Withdrawals

While withdrawal symptoms can never be completely avoided during the detoxification from certain drugs and alcohol, many forms of detox can make the anxiety and withdrawals less intense, and more tolerable when beginning addiction recovery. Firstly, proper nutrition during detox and recovery is an integral part of ensuring a more tolerable detox. Much of the anxiety and symptoms of withdrawal stem from malnutrition due to the abuse of drugs and alcohol, and deficiencies of vitamins and enzymes in the body during the detoxification period. Replenishing the vitamins and nutrients to the body before detox can make the process less intense and a bit more comfortable.

Certain drugs and alcohol can cause severe withdrawal symptoms that can be deadly, and therefore these chemicals cannot be stopped “cold turkey,” but rather have to be tapered off of – preferably in a safe and medically supervised environment. Alcohol and benzodiazepines especially need to be tapered off of, and the anxiety during detox for these two chemicals is known to be some of the most intense of any particular chemicals.

When Does Anxiety Stop For Recovering Addicts?

While it is expected that anxiety will reduce incrementally the longer an addict has been recovering, the exact timelines for this differ between the types of chemicals abused, the length of time abusing, and health history and underlying conditions. Remember that there is substance-induced anxiety, and there is anxiety disorders – the former caused directly by drug use, and the latter caused by underlying health conditions. If anxiety symptoms persist or increase, you may need to check with your doctor to find the underlying cause for the anxiety – which could be related to vitamin deficiencies, depression and mental health issues, or other health conditions.

Anxiety can be one of the most frightening and distressful symptoms recovery from chemical dependence and it is all too easy to let this fear derail your hopes and plans for recovery. However, it is so crucial for those suffering from addiction to know that the anxiety will subside, and you will feel better, more comfortable, full of life, and at ease when finally make the change towards sobriety.

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Top 10 Most Addictive Drugs in America

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Top 10 Most Addictive Drugs in America

Why Some Drugs Are More Dangerous Than Others

Drug abuse and addiction comes in many forms. People of all ages and backgrounds can be swept up in the disease in just one use. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates nearly 9 percent of all Americans (more than 22 million) struggle with addiction. It’s a terrible trend that has dire consequences – from job loss, crushed family relations, humiliation and even death; drug addiction can be devastating.

The Top 10 Most Addictive Substances in America

In 2007, David Nutt, a researcher from London’s Imperial College, performed extensive studies on different drugs, their harmfulness, and addictiveness. He created a scale that measured the pleasure, psychological dependence, and physical dependence associated with each substance. The range was set from 0 (least addictive) to 3 (most addictive). According to Nutt’s evidence, here are the top 10 most addictive drugs along with Nutt’s numerical rating.

1. Heroin – 3.0

Many people would not be surprised to learn that heroin is the most addictive drug available. Nutt’s study placed the opioid analgesic at the very top of the list of drugs that cause the most dependency. Heroin was developed in the late 1800s by combining acetyl groups and morphine as a way to alleviate the pain of surgical procedures, but it was also known for its euphoric effects. Because of this, it was named Morpheus, after the Greek god of dreams.

When used, this drug breaks down into the parent compound for an extremely strong physical and psychological high. Heroin is a depressant, too. This means it slows down functions throughout the entire body. The central nervous system, in particular, sees a dramatic reduction in functionality. Unlike other depressants, however, it comes a feeling of euphoria and deep relaxation.

Heroin is so intensely addictive because it mimics the body’s own production of relief – endorphins. It acts extremely quickly, especially when injected, bypassing the blood-brain barrier for immediate relief of all pain – both physical and emotional. The brain’s chemistry can be changed even with one or two uses, making it rely on heroin. To maintain that sense of calm, users will need to rely on higher quantities of the drug, more often.

2. Cocaine (Crack) – 2.39

Cocaine offers an intense high, complete with a strong sense of euphoria. It behaves as a stimulant, allowing users to feel energized, alert, and confident. This is because the drug acts as a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, forcing the brain to release higher levels of dopamine.

Cocaine can be used in its standard form, which is generally snorted through the nose, or it can be transformed into a concentrated rock called crack. Crack provides a stronger high and is generally smoked. The high associated with crack and cocaine is much shorter than other drugs, but despite this, it’s highly addictive because it offers users enhanced focus, energy, and more. Coming down from it — however — can be extremely difficult because it occurs so swiftly, and the “comedown” is very harsh. Dopamine levels plummet, and many people seek to get high again soon after to avoid the crash.

3. Nicotine – 2.21

Some people assume that nicotine is less addictive than other drugs because it is legal. This is far from the truth. The rating of nicotine’s addiction level is very close to that of cocaine, and far more people buy cigarettes, chewing tobacco or other tobacco products.

Nicotine is a very strong stimulant that comes from the Solanaceae plant. Nicotine, like cocaine, affects the brain’s dopamine levels. However, it also increases the production of epinephrine. This can help improve cognition while enhancing relaxation and offering slight euphoria. Twenty percent of the deaths in the United States are resulting the of tobacco products, equaling nearly a thousand people dying per day from nicotine. This, combined with the fact that it quickly forms habits and is very hard to quit, solidifies nicotine’s place as number three.

Unfortunately, manufacturers of tobacco products generally include other addictive substances like acetaldehyde, which enhance nicotine’s already addictive qualities.

4. Methadone – 2.08

Methadone is a drug many physicians use as a way to wean heroin addicts off the drug. Though it reproduces the pain relief and relaxation of heroin, it doesn’t produce the same euphoric effects. The goal was to help people experience less severe withdrawals by introducing the more potent drug.

The problem is that methadone itself also affects brain chemistry. Users experience less of a high, but still a great sense of relief. Also, because it stops severe withdrawals, users may become mentally dependent on it, which can be just as strong as a physical dependency. Thousands of people visit clinics to transition to methadone and quit opioids, but unfortunately, many simply exchange one addiction for another.

5. Crystal Methamphetamine – 2.04

This drug, like so many others, is a stimulus that creates sensations of euphoria. Like how crack is a variant of cocaine, crystal meth is a version of standard powder methamphetamine, which offers a more potent reaction. A dose of crystal meth significantly increases the activity in the central nervous system. Users often feel very powerful or unstoppable with boosts of energy. However, crystal meth can also cause aggression, irritability, and hyperactivity because it affects dopamine levels.

When the drug runs its course and the high is over, many users experience what is called “tweaking,” where they will experience extreme despair coupled with cravings. During this stage, many will suffer delusions and experience psychotic episodes.

6. Barbiturates – 2.01

Barbiturates depress the activity in the nervous system, leading to feelings of relaxation and sleepiness. Barbiturates are also a minor analgesic. This can encourage people to take those more frequently to manage pain, which leads to higher tolerance. In fact, the rapid development of tolerance is one of the reasons why barbiturates rank so highly. This is because the drugs affect the GABA receptors in the brain, changing the levels of chemicals available.

Doctors rarely, if ever, prescribe barbiturates anymore so addiction to them is also rare, but for those who are addicted, withdrawals can be life-threatening.

7. Alcohol – 1.93

Again, people underestimate the addictive potential of alcohol because of its legal status. Culturally, drinking is a much more accepted form of addiction than prescription or illicit drug dependency, but it is no less abused. Many television shows glorify weekend drinking or consuming alcohol with friends, potentially increasing the usage.

Although it rates as one of the lower substances on this list, alcohol has the highest ranking for intoxication. Because of it from a close bond with the central nervous system, withdrawals from alcohol are extremely painful and can even be fatal.

8. Benzodiazepines – 1.83

Drugs like Xanax and Valium benzodiazepines, or benzos, and have a sedative-like effect on the brain. Like barbiturates, they act on the neurotransmitter GABA, decreasing the central nervous system activity. As a result, people experience decreased excitability and anxiolytic effects. Often prescribed by doctors to help during panic attacks, users quickly begin to tolerate them, leading to higher dosages and more dependency.

Because of its effects on the brain, reliance on the drug is high, and, similar to alcohol, withdrawals can be deadly without proper medical supervision.

9. Amphetamines – 1.67

Amphetamines are not a class of stimulant. They are drugs that affect the central nervous system and offer a buzz to most people. However, they can also be medically used to treat ADHD, or disorders like narcolepsy.

Amphetamines produce an improvement in mood, social behavior, and energy, though doctors don’t classify them as stimulants. They are prescribed for people who suffer from ADHD or narcolepsy, but when people use them recreationally, they can have serious side effects, including a tough crash. Once people become dependent on them, they often need more to maintain a high.

10. Buprenorphine – 1.64

Buprenorphine is used for a similar purpose as methadone, an opioid replacement therapy to help ease the transition from substances such as heroin. Like the other replacement therapy drug, people become hooked on buprenorphine quickly because it is a potent chemical. Withdrawal symptoms can keep people addicted to buprenorphine for years, with users swapping one addiction for another.

Avoid Dangerous Addicting Substances

Addiction can make users feel desperate, leading to a loss of control, but not all drugs are created equal. Though there is no “safe” dependence on drugs, some substances are more addictive than others. Even first time users can fall prey to addiction, and the consequences can be dire.

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