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Is Opioid Use Disorder a Real Disease?

In 2019, more than 70.000 people died from overdoses of illicit drugs in the United States. This number had never been higher and has doubled just in the last decade. So what has happened in this country to make the death rate increase so significantly in such a short amount of time? And let’s remind ourselves that each one of these numbers represents people with families, friends, and loved ones who have lost their lives to a battle with addiction and are no longer with us. If you’re wondering if there truly is such as thing as Opioid Use Disorder, we will dig deeper into this troubling subject that has affected so many families and communities across the country. Mainly these overdose deaths are occurring from the use of and abuse of opiates; of those 70,000 deaths in 2019, nearly 50,000 of them were from opiates alone. These huge unfortunate numbers have a lot to do with the increase in the availability of a drug called Fentanyl which was developed as a tranquilizer for elephants and cooked in clandestine labs overseas. The drug is 50 times stronger than most street drugs and the makers of heroin often mix the highly deadly chemical with their product to make it stronger and increase profits significantly. The problem is that it’s hard to track exactly how much fentanyl is making its way into their heroin and how evenly the drug is distributed amongst it. The result can be seen in the heinous increase of overdoses in the past years. So why do people just not do opiates if it’s killing them? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. And as you’ll in the rest of this article, opioid dependency is much more like a disease than one might think.

How Do Opiates Make You So Addicted?

Opiates work by activating the central nervous system via opioid receptors in one’s brain. These are similar pleasure centers associated with basic life functions like eating and sex, for example. The problem is that the narcotic opioid-based drug gives such a huge dose of endorphins, that there is nothing naturally comparable to the high that you can get associated with chronic opiate misuse. Therefore, the brain chemistry of an opioid-dependent individual can be changed from occasional misuse to essentially “hijacking” the way an addict thinks, leading them to a path of destruction in the quest to get more of these powerful narcotics.

Is Addiction to Opiates Truly a Mental Disorder?

Yes, opioid use disorder is a real disease, as classified by the DSM-5, which stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This is the official medical book that lists all officially recognized mental health and psychiatric disorders, with editions regularly updated by the American Psychiatric Association. There are specific DSM-5 criteria for diagnosis of Opioid Use Disorder in a person, usually performed during an assessment by a medical or clinical professional.

Opioid Use Disorder is a Psychiatric Medical Condition that Requires Treatment

Most “normal people” experiment with the recreational use of drugs or alcohol at least once in their lives, but don’t become addicts and turn to a life of crime, misery, and suffering. However, for a small percentage of the population, their brains will react in a completely different way to the exposure of mind-altering chemicals, especially when it comes to opioids. These people quickly become addicted and their brain chemistry is different from those who we would call ‘normies.’ For those of us struggling with addiction, one drink or drug will never be satisfying enough and we will always want more. The urge to escape reality becomes overwhelming and the cravings unbearable. The addict no longer has any control over their addiction and thus the dependency becomes like a disease: essentially out of the hands of the one afflicted.

Is There a True “Cure” for Opioid Addiction?

Unfortunately, once an addict is created they will always be an addict and the potential for relapse will never be zero. But there is hope for recovery from active addiction and the harmful behaviors associated with it. But the disease of addiction cannot be treated like any other disease. No one cure-all medication will fix it. The only way to truly confront and recover from a dependency on chemical substances is to address the root cause of the addiction. The best thing active opiate addicts can do for themselves is to seek help immediately as addiction only increases in severity with time. Fortunately for them, recovery is everywhere. Not only are there people who have dedicated their lives to helping people overcome opiate addiction but there are entire Community groups of peers who have gone through the process and are there to help those struggling out of their dark place. If you or a loved one suffer from an opioid use disorder, we at Evoke Wellness at Cohasset are here to help you back on to the path of sobriety. We offer science-backed and solution-focused addiction treatment and detox programs. Give us a call and one of our addiction specialists will guide you on the right path to a life of freedom from opioid dependence and opiate abuse.