Do Opioid Urges Go Away?

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Opioid urges are an expected part of withdrawal symptoms that occur when a person with an opioid addiction stops taking the drug. With help from addiction treatment specialists, people can learn how to manage cravings.

Do Opioid Urges Go Away?

Opioid use disorder is prevalent in the United States, with opioid overdoses accounting for the majority of drug overdoses.

However people facing opioid addiction can overcome the urge to use prescription opioids or opiates like heroin with time through addiction treatment.

What Are Opioids?

The term opioids refers to a class of drugs made up of opiates, like heroin, and synthetic drugs similar to opiates. A healthcare provider may prescribe opioids for pain relief related to surgery or injury.

A healthcare professional may also prescribe the use of opioids for chronic pain.

Prescription opioids include:

  • oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • hydrocodone (Vicodin or Norco)
  • codeine

The effect of these medications on pain depends on the type of opioid that a doctor prescribes. The same is true for the intensity of the high when someone abuses opioids.

What Are Opioid Urges Or Cravings?

Opioid drug cravings are the result of physical dependence, which people can develop through long-term use of the drug. Cravings intensify as people become addicted to increasing amounts of the drug.

While there is a difference between dependence, which is usually described as a physical reliance, and addiction, which is usually described as a psychological reliance, people can experience both.

Opioids are highly addictive because of the “high” that they create when abused. People may start using opioids for pain relief but end up becoming addicted to them.

For example, people with trauma from an injury are especially at risk of the effects of opioids because they may help them ignore the negative and difficult feelings associated with experiencing trauma.

What Causes Opioid Cravings?

Opioid cravings happen because of changes that long-term use creates in the brain.

When opioids attach to the neurotransmitters in specific parts of the brain repeatedly over a long period, opioid dependence forms and the brain adjusts to a new normal.

Cravings are initiated by the brain to maintain the new normal and stop opioid withdrawal from happening.

Parts Of The Brain Affected By Opioids

Opioids work by attaching to opioid receptors in cells originating in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and locus coeruleus (LC) parts of the brain.

The VTA houses what is often called the pleasure center of the brain and is tied to rewards and aversion. The LC is inside the brainstem and responsible for stimulating several involuntary functions like breathing, blood pressure, and wakefulness.

When these brain centers are stimulated through opioid abuse, they produce larger than-normal amounts of dopamine and other neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters create feelings of intense pleasure.

Repeated and increased use of opioids forms a cycle of dependence and tolerance, resulting in cravings for the drug.

Why Are Opioid Cravings Hard To Overcome?

One reason why opioid cravings are hard to overcome is because of the difficult withdrawal symptoms a person with opioid use disorder experiences when not regularly using the drug.

Symptoms of opioid withdrawal, sometimes called withdrawal syndrome, are known to be very uncomfortable.

Symptoms of opioid or opiate withdrawal include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • muscle cramps
  • flu-like symptoms
  • runny eyes and nose

Opioid withdrawal is very uncomfortable but not life-threatening, except in the case of pre-existing health conditions or complications from intravenous drug use.

Treatment For Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)

Treatment for OUD includes the management of withdrawal symptoms through detoxification services and behavioral therapy approaches at the inpatient or outpatient levels of care.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) certifies addiction treatment centers in this approach to treating OUD.

Treatment often includes both medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and behavioral therapy. Many treatment centers also recognize the importance of family support.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT for the treatment of OUD involves the use of specific, FDA-approved medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce drug cravings.

There are several different opioid agonist or antagonist medications that treatment providers may use that attach to or block opioid receptors.

The result is that people facing opioid addiction feel less intense drug cravings, as if they had taken an opioid but without the high that accompanies it.

Medications for OUD include:

  • methadone, which is an opioid agonist (meaning it activates opioid receptors the way an opioid would but without the accompanying high)
  • buprenorphine, which is a partial agonist (meaning it activates some opioid receptors while blocking others)
  • Suboxone, which is buprenorphine with Naloxone, an opioid antagonist
  • naltrexone, which is an opioid antagonist (meaning that it blocks opioid receptors)

Naloxone is also used to reverse opioid overdose.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is paired with MAT in the treatment of opioid addiction. Therapy helps clients discover and address the root causes of addiction for long-term recovery.

This may include dealing with dysfunctional family relationships, childhood trauma, emotional wounds, or other causes of addiction.

Types of behavioral therapy include:

A provider may also use a trauma-informed therapeutic approach. This may include the use of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for PTSD.

Family Support

The support of family members is important to the successful treatment of opioid use disorder.

Many treatment centers use family therapy to help clients and their loved ones work through issues of addiction that often strain relationships.

If clients can have the support of family members, they stand a better chance of continuing in sobriety without relapse.

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If you or a loved one is facing a substance use disorder, call today. We have more information about treatment options, the recovery process, and how to get started.


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