The Faces of Opioid Addiction

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By Stacy Sawyer & Kellie Gainey
Hamilton Community Health Network

Every day, it seems we hear stories of addiction and overdose to the point that they have become normal. Look around you, and you will possibly see the face of addiction in people you would never suspect. The face of an addict isn’t always the stereotypical poster face that comes to mind. Highly productive, successful, social people are equally as dependent, as is a stay-at-home mom and even our grandparents or elderly neighbors.

Hamilton Health
Hamilton Health

Oftentimes, opioid dependence starts with a prescription for pain that is resulting from injury, surgery, or chronic illnesses and disease. The dependence isn’t necessarily about the “high” some users strive for; it’s often about taking a medication that is no longer effective as originally prescribed. So, the patient takes more, or turns to cheaper, easier-to-obtain substitutes such as illicit street drugs or illegal prescriptions.

So what are opioids? Opioid is a general term used to define drugs that fall into both the opiate and opioid classifications. Opiates, once more commonly known as narcotics, are drugs naturally derived from the opium poppy plant, whereas opioids are synthetically derived, or partially synthetic. All of them have pain-relieving properties, as well as mind-altering or “high-producing” effects if taken in high doses; furthermore, all opioids have addictive and dependence hallmarks associated with regular, long-term, and abusive use.

Society often treats addiction as a moral failing rather than a health issue or disease. Yet, NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse states that scientific research has shown conclusive evidence that addiction is a medical disorder, which affects how the brain works and changes behavior in the addicted. But what science has not defined is why some people become addicted and others escape the compulsion for abuse.

How Does Addiction Happen

“I started using my wife’s Vicodin prescription for a work injury instead of going to the doctor,” stated Brian, a husband, father, and skilled-tradesman, and also a patient at Hamilton Community Health Network. “The more I took, the more I needed–and wanted–so I started buying pills from people I knew were selling. It was easier than going to the doctor.”

“This is a very typical scenario,” says Lynda McDonald, nurse practitioner at Hamilton-Flint, where they treat substance use disorders. “Opioid addiction can come on fast and take control before a person realizes there is a problem. Plus, the fear of physical withdrawal can send a person deeper into the problem, not to mention avoidance of the stigma of being an addict.”

Brian explained he didn’t know he was addicted but his friends and family noticed his changes in behavior. McDonald explained symptoms of addiction range from uncontrollable cravings to intense anxiety, sweating, constipation, nausea, lack of sex drive, sensitivity to pain, shallow breathing, slurred speech, and often a feeling of euphoria or discontent.

While working on her Ph.D., McDonald continues to study and research addiction because she believes there is something in the minds of addicts that is much deeper than just wanting to get high. “There’s a tribal need, or driving force, that is affecting them differently and I want to know what that is and why,” explained McDonald.

How to Get Help

Addiction can also be the result of a deeper cause, which is why Hamilton also treats the mental health issues that often parallel addiction. The clinical team works with each patient, focusing on the mental, physical, and addictive healing processes. Hamilton offers well-rounded treatment plans that include physical health, as well as the emotional and mental.

“The team here at Hamilton-Flint not only understands addiction, we understand the Flint community and the issues that fuel substance abuse of its people,” McDonald states. “Addiction doesn’t just affect the individual; it becomes a disease of the community.” Hamilton is here to help. Hamilton’s medicated-assisted treatment plans include Suboxone® and Vivitrol®, along with group support and individual counseling for those seeking help.

Acknowledging there is a problem is usually the first step. This often comes in the form of an overdose, legal problems, job loss, positive drug screens, and pleas from loved ones to get help. When it comes to getting help, the first thing to know is you’re not alone and recovery is possible. Hamilton can help with referrals to local treatment programs and treatment centers that range from in-patient and intensive outpatient, to individual counseling and support groups.

Whether the face of addiction is someone you know or the person looking back in the mirror, Hamilton’s clinical team can offer hope with compassionate, caring treatment and understanding. It starts with a phone call.

Hamilton Community Health Network: 810-406-4246

Other local substance abuse treatment programs and centers:
Community Mental Health: 810-257-3740
Flint Odyssey House: 810-238-5888
New Paths: 810-233-5340
Substance Abuse Hotline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

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