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Watching a family member, friend, or coworker with a substance use disorder can be very difficult. Speak to one of our care counsellors today to find out where we may be able to help you.

Overview of Opioid Addiction

Opioid intoxication is caused by drugs like codeine, heroin, morphine, propoxyphene, hydrocodone, methadone and many other synthetic pain killers.

Prescription and illegal opioids are widely available in South Africa and generally, most people don’t even realise that they are in danger of even becoming addicted to them as they are prescribed and serve as a functional pain killer. Only when faced with an abrupt cessation of the drug leads to withdrawal symptoms lead to often desperate and unusual behaviours to get more of the drug by whatever means, legal or illegal.

Over time the body develops a tolerance to opioids, which means that the user must take increasing amounts to get the same effect. This has a potential “snowball” effect that may grow out of control. As the frequency and quantity escalate so do the withdrawal symptoms as the drug wears off. This dependence and withdrawal are both physical and psychological and can have critical effects on mood and behaviours.

These are the general classes of opioids:

Natural opioids: Codeine, morphine, opium.

Semi-synthetic opioids: Hydrocodone, oxycodone, heroin, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, thebain, buprenorphine.

Synthetic opioids:  Meperidine, fentanyl, methadone

Some branded products: Demerol, Dilaudid, Duragesic, Lorcet, Lortab, Methadone, Oxecta, OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Roxicodone, Tylox, Vicodin.

Common street names used in the illegal trade: Beast, black tar, black pearl, birdie powder, boy, brown sugar, cheese, China white, chiva, dope, dragon, H, hero, horse, junk, mud, pluto, skag, skunk, snowball, white horse, smack, woo-woo, Auntie Emma, big O, black hash, black jack, black stuff, block, buddha, chocolate, dreams, goric, gum, hard stuff, hop, midnight oil, pox, tar, toys, zero.

Some common signs of opioid abuse:

  • Small pupils, excessive drowsiness.
  • Frequently taking drugs to relax or escape from stress.
  • Unpleasant withdrawal symptoms (opioid “hangover”).
  • Abdominal cramps, diarrhea, chills, irregular heartbeat, fever, high blood pressure, muscle and joint pain.
  • Taking bigger or more doses to get the same euphoric effect (tolerance increase).
  • Constant physical and psychological cravings for the drug.
  • Too much thought, effort and time spent on acquiring and using opioids.
  • Doctor shopping (getting more prescriptions by visiting different doctors).
  • User often reports “lost” or “stolen” prescriptions and asks for new ones.
  • Buying from different pharmacies at random.
  • Inability or unwillingness to interact with society.
  • Isolating themselves and becoming lost to their families.
  • Problems with work, finances, relationships and the law.
  • Taking drugs in uncommon ways – by crushing, snorting or injecting it.
  • Dangerous breathing problems (especially when taking alcohol or other drugs with opioids).
  • Overdosing (with subsequent unconsciousness – and even death).
  • The person’s life is caught in a destructive downward spiral.

There are other signs of opioid abuse, but the above are the most common. Hopefully you spot them before the substance destroys the addict’s life and the lives of others.

Overdoses are one of the biggest risk factors and what makes opioids one of the most lethal classes of drug.

Intentional or accidental mixing with other sedatives can amplify the effects, such as benzodiazepines or alcohol, that in turn can cause respiratory depression which is a most dangerous condition. Users can very often harm themselves or others while they are intoxicated or take risks to obtain the drug.

Opioid addicts have a hard time functioning socially. Relationships and finances deteriorate and they may very often run into problems with the law. The longer active addiction lasts, the harder it is to “control”.

Professional Treatment For Opioid Addictions

It may be very hard to persuade someone into recovery when it comes to substances that have withdrawal factors like opioids. The deeper anxiety of the withdrawal and the break away from familiar cycles and rituals cannot be understated enough. This is why experienced counsellors approach these scenarios in a caring and supportive and managed environment where the first priority is to create a collaborative and allied relationship with the person before figuring out what the next steps are.

It requires the professional experience and care to treat opioid addictions and the treatment should be individualised to suit the patient’s objectives first. Motivation must be constantly stimulated and a supportive, caring relationship established with the patient. Treating the individual with respect and dignity is extremely important.

In treatment personal growth changes are supplemented with extensive guidance to manage extreme emotions that trigger behaviours. Patients must also be helped to effectively manage situations that may cause embarrassment, discomfort or relapse, which they may encounter after they had finished their treatment.

We understand the factors of fighting opioid addictions (because we have been there), which is why we have professional therapists with extensive knowledge about how to get you from where you are now to where you want to be.

For advice about finding a way, for yourself or someone else, to live a normal, happy life without drugs, please call the number at the top of this page. If necessary, a confidential conversation with a professional therapist can also be arranged.