For those not struggling with opioid addiction, the terminology can be confusing. Why is heroin bad and methadone good? What drugs are helping and what drugs are harming?
The truth is addiction and recovery are different for every individual. Some people can overcome opioid addiction without medication, and others find medication-assisted recovery helpful.
Still, knowing which drug is which can help you understand opioid addiction and recovery. We have broken down some of the most important terms and concepts below:
Opiates and Opioids
Opiates are drugs derived from the poppy plant, where opium is found. Opium can be isolated into morphine and codeine, which can then be altered to create opioids – or synthetic opiates. Opioids are medications designed to treat pain that can be abused when taken outside of prescriptions or to create “highs” or feelings of euphoria.
The term opioids can also refer to illegal street drugs, like heroin, which is a semi-synthetic opioid derived from the opiate morphine.
All opioids can be extremely addictive and taking opioids for an extended period can lead to physical dependency – whether or not addiction occurs.
What Is the Difference Between Dependency and Addiction?
Physical dependency means your body relies on a drug to function properly. If you have a dependency and you stop taking a drug, you might feel sick for a while, but then your body will go back to normal. Addiction, on the other hand, is characterized by obsession. Many people who suffer from addiction also suffer from physical dependency, but their impulse to use and obsession with getting and using the drug is the aspect that requires treatment.
As a doctor of addiction medicine explains to the Evening Sun:
“It's important to understand dependency isn't the same thing as active drug addiction. So when they say well you're just substituting one drug for another I look at it as no you're substituting dependency for full-blown drug addiction.”
When this doctor talks about substituting one drug for another, what he’s referring to is medication-assisted treatment.
Many people use specially crafted synthetic opioids or opioid antagonists to help them overcome opioid addiction.
Methadone, Buprenorphine, Naloxone, and Naltrexone
Methadone and buprenorphine are synthetically derived opioids that help curb withdrawal symptoms. Like other opioids, they affect the opioid receptors, but these drugs are meant to reduce craving and withdrawal symptoms and blunt or block the effects of other opioids.
Naltrexone and naloxone, on the other hand, are opioid antagonists. When used in an emergency, naloxone can reduce the effects of an opioid overdose. Naltrexone can curb addiction cravings over time but can only be used once the system is detoxed of opioids.
Fighting opioid addiction is different for everyone, and some people in recovery may need special opioids or opioid antagonists to help them through it.
Methadone, however, can also be addictive, so individuals must use it carefully and under strict medical guidance.
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