Providing an Overview of Opioid Addiction

115 Americans die each day due to fatal opioid overdoses, nearly half which involve a prescription opioid. In the struggle with opioid use disorders, family members see the sufferer experiencing a range of negative impacts. For example, withdrawal symptoms are common if someone suddenly decides to stop. A relative seeing such behaviors may feel concerned, unable to recognize their family member’s actions. What was once a loving home can become a place full of extreme irritability, lying, or isolation.

As the individual with an opioid use disorder struggles with daily actives, they may become curious about trying other substances; some may resort to abusing heroin. Searching the streets for heroin not only opens the door to befriending dangerous people, it also puts the user at risk of more exposure to more dangerous opioids, like fentanyl. Countless stories exist of heroin users running away from home and risking job loss to be closer to a drug supply. Other stories exist of people becoming homeless and even engaging in prostitution to support heroin habits.

How Opioid Addiction Affects Children

Opioid abuse affects children in several ways, even predating birth. Babies born with opioid withdrawal suffer because of opioid exposure from their mother. Every 25 minutes, a baby is born experiencing opioid withdrawal. The drugs travel from the mother’s bloodstream to the baby, creating an addiction. By the time the baby is born, he or she endures the pain of withdrawal. This is called neonatal abstinence syndrome. Babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome have symptoms such as:

  • Sneezing
  • Tremors
  • High-pitched screaming
  • Twitching
  • Low birthweight
  • Jaundice
  • Breathing problems
  • Fever

Luckily, these smallest members of the families receive drugs in hospitals to overcome neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Older children often gain exposure to opioids by searching parents’ medicine cabinets. As a result, they may become curious and try a prescription opioid without their parent’s knowledge. Similarly, a child who sees his or her parent use opioids can be influenced to copy the parent. Once the child begins trying opioids, they can easily develop a tolerance at a young age. As they get older, they can become addicted to more powerful opioids as a teen.

A final consequence of opioids effect on children is the potential the loss of a parent to drugs. Children whose parent or parents use drugs may end up in foster care. In such circumstances, children can move from home to home and get exposed to unsavory people in foster care.

The Cycle of Opioid Abuse

Heroin and non-pharmaceutical fentanyl abuse are often the result of a patient who was once prescribed opioids. Surveys note that 80% of people “who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.” Drug abuse statistics mention 21% to 29% of patients who were prescribed opioids for pain abuse their meds. The patient develops a tolerance to the substance, begins craving more of it, requiring larger amounts.

Once individuals begin to develop a tolerance to an opioid, they often either continue to misuse greater amounts of that opioid, or transition into more destructive substances. For example, the cycle of cravings and the quest for a more potent drug continues when oxycodone users transition to heroin. Some users may also mix drugs. Some patients may combine Vicodin with another opioid, heroin with cocaine, or fentanyl with heroin. These highly dangerous combinations greatly increase someone’s risk of a drug overdose.

The key to controlling a potentially lethal opioid use disorder is finding help through rehab. Rehab programs help those suffering from opioid use disorder get through detox safely and comfortably. They then provide counseling, therapy, life skills training, introductions to 12-step programs and other tools that help those in recovery maintain long-term sobriety.