Regardless of how a person begins using opioids, these drugs can quickly cause havoc in anyone’s life. The use of these drugs leads to changes in brain chemistry, can cause major life disruptions, and can even lead to death. When those struggling with addiction or their loved ones recognize the problem and try to find help, however, it can be a challenge to know exactly where to turn. For addicted individuals in Alaska, here is what should be known about opioid dependency and recovery.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are drugs derived from the poppy plant. These types of drugs can have a powerful impact on the brain, changing its very chemistry and how it processes different signals. Both legal–in the form of prescription–and illegal forms of opioids exist. Countless patients have been prescribed the legal forms of the drugs as pain killers. For some of these patients, however, even just the regular usage of the drug to relieve their pain can be enough to start them on the path towards dependence. Some will even turn to street forms of the drug, namely heroin, when they no longer have access to their former prescription.
In Alaska, patients need to pay close attention to the usage of painkillers in non-medical ways. According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), from 2013-2014, 4.43 percent of the over-12 population were found to be abusing these drugs. These patients will require firm medical intervention and helpful treatment to start taking steps towards regaining their health.
In the brain, there are receptors that bind with particular molecules that the body produces, like endorphins. When this reaction occurs, the brain releases dopamine. This process naturally helps the body to regulate itself. When a person uses an opioid drug, the molecules in the drug act in a similar way to the natural molecules in the body. Their similar shape allows them to attach to the same receptors in the brain. When a person uses the drug for pain relief, this will then help to mask the pain. This process also produces a feeling of euphoria. These experiences then encourage people to continue to use the drug.
Once the patient has begun to regularly use the drug, however, they will begin to change their brain’s chemistry and its ability to react to the presence of both the molecules from the opioid and those naturally found in the body. The brain, in other words, begins to build up a tolerance to the drug. Since it takes an increasing number of molecules to trigger the same reaction, the patient ends up feeling a need for greater amounts of the drug. The body also becomes incapable of producing enough of the natural forms of the molecules to trigger the natural bodily processes needed to keep the person feeling comfortable. This then results in feelings of withdrawal, leading the patient to look for more and more drugs, beginning the dangerous and draining cycle of drug-seeking behavior. As patients fall into this cycle of dependency, they may find themselves losing friends, employment, and even material possessions like their home. Patients will need intensive medical help to find the way to break their dependence on these drugs.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is the popular street form of the drug class opiates (called opioids when synthetic). Users will often inject heroin directly into their bloodstream. This use of needles places them at a greater risk for infections and blood-transmitted diseases, including HIV.
In Alaska, an estimated 7,000 people used heroin in the year between 2014-2015. Many of these patients may also be suffering from mental illnesses, as 94,000 people reported some kind of mental illness within that same time frame. Additionally, within the state, about 2.78 percent of the 12 and over population needed, but did not receive, treatment for their drug use. These issues indicate a continued, pressing need for quality rehabilitation services throughout Alaska.
Recovery From Dependence To Opioids
For those suffering from addiction to successfully recover from their opioid use, they must be willing to work with their therapists and their support system to achieve their goals. The recovery will be a long process, as individuals often begin by going through detox. They will then move on to the standard treatment, where they build skills to resist their cravings and learn how to manage their disease in a healthful way. Even after they have successfully gone through treatment, many newly-sober individuals and their loved ones will find that continued help through aftercare, 12-step programs, or more counseling through an outpatient program, can be very helpful. Those who have recovered from opioid abuse often find that their cravings can follow them for months, or even years, after they stop using the drug, placing them at high risk for relapse.
Detoxing From Opioids In Alaska
Detox is commonly the first phase of recovery. During this time, patients will physically rid their bodies of the drug. Rehabs will often expect attendees to have gone through this step before beginning the rest of treatment, unless it is offered in the facility. Since withdrawal can be a challenge to get through, if the rehab does not have their own dedicated staff to guide patients with detox, they may not be able to adequately help and supervise the process.
Those preparing to go through this process have a few different options. One is that they may go through detox under the supervision of a doctor. This type of medical detox can be done in a variety of different locations, including hospitals and some rehabs. During this form of detoxification, doctors administer small amounts of drugs that help to wean the patient off their desired opiate while also working to control the withdrawal symptoms.
If a doctor needs to help a patient detox very quickly, such as in a matter of hours, they can put the patient under anesthesia and administer opiate blockers along with medications to help control the impact of the side effects.
Treatment For Opioid Addiction In Alaska
Once individuals have completed detox, they can begin the rest of their recovery. Depending upon a number of different factors, including the intensity and duration of the substance abuse problem, previous rehab attempts, and the level of support the person has at home, they will have to determine if they will be better served by inpatient or outpatient treatment. With a substance abuse problem like opioids, however, it is important to weigh the intensity of the cravings and the high relapse rate.
In inpatient care, attendees have access to a strong support system and regular supervision 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They also have the ability to remove themselves from their regular environment, which can help them break the cycle of usage.
When selecting an inpatient facility, those entering will need to consider the length of the treatment as well as the types of therapy offered. Residential stays can be as short as a few weeks, or as long as several months. Different facilities might also have different emphases, such as traditional versus alternative therapy. Traditional treatment methods often include CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy), which help them improve their reactions to situations. For alternative treatments, therapies such as horseback riding, adventure therapy, art therapy, or yoga all help to address emotional and mental health and hopefully give them the motivation to avoid relapse.
During outpatient treatment, attendees will typically meet several times a week, although some programs might be every day. Since they do not have to live at the facility, they may be able to continue with their jobs or other responsibilities in certain situations. They will not, however, have access to the constant support network and 24/7 medical team, which may leave some people vulnerable.
For both inpatient and outpatient treatment, many find that certain doctor-recommended medications, such as methadone or buprenorphine, can be beneficial. These drugs help to mimic some of the functionalities of the opioid drug of choice, which limits cravings the person feels without triggering the same high and drug-seeking behaviors that place them in danger. Many begin to find they can take control of their lives while on these medications and in therapy.
Treatment Centers For Addiction In Alaska
Women and Children’s Center for Inner Healing
This center focuses on providing personal and spiritual healing to Alaskan native women and children. There are 12 beds available and clients typically remain for about 4 months. The program focuses on building cultural pride and encouraging a healthy lifestyle through individual and group therapy, anger management, and the 12-step philosophy. For the children, preschool and other enrichment opportunities are available.
Dena A Coy Residential Treatment Program
The Dena A Coy program caters to women, offering services to those who are pregnant or mothers as well as those who are not. Clients receive classes in parenting, healthy relationships, managing symptoms, and health and wellness. Children under the age of 3 can potentially go with their mothers.
Ernie Turner Center
This residential treatment program offers a 6-month program. Attendees receive counseling and help for their mental health and substance abuse problems. Group therapy and individual treatment are given. The center prides itself on maintaining a strictly non-violent atmosphere and focuses on using gentle persuasion methods.
We’re Here To Help
Finding the right opioid treatment in Alaska can be a challenge. We understand that keeping all of the information and options straight can make it even more confusing. We invite those with more questions or concerns to contact us at DrugRehab.org. We are here to help and can get you or your loved one started on the best treatment plan toward a life of recovery.