Psychological pain is a significant driving force behind the addictive use of opiates. Many begin with prescriptions for physical pain; only to continue using long after injuries have healed and physical pain has diminished. Some continue with painkillers and others go on to meet the same need with heroin.
Opiate use of any sort has proven to be the gateway to addiction for hundreds of thousands. There is something promised by opiates that those in psychological pain desperately want. That remedy appears to be available in prescription drugs or heroin – but it’s not.
The brain produces natural opiates to cope with pain (endorphins, enkephalins and dynorphins). These natural chemicals reduce our perceptions of pain so we can attend to other basic needs while we heal. They help regulate basic life functions such as stimulating immunity and signaling hunger and thirst.
Opiate receptors are found throughout the brain, the nervous system and other body tissues. These are the same receptors that receive any opiates taken in a pain crisis, misuse, or addiction. When opiates are taken, they mimic our natural opiates and interfere with natural brain functioning. Eventually, the brain adapts to chemicals introduced through addiction. It reduces its own workload by slowing processes. The brain also responds to opiate addiction by reducing new brain cell growth (neurogenesis) in certain areas. Addiction convinces the brain that things are taken care of and it doesn’t have to work so hard.
Opiates buffer the brain and its processes in many ways. It is as if opiates lay a soft, warm blanket over the brain, lulling the user into a false sense of safety and peace; smoothing over painful memories, emotions, anxieties, self-doubts and hurtful relationships. Opiates can momentarily filter out the realities that hurt us. In desperate moments, we think: this is better than no relief at all. Without any other solutions, and in physical or psychological pain, opiates will help you ignore, forget or deny… at least for a while.
Opiates initially put the user into a dream state where they feel euphoric. Opiates quickly demand payment for their illusions, however. People become addicted to these drugs very quickly and need to use in order to avoid getting sick. The drug begins to claim more of the user’s time, energy, money and life force. Opiates, like heroin, take over the lives of addicts and their loved ones, as well as our communities. The initial peace found in opiate addiction is the mythical and ghostly dragon being chased in yearning and desperation. There is never enough relief and what is obtained never lasts long enough.
Opiate addiction becomes a constant chase after a solution that isn’t real. One scrambles daily to feel well enough just to get by while opiates relentlessly ‘press’ themselves inside us. They suppress, repress, oppress, and depress our lives and how we function in them. Internally, the brain mirrors what is happening in our addicted lives: our energies are depleted, our functioning is slowed, our capabilities are dulled, and we are about to give up.
The psychological and physical pain of opiate addiction is unavoidable. Not one addict escapes this fact. Every opiate addict from prescription pain management users to IV users has thought about quitting, tried quitting, failed at quitting, etc. The painful reality of opiate withdrawal and detoxification is too much for many to bear. The promise of a better life in sobriety seems impossible. Many addicts turn to drugs like Suboxone and Subutex to help them get off drugs. The problem is that these drugs are significantly more difficult and painful to detoxify from than the original heroine or painkillers that addicts are trying to free themselves from. These solutions become another prison with thicker bars. Rather than trying a band aid, there are results found in non 12 step addiction rehab options. Working on the core issues of what brought someone to addiction is how you get to sobriety.
Many of us have experienced trauma, and continue to, without much awareness of it. Especially in addiction, we file these things away, believing they were either not impactful, or have long been resolved. We partition ourselves off from distress as best we can and seek to regulate whatever pain bleeds through as best we can. Often that involves extreme disconnection from others, the world and ourselves. Until we heal, we carry not only the pain of what set us on the path of addiction, but also the many traumatic injuries of addiction itself.
While we attempt to forget, our bodies and minds remember our pain, however, and they continue to look for relief. Our best efforts to recover are sabotaged by the continuing echo of pain. Traditional treatment attempts fail us. Relapse recurs. Traumatic themes work themselves out in our lives despite our resolve, promises and efforts. If we are numbed enough, we have no conscious clue why all this is happening.
In such a state, you might have a series of abusive relationships, recurring relapses, or a series of failed aspirations. It’s easy to think of yourself as a failure and a perpetual victim. This is the mindset created by unhealed trauma echoing through our lives. Naturally, when substance use gives a glimpse of comfort, our bodies and minds attach themselves to it, wanting more. Heroin has long provided addicts with the relief they desire, while dragging them further down the path of addiction and further away from sobriety.
It is natural to seek attachment to what offers us safety and comfort. It is an innate and instinctual drive that we know from the moment we arrive into this life. In addiction, however, that instinct becomes hardwired to the drug of addiction. That hard wiring is at the root of cravings. It controls the thoughts, emotions and behaviors of an addict.
Opiates convince us that they are essential to our survival just as our instincts convinced us that, as newborns, others were. As infants, we knew to cry for help without being taught to do so. The attention of others was essential to our survival and so our attachment saved our lives. It is at this level of need that opiate addiction settles into our lives. It convinces us that we have to continue to use in order to survive. We fear withdrawal with the intensity of a child’s abandonment fear. It is another illusion of addiction. We can let go, we can be grateful for the opiates leaving our bodies, and we can fully recover.
At The Sanctuary, we have a deep understanding of opiate and heroin addiction, but more importantly, we understand how full recovery from opiate addiction happens. Our holistic and Integrative Addiction Recovery program recognizes that recovery from opiate addiction goes beyond talk and intellectual knowledge; it acknowledges the entirety of the addiction and the totality of the person who has it. The trauma that leads so many to this type addiction can not always be solved with traditional rehab, where a non 12 step program allows you to heal from the trauma while leaving your addiction in the past.
All addictive substances give us important information about the people who use them. Attachment to the security, comfort and embrace of an opiate informs us of a deep craving for pain relief on many levels. We know the depth of the radical and transformational healing you need. We will embrace you holistically, as the total person you are, and guide you safely to that healing.
If you would like to talk with us more about our program or our methods, please contact us.