Nearly 40,000 people died in the U.S. from narcotic drug overdose in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That number is triple the number of narcotic related deaths recorded just in 2001. If you're taking pain medication, you may be wondering, "Can I become addicted to narcotics?"
Narcotics are used medically as pain relievers and include classes of drugs known as opioids and opiates. Opiates are drugs naturally derived from opium and include morphine, codeine, and thebaine . Opioids are drugs that are partially or wholly synthetic derivatives of opium such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and heroin. Although you may see the terms "opiates" and "opioids" used interchangeably, opioids is used to refer to all drugs that bind to opioid receptors in the brain-drugs classified as opiates or opioids. Opiates should be used to refer only to those drugs naturally derived from the opium which come from the opium poppy.
Taking opioids for a long time can create a tolerance which requires a higher dose of the drug in order to achieve the same effects. Increasing the dose and continuing to take narcotics can result in a physical dependency. Physical dependency is defined as a point where failing to take the drug will result in the body going into withdrawal and having physical symptoms that stop only by using the drug or completing the withdrawal process. So the answer to the question, can I become addicted to narcotics, is easy to answer and that is no. There is no true medical disease of addiction. You can develop a physical dependency on a drug where you experience physical and/or psychological symptoms of withdrawal if you stop using the drug. Oftentimes people perceive the signs of physical withdrawal as a sign of an addiction. The truth is once these symptoms of withdrawal are overcome, the person then has the power to choose to continue to use the drug or not.
Symptoms of narcotic withdrawal can include constipation, dry mouth, dizziness, drowsiness, insomnia, fatigue, confusion, depression, abdominal pains, low blood pressure, and tremors. With continued narcotic use, the side effects may worsen and include clammy skin, heart failure, and coma. Stopping the use of a narcotic suddenly can create serious withdrawal symptoms.
Medical detox is the safest way to go through the process of withdrawal. Detox options are available in either outpatient or inpatient settings. Outpatient drug replacement detox allows people to go to a clinic or doctor's office and receive medication to help them detox from narcotics at home. Usually patients are given methadone or Suboxone which is not recommended for long term use to a drug problem.
These replacement drugs are opioids from the same family of narcotics. The problem with drug replacement therapy is that most individuals do not stop taking methadone or Suboxone when their withdrawal symptoms pass. Research shows that some individuals never stop taking them. Those drugs have the same risk for dependency as Vicodin, Percocet, morphine, OxyContin, heroin or any other narcotic.
After detox, most people seek a way to stay clean. Unfortunately, neither 12 Step programs nor holistic programs have proven to be effective more than about 5% of the time. However, Cognitive Behavioral Education (CBE) provided at the non-profit Saint Jude Retreats has repeatedly been verified by independent researchers to have a success rate of 62%. After detox, a person has become a clean slate but it is truly up to them to take responsibility and control of their future actions regarding narcotic use. Going through detox and the Saint Jude Retreats program is one of the best ways you can not only move beyond your substance use but also regain control of your life and choose positive goals for your happiness.