Opioids rewire the brain, changing thought patterns. Treatment facilities are learning how to combat this. Part of the problem is the way it destroys the resolve of a patient. Many services provide buprenorphine, which reduces cravings, to ease withdrawal. The process involves decreasing the size of the dose, in a method called tapering, until the patient is off the medication entirely. The problem is that many patients, as soon as they are off of the medication, go back to using because the old cravings return.
With the addiction industry overshadowed by the 12-step format of Alcoholics Anonymous, new styles of treatment have been slow to take hold. The thinking about abstinence only has only recently begun to be rethought. The explosion in opioid use has forced treatment centers to begin using medication assisted treatment, or MAT, which is considered the best form of treatment for opioids. Those on buprenorphine are often not given MAT. This is typically only done during detox, not follow up.
The follow-up period for detox is the most important regarding helping reset a rewired brain, and medication can help. Indeed, it can be the difference between life and death for more than half of all users. Reasons for why this is not offered range from lack of insurance to fear and denial about the addict’s continued needs for assistance.
The director of Alcohol and Chemical Treatment Center, or ACT, based in Ogden, Utah, says that relapses are common, and without MAT, there is a better than a fifty-percent chance of the user falling back to drugs. The time to begin is immediately and the longest time before one should start is two weeks, which is typically when withdrawal symptoms become overpowering to addicts.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Reach out to the many resources available, such as FFA. More must be done to raise awareness among users, clinics, doctors and insurance companies, to ensure that this window of opportunity to prevent a relapse is not wasted.
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