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Opioids

Author: Dawn Ward

Opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs that includes prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl. Naturally found in the opium poppy plant, these natural or synthetic drugs are chemically related to the illegal drug, heroin. Prescription opioids are prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain and are generally considered safe when used as prescribed for a short period of time. 

Opioids affect the brain by binding to and activating the opioid receptors on cells that are located throughout the brain. Because they bind to the receptors that are involved in the feelings of pain and pleasure, opioids can block pain signals sent from the brain to the body and release dopamine throughout the body, causing feelings of pleasure and relaxation that can result in a euphoria or a “high.” Possible side effects of prescription opioids are drowsiness, confusion, nausea, constipation, euphoria, and slow breathing.

Opioids can cause both physical and psychological dependence when misused, abused, or even when taken for extended periods as prescribed by a doctor. With prolonged use, the person taking opioids becomes more tolerant to the drug, resulting in the need to take more of it to combat their pain. Dependence will cause withdrawal symptoms once the drug is discontinued. 

Prescription pain relievers should be taken with extreme caution and not misused by: taking too much of the medication or taking it too often, taking it to get high, taking it in a manner not prescribed such as crushing the pills or opening capsules, snorting the powder, or dissolving the powder in water and injecting the liquid into a vein. Because opioids are so easily misused or abused, once addicted, people may transition to heroin, as it is generally more affordable and easier to obtain.

Opioids are highly addictive and can lead to overdoses or death. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018 data shows that 128 people die daily in the United States from opioid overdoses. 

If you or someone you know is addicted to opioids or if they are being used in combination with alcohol or other drugs, consult a physician and seek professional help immediately.

Addiction from the World’s Perspective

Our society claims that addiction is a physical disease. According to Wikipedia, addiction is “a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that, 

“Many people don’t understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will.” 

Addiction from a Biblical Perspective

In our society, it is common for people to be prescribed pain relievers following a surgery, injury, or dental procedure. When taken as prescribed, these medications can be highly effective at managing pain. The use of prescription opioids becomes an addiction when it takes control over the person’s life and replaces God, thus becoming an idol. 

Matthew 22:37 says, 

“And He said to him,’You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’”

Mark Shaw in his book, The Heart of Addiction: A Biblical Perspective, describes the term addiction as, 

“The persistent, habitual thoughts, words, and actions associated with excessive pleasure-seeking which are known to the user to be harmful and physically enslaving, sinful, and willful choices to disobey God (whether one acknowledges it or not)” 

1 Corinthians 6:12 states, 

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything.” 

In his book, The Heart of Addiction: A Biblical Perspective, Shaw writes, 

“Substance abuse and addiction manifest as a physical problem but the root issues are in the spiritual realm of one’s own heart.”

When a substance is abused, the person becomes physically addicted to the drug. While the world says that the addict has a disease, an addictive personality, and a genetic predisposition to chemical dependence, the truth is that anyone can become addicted to a substance when it is abused. Addiction is a spiritual problem, a worship disorder, and is rooted in our sin nature.

Ed Welch states in his book, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave

“The biblical view of drunkenness – the prototype of all addictions – is that it is always called sin, never sickness. Drunkenness is against God and his law.” 

Stages of Opioid Addiction

Opioids are unique when compared to other addictive substances in that they are highly addictive with the potential for the user to become dependent on them within a short period of time. When the individual begins abusing opioids, tolerance to them is quickly developed, requiring higher dosages be taken subsequently to achieve the same effect achieved during the initial use. 

Withdrawal signs include bodily discomfort, pain, sweating, intestinal distress, vomiting, muscle aches, depression, and anxiety, accompanied by intense cravings for the drug. Opioids sedate the respiratory system and carry with them a high risk of overdose that can lead to death. 

Because opioids are prescribed for the management of chronic pain, it is imperative that their usage be monitored by a medical professional and that they be taken only as prescribed. If you feel the need to increase the dosage or frequency of the medication in order to achieve relief from your pain symptoms, this may be a sign you are becoming chemically dependent on the drug. These concerns should be discussed with your dispensing physician.

You may also notice that the drugs are having a negative impact on you spiritually, emotionally, mentally, or financially. They may be adversely affecting your marriage, family life, or career. If the desire to obtain and use opioids is consuming your thoughts or you are planning your life and activities around them, these are signs that you need to seek help. 

As with any addiction, at its root is a heart issue. Consider what you are willing to do or say to obtain the drug. Are you willing to sin by lying, cheating, stealing or by threatening and manipulating others? Because addiction is a moral problem, a worship disorder, it relies on the Word of God to address the sinful desires of the heart. 

Ephesians 5:18 says, 

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…”

Opioid Addiction Treatment 

Medication Assisted Treatment

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the use of medication in combination with behavioral counseling to treat opioid addiction. There are three drugs approved by the FDA for the treatment of opioid dependence: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. These drugs, considered to be “essential medicines” by the World Health Organization for the treatment of Opioid Use Disorder, must be prescribed by and under the supervision of a physician. More information can be found at this site here and here

Twelve-Step Facilitation Therapy

Twelve-Step Facilitation Therapy includes support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Twelve-step programs teach that alcoholism and addiction are chronic, progressive diseases. The substance abuser acknowledges that life has become out of control due to their drug use, accepts that willpower alone is not enough to overcome their need for the substance, and is willing to surrender to a higher power in order to remain abstinent from it. Active involvement in the 12-step meetings and accountability to their sponsor and peer support group is necessary for drug abusers to sustain recovery. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is performed either as individual counseling or in group sessions on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Often the substance abuser will be diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder such as anxiety or depression, in which case, the patient is treated with CBT coupled with pharmacotherapy such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. CBT addresses issues such as managing cravings, recognizing and responding to triggers, developing coping skills, learning problem solving, gaining interpersonal skills, stress management, and relapse prevention.

Harm Reduction

Secular treatment uses the term “harm reduction” when referring to policies and programs aimed at minimizing the consequences and risks associated with drug use. It acknowledges that many people will continue to abuse drugs rather than seek treatment to cease using them. Safe injection sites are established to reduce the risk of contraction of infectious diseases and focus on preventing overdose from opioids by providing medical supervision to their patients.

Naloxone Distribution for Overdose Prevention

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that quickly and safely reverses the potentially fatal effects of an opioid overdose. People at high risk of witnessing an overdose, such as first responders, are trained and equipped to administer Naloxone in the event of a life-threatening overdose. Many states have now made it lawful for family members of opioid substance abusers to be trained to administer Naloxone. With powerful drugs such as fentanyl now being abused, this may help save lives, especially for those who live in rural areas where there may be a delay in the arrival of first responders. Naloxone should never be considered a treatment for opioid abuse. It is meant to help increase the survival rate of those experiencing a life-threatening overdose. The CDC has more information on Naloxone

Secular vs. Biblical Treatment 

While evidence-based therapies offer help for those struggling with addiction, they often fall short of offering hope for any true transformation. These methods are founded upon the belief that addiction is a brain disease and therefore, needs to be treated as one. The goal of these treatments is to help the substance abuser achieve and maintain sobriety through recovery with the goal of getting their old lives back. 

These therapies fail to see addiction biblically, as a moral problem and worship disorder. They address the symptoms of the “disease” instead of addressing the idolatrous desires of the heart. While the goal of evidence-based treatments is for the substance abuser to stay clean and sober, the goal of biblical counseling is sanctification, or to see a life spiritually grow and be transformed into the likeness of Christ. 

Galatians 2:20 says, 

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 

Need Help?

The Addiction Connection offers hope and healing to those struggling with addiction to opioids. Here is a list of biblical programs we support and can confidently recommend to you, in addition to our list of Commissioned Addictions Biblical Counselors available to help you.

Residential Programs we recommend.

Non-residential Programs we recommend. 

Are you a leader wanting to help addicts? Check out this disciple-making curriculum we created just for you entitled Next Steps: Be TRANSFORMED.