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Opiates are drugs which are derived from opium or contain opium, a substance which is cultivated from the opium poppy. Some opiates are available in the form of illicit drugs such as heroin. Other opiates, which may either be natural, semi-synthetic, or completely synthetic and produced in laboratories are used in medicine to treat pain. Codeine and morphine are natural opiates while prescription pain killers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone are semi-synthetic. Fully synthetic opiates are produced using compounds not found in opium, such as the prescription opioids methadone, fentanyl and meperidine.
All opiates whether naturally occurring, semi-synthetic or fully synthetic, create a sedating effect and act as central nervous system depressants. When taken, opiates affect the reward centers in the brain and central nervous system, which can produce pain relief when used in clinical settings. When used to achieve a high, opiates can produce an intense euphoria, sense of warmth and well-being. The body is flooded with feel-good endorphins at rates which cannot typically be replicated without opiates, and the individual is tricked into thinking that there is no pain if they are using an opiate for pain relief for example. The same goes for opiates such as heroin, and someone who is high on the drug hasn't a care in the world.
These feelings of pain relief, reward and pleasure, are artificial and an individual can of course feel inclined to experience these feelings and sensations again and more often. In the case of heroin, the feelings produced by this powerful opiate are so intense that individuals can be thrown into a life of heroin addiction after just one use. In the case of prescription pain killers, an individual may also be inclined to abuse these types of opiates and use them far beyond their intended use as a means to get high. Despite the common misconception that prescription opiates are safe and free from risk of addiction, they are just as addictive and can produce the same side effects and negative consequences when abused as an illicit street opiate.
The problem with any type of opiate use, whether legitimate or illicit, is that an individual's body soon stops producing its own reward chemicals because the opiates are already doing this job. These levels can fall so low after even a short time on opiates, that users will feel ill, depressed and experience other negative and undesirable symptoms which are known as opiate withdrawal. The individual will have to take more opiates to avoid these symptoms, or endure withdrawal until their bodies readjust to function without opiates. This too can be a problem, because some individuals may never be able to return to normal levels of these reward chemicals and may experience chronic depression or other negative side effects as a result of damage which has been done in the brain and central nervous system as a result of their opiate use.
These types of circumstances created by opiate use can lead to a never ending cycle of abuse of these powerful drugs. An individual without the will power or emotional wherewithal to cope with powerful cravings to use opiates after developing dependence to them will have to satiate these cravings often to avoid withdrawal. In fact, most will never experience the effects they ultimately desire and will have to take opiates just to feel normal. Tolerance to opiates develops very quickly and it can be difficult to maintain a certain level of pain relief or the desired high at a certain dose, so users often have to continually up their dose to achieve the desired effects. This in itself can be extremely dangerous due to the fact that very high doses of opiates can result in death because of their depressant effects on the respiratory, circulatory and pulmonary systems of the body.
Because of the dangers involved, individuals should be very careful even when beginning a course of opiates which has been prescribed by a doctor for pain. Individuals who have a history of substance abuse are particularly likely to abuse prescription opiates, and it is often recommended that these patients use an alternative method of pain relief to avoid abuse and relapse. Physicians may not make patients aware of the dangers involved and the high risk of dependence and addiction associated with opiate prescription drugs, so patients must sometimes take it upon themselves to become informed and understand the risks involved. Even for individuals who have never been involved in substance abuse, there is always a potential for abuse. So no one should think they are immune to the power of opiates and these potential risks.
For individuals who do abuse opiates, the only way out is to endure the sometimes harsh and pain symptoms of withdrawal which can be both physical and emotional in nature. While most will not be able to overcome this on their own, there are opiate drug rehab programs for individuals who want help through the withdrawal process. This can be easily overcome in a matter of days in a safe detox setting where detox professionals can ensure the individual is as comfortable as possible. If any complications do arise, this is the most optimum setting to be in so that medical attention can be summoned if need be. This isn't typical of opiate withdrawal but is always a possibility, so it is better to be safe than sorry.
Because opiate dependence and addiction can involve so many underlying emotional and psychological issues, it is highly recommended that individuals follow up detox with treatment in an inpatient or residential drug rehab which has high rates of success in treating opiate addicted individuals. To not follow up with treatment can leave an individual vulnerable to relapse due to the deep emotional and psychological ties associated with their substance abuse. Having these issues resolved can help ensure the individual will can cope and readjust to life without the use of opiates, a process which can take several weeks but is well worth the time and effort in the long run.
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