Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
What are the effects of fentanyl?
Pain relief: Fentanyl's primary medical use is for pain relief, as it binds to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord to reduce the perception of pain and increase pain tolerance.
Euphoria: Like other opioids, fentanyl can produce feelings of euphoria by increasing the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain, which can contribute to its potential for abuse and addiction.
Sedation: Fentanyl can cause drowsiness, sedation, and a general feeling of relaxation. In medical settings, this effect is often desirable, but it can be dangerous if the drug is taken recreationally or without proper supervision.
Respiratory depression: One of the most severe side effects of fentanyl is respiratory depression, which is a slowing of the breathing rate. This can lead to a lack of oxygen, resulting in brain damage, coma, or death, especially if taken in high doses or combined with other substances that suppress breathing.
Nausea and vomiting: Fentanyl can cause gastrointestinal side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, which are common among opioid users.
Constipation: Opioids like fentanyl can slow down the movement of food through the digestive tract, resulting in constipation.
Itching: Fentanyl and other opioids can cause histamine release, leading to itching or skin irritation in some users.
Dependence and addiction: Due to its potency, fentanyl has a high potential for dependence and addiction. Prolonged use can lead to physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and psychological addiction, making it challenging to stop using the drug.
Overdose: Fentanyl's potency increases the risk of overdose, which can be life-threatening. Symptoms of fentanyl overdose include extreme drowsiness, difficulty breathing, slow heart rate, low blood pressure, and unconsciousness. Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, can be administered to reverse the effects of a fentanyl overdose, but multiple doses may be required due to fentanyl's potency.
How do addictive drugs influence behavior?
Addictive drugs influence behavior by interacting with the brain's reward system. This system is responsible for driving pleasurable feelings and motivating behaviors essential to human survival, such as eating and socializing. Addictive substances can hijack this system, leading to changes in behavior and brain function.
Here's a simplified explanation of how this works:
Alteration of Neurotransmitter Activity: Addictive substances often increase the levels of certain neurotransmitters, chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain. One key neurotransmitter affected by many drugs is dopamine, which is closely associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.
Overstimulation of the Reward System: By increasing dopamine levels, addictive drugs overstimulate the reward system, often creating a sense of euphoria. This intense pleasure can lead individuals to repeat the drug use to recapture this feeling.
Development of Tolerance and Dependence: Over time, the brain adapts to the increased dopamine levels by producing less dopamine or reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals. As a result, the drug's effects are lessened, a phenomenon known as tolerance. This can lead users to take increasingly larger doses of the drug to achieve the same dopamine high. This cycle can lead to dependence, where the brain relies on the drug to function normally.
Withdrawal and Cravings: When the drug is not taken, withdrawal symptoms can occur as the brain attempts to rebalance itself. These can include negative emotions like anxiety and depression, physical symptoms like nausea or restlessness, and intense cravings for the drug.
Compulsive Drug-seeking Behavior: As the cycle of tolerance, dependence, withdrawal, and cravings continues, individuals may engage in compulsive drug-seeking behavior, even when faced with negative health, social, or legal consequences. This is a key characteristic of addiction.
Impairment in Decision-making and Self-control: Long-term drug use can also cause changes to other areas of the brain that impair decision-making, self-control, judgment, learning, and memory, further fueling the cycle of addiction.
How can a homeless person get help for substance abuse?
For homeless individuals struggling with substance abuse, accessing help can be particularly challenging due to factors such as limited resources, absence of stable housing, and potential co-occurring mental health disorders. However, there are a number of avenues that a homeless person can explore to get help:
Government Programs: Many cities have government-funded programs that provide services for homeless individuals, including substance abuse treatment. These may include detoxification, outpatient counseling, residential treatment, and medication-assisted treatment. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are two significant sources of such assistance.
Community Health Clinics: Community health clinics often offer a range of services, including substance abuse treatment, on a sliding scale based on income. These clinics also frequently provide referrals to other necessary services.
Nonprofit Organizations: Many nonprofit organizations offer resources and support for homeless individuals struggling with substance abuse. These may include recovery support groups, transitional housing, job training programs, and other services.
Outreach Programs: Outreach programs are designed to connect with individuals who may not seek help on their own. Outreach workers may go to places where homeless individuals congregate to provide resources and assistance.
Housing First Programs: These programs, which prioritize providing individuals with stable housing without requiring sobriety or participation in treatment first, have been shown to be effective in helping people maintain recovery and improve their quality of life.
Emergency Departments and Hospitals: In a crisis, emergency medical personnel can provide immediate assistance and connect individuals with longer-term substance abuse treatment resources.
Veterans Services: If the individual is a veteran, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers many services, including substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and housing assistance.