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Article Summary

A Guide To Opiates Addiction

Opiate is a general term that includes a variety of addictive substances, including thebaine, morphine, and heroin with similar modes of action. These drugs are referred to as opiates because they are created from chemicals derived from the opium poppy. Natural opiates also work in the same way as prescription opioids, including drugs like fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

That said, opiates are quite useful in cough suppression and the management of pain. However, they also come with a starkly dark side. Since they are readily prescribed and quite easy to obtain, they are also highly addictive.

In fact, NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) reports that anywhere between 26 and 36 million people abuse opiates around the globe, including heroin and prescription painkillers. Similarly, close to 435,000 Americans abused heroin while 4.3 million used narcotic pain relievers for non-medical purposes in 2014.

Read on to learn more about opiates:

Understanding Opiates

As a group of drugs, opioids are used in the management of pain. They come from the opium-derived from the poppy plant. Today, opioids are also referred to as narcotics and opiates.

More particularly, opiates refer to close relatives of the opium drug, including heroin, morphine, and codeine while opioids are the term given to an entire class of drugs that also covers synthetic opiates like Oxycontin.

In many cases, the term opioid might be used to refer to prescription opiates. In technical terms, opiates encompass all drugs derived naturally from the narcotic components found in opium poppy while opioid including both semi-synthetic and synthetic substances that are modified versions of the opiate building blocks.

Although opioids are typically used to refer to prescription medications, the terms opioids and opiates are sometimes used interchangeably.

That said, opiates work by binding to the brain's natural opioid receptors where they embody the specific chemicals the brain uses to mimic sensations and feelings of reward, pleasure, and pain relief.

Legal opiates, to this end, are quite effective at generating pain relief, particularly where other attempts to deal with the pain have failed or when the pain is quite severe. However, since these drugs come with real psychological properties in addition to their pain relief capabilities, they are commonly abused.

Most addicts tend to grind opiates and snort or smoke the powdered form. Others mix the powdered form with water and inject the drugs directly into the bloodstream for a faster high.

These methods of abusing opiate drugs are more likely to increase the speed at which they are absorbed into the body. As a direct result, they often lead to a rush of fast-acting effects and positive sensations.

However, you might still end up abusing the drugs even if you take them as your doctor prescribed. Repeated abuse often leads to physical dependency in as short as anywhere between 4 and 6 weeks while psychological addiction might result in around 2 days.

The following are some of the commonly abused opiates:

  • Codeine
  • Dilaudid or Hydromorphone
  • Duragesic of fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Hydrocodone (otherwise referred to as Lortab or Vicodin)
  • MS Contin Kadian, or morphine
  • Oxycontin, Percocet, or oxycodone

Opiates Uses

As mentioned above, opiates are typically prescribed for pain relief. These narcotic medications work effectively in the management of pain among patients. While the painkillers vary in the power of the narcotic element in the drug, opiates are sedatives that work by depressing the CNS (central nervous system). They also slow down normal body functions and reduce psychological and physical pain.

Although some people use their prescription opiate narcotics as their doctor prescribed without any problems, others might become addicted to the effects the drugs cause. For instance, opiates might change the way your brain responds to pain while also producing a high feeling. They do this by disrupting the normal functioning of the pleasure and reward centers in the brain.

Further, there are opioid receptors in the central nervous system (which includes the respiratory and cardiovascular systems as well as the brain) which receive opiates. These medications, therefore, might create a wide variety of emotional and physical side effects. While increasing pleasant feelings, the substances will also lower body temperatures, blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate.

Repeated abuse of the drugs might also alter your brain chemistry, eventually leading to psychological and physical dependence on opiates. As a direct result, your body might not feel normal without interacting with the medications, and you might experience severe withdrawal symptoms in between the doses or when you decide to stop taking the drugs.

Opiates Effects

Those who abuse opiates eventually grow tolerant to their current dosage. Ultimately, they start taking more of the drug to generate the desired high they used to feel when they started taking the medication.

To augment this high, you might also abuse other CNS depressants, including benzodiazepines and alcohol. Although this might create a better high, the effects arising from combining two or more depressants might also cause severe health consequences, such as death and overdose.

Opiates are especially popular because they are quite useful in managing pain while remaining relatively affordable. For instance, morphine is widely available and is still used in controlling pain.

In general, faster acting opiates often produce a more intense high. For instance, the high from heroin is quite high due to the short duration of its action - it has a half-life of between 15 to 30 minutes. On the other hand, morphine acts slower but creates a longer lasting high running from 4 to 6 hours.

The following are some of the short-term effects of using opiates:

  • Delayed reaction
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoria
  • Pain relief
  • Sedation
  • Vomiting

In most cases, the effects of using these medications might be misleading because common knowledge often focuses on the short-term effects. However, there are long-term effects of abusing opiates, including but not limited to:

  • Cumulative hypoxic injuries to end organs
  • Gastric problems, including constipation, bowel perforation, and intestinal ileus
  • Medical issues arising from intravenous administration, including blood-borne diseases, systemic infection, embolic events, and localized abscesses
  • Respiratory depression
  • Weak functioning of the immune system

Added to the above, opiates also come with some long-term effects, including:

  • Abdominal distention
  • Bloating
  • Brain damage caused by hypoxia as a result of respiratory depression
  • Constipation
  • Dependence
  • Liver damage (particularly if you abuse drugs combining acetaminophen and opiates)
  • Nausea
  • Tolerance to the drug
  • Vomiting

Opiates Side Effects

Opiate abuse also causes serious side effects, including:

  • Drowsiness
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea
  • Paranoia
  • Respiratory depression

Due to the intense high arising when the brain and opiates interact, the drugs are quite addictive. The symptoms of addiction might show in as few as 3 days. Additionally, these medications might also relax the irises, thereby creating pinpoint or pinprick pupils.

Opiates Addictive Qualities

Opioids and opiates produce a sense of euphoria or well-being which might cause you to get addicted to them. Although these medications are effective at managing pain, you are likely to develop tolerance and start taking more of the drugs to achieve the same initial effect.

With time, you might become addicted to the drugs. At this point, you are highly likely to start thinking obsessively about obtaining more of the medication, such as through doctor shopping.

Addiction is one of the best-known side effects of opiate abuse. Further, you might become addicted even without knowing it. Dependence on the drug means that you won't be able to get off it despite the negative consequences and effects arising from such abuse.

Today, addiction to opiates is such a major issue because the prescriptions are quite easy to obtain. In 2010, close to 210 million prescriptions were dispensed. The sad thing is that most opiate abusers are also likely to develop severe heroin addictions because heroin produces similar effects but is often cheaper.

Opiates Overdose

Overdosing on opiates might result in death arising from respiratory or cardiac arrest. Tolerance to the euphoria caused by these drugs develops are a faster rate that tolerance to its dangerous effects. As a result, you might overdose by mistake as you try to get high and end up taking too much of the drug.

If you think you might have overdosed on the medication, you should contact emergency medical services. In many cases, the medics who take your case might reverse the overdose through intravenous Naltrexone.

Although there are no definite signs and symptoms of an opiate overdose, if anyone displays any of the indicated listed below, they might be in danger of an overdose:

  • A low respiration rate
  • Acting nonchalantly
  • Acting confused
  • Acting drowsy
  • Trouble staying awake
  • Awake but unable to communicate
  • Limpness
  • Breathing problems, including irregular or slowed breathing
  • Choking sounds
  • Snore-like gurgling noises
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Bluish skin under the fingernails and around the lips
  • Confusion
  • Delirium
  • Acting drunk
  • Experiencing nausea
  • Extreme constipation
  • Pale or clammy face
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Mood swings
  • Slow movements
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Erratic, slow, or nonexistent heartbeat (pulse)
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Unresponsiveness to external stimulus

In case of an opiate overdose emergency, you should contact 911 immediately. In the meantime, keep the individual affected talking and walking around to ensure that they don't go to sleep before the emergency services arrive.

Opiates Withdrawal

The withdrawal effects you are likely to experience when you run out of your opiates or decide to quit might prove to be unpleasant. The effects and symptoms will vary depending on how long you have been addicted to the drugs, the amount of drugs you abused, and the frequency at which you abused the opiates.

If possible, only try to withdraw from narcotics under the close supervision of a doctor. Remember, opiate withdrawal might not be life-threatening if you have only been using opioids. However, if you combined them with other substances - including benzodiazepines and alcohol - the withdrawal is potentially dangerous.

In most cases, opiate withdrawal symptoms resemble flu symptoms, and might include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Cold and hot sweats
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Goosebumps
  • Headache
  • Insomnia, or the inability to sleep
  • Irritability
  • Little energy
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle pains
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Teary eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Yawning

Opiates Dangers

One of the dangers of opiate abuse arises from overdosing on these drugs. When this happens, you might endure permanent brain damage, one of the life-altering effects of using these medications away from your doctor's prescription.

Today, opiate-related deaths are quite high while the consequences of brain damage often go unreported. In most cases, it would only take 3 to 5 minutes of staying without oxygen for your brain to be permanently damaged. Some of the effects of brain damage arising from an overdose include:

  • Impairment of the ability to communicate, read, or write
  • Impairment of vision and/or hearing
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Loss of balance, movement, and coordination
  • Memory loss

Continued deprivation of oxygen might also lead to a vegetative state, severe retardation, and death.

Signs And Symptoms Of Opiates Abuse

Opiate addiction comes with a cascade of signs and symptoms. Although not everyone struggling with such addiction will display these symptoms, most people will experience the following:

1. Mood Symptoms
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Euphoric mood for several hours
  • Irritability
2. Behavioral Symptoms
  • Forging prescriptions to get more opiates
  • Lethargy
  • Lying to others about the amount of the substance abused
  • Not fulfilling work, familial, and other responsibilities
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Preoccupation with getting, using, and recovering from using these drugs
  • Restlessness
  • Social isolation
  • Stealing narcotics from pharmacies and similar medication dispensaries
  • Stealing opiate prescriptions from family and friends
  • Withdrawing from activities you once found pleasurable
3. Physical Symptoms
  • Coma
  • Constipation
  • Death
  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Itching
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea
  • Pain relief
  • Respiratory depression
  • Sedation
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Vomiting
4. Psychological Symptoms
  • Addiction
  • Delusions
  • Deterioration in emotional well-being
  • Hallucinations
  • Increase in the signs of mental illness
  • Memory problems
  • Paranoia
  • Poor mental health

Treatment For Opiates Addiction

The abuse of opiates is a serious problem that can only be resolved through detoxification and rehabilitation. In many cases, inpatient rehab works best for most addicts.

After reporting your situation, the doctor might perform physical exams and ask questions about your drug use and medical history. Some of the exams they are likely to do include:

  • Urine tests
  • Blood tests
  • Blood chemistries
  • Liver function tests, including CHEM-20
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (heart tracing, or electrocardiogram)
  • Testing for TB (Tuberculosis), hepatitis C, and HIV

As always, the earlier you get tested and treated for opiate addiction and abuse, the sooner you will be able to recover. Find a rehabilitation facility as soon as possible and get rid of your affinity for opiates.

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