What are Opiates?
“Opiates” refers to a group or class of drugs that have an effect on the body like morphine and other opium-based drugs, and which are used for treating pain. Opiates are made from the products of the opium poppy plant. Different opiates have different street names, the most notorious of which is heroin.
Often, people begin opiate use for perfectly valid medical reasons. Surgeries or injuries can cause a medical need for pain management and opiates are very effective painkillers. Depending upon the severity of the pain, the need for opiate use can last for weeks or even months. Under these circumstances, even people under medical supervision with no history of substance abuse can find themselves developing an opiate dependence. For people who have a substance abuse history – or who are predisposed to developing addiction – using opiate drugs can quickly lead to abuse and then full-blown opiate addiction.
What Causes Opiate Addiction?
Opiates are very effective painkillers. Opiates suppress both the perception of pain and the user’s emotional reaction to pain. Opiates also cause a sense of euphoria that many people (even non-addicts and non-abusers) find pleasurable.
However, opiate users quickly develop tolerance to the drug and will require more of the drug to achieve the same pain management effect. Extended use or abuse of opiates causes the body’s pain management system (the “endorphin” system) to stop producing its natural painkillers. These changes can quickly lead a user from simply filling a valid prescription to substance dependence, and then to addiction.
What are Common Opiates and How are they Ingested?
Some of the more common opiates (and their trade names), include:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin®, Lortab®, Norco®)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®)
- Hydromorphone (Dilauded®)
- Morphine (Astramorph®, Avinza®)
- Fentanyl (Duragesic®)
Opiates are available in the form of pills, lollipops, adhesive transdermal patches, suppositories, and in liquid forms for use by mouth or by injection. In order to get high, some opiate abusers may take more of the drugs than prescribed (“1 pill every 4 hours” becomes “4 pills every hour”).
Other opiate abusers may try to change how they take the drug (like crushing and snorting pills, or dissolving and injecting them). When opiate abusers lose access to prescription drugs, they may turn to street drugs like heroin to fill the void.
What are the Effects of Opiate Abuse and Addiction?
There are short and long-term effects that can occur with opiate use, abuse, and addiction.
The more common short-term effects from opiate use and abuse include:
- Pain suppression
- Mood changes
- Lethargy, feeling of heavy limbs
- Severe allergic reaction
The more common long-term effects from opiate abuse and opiate addiction are:
- Scarred or collapsed veins from injecting drugs
- Heart lining/valve infections
- Major organ damage (brain, liver, or kidney)
- HIV, hepatitis, abscesses and other infections
- Nasal passage damage from snorting drugs
What are the Symptoms and Signs of Opiate Addiction?
The most common signs of opiate addiction are:
- Needle and track marks from intravenous use (or wearing long sleeves/pants at inappropriate times to cover marks)
- Changing ‘friends’ from non-users to users
- Sudden need for money/borrowing money
- Hygiene and appearance suffer
- Excessive drowsiness and sleeping
- Drastic weight gain/weight loss
How Does Opiate Addiction Affect The Brain?
Taking opiates results in the production of compounds that bind to opiate receptors in the brain. When these compounds bind to the receptors, the perception of pain – and the emotional response to pain – are reduced. In day-to-day life, the body naturally produces small amounts of endorphins that bind to the same receptors and reduce pain. Flooding the receptors with opiates causes the body’s endorphin system to shut down.
Because opiates are central nervous system depressants, they cause reduced respiration and circulation. Reduced respiration and circulation can cause an oxygen deficiency in the brain (hypoxia), which can lead to brain damage or death.
What are Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms?
Users who have a short-term, less intense addiction to opiates are able to quit without any medical help for withdrawal symptoms (called “cold-turkey”). Users with full-blown opiate addiction may not wish to stop cold-turkey. For such users, a medically supervised withdrawal may be advisable.
Withdrawal syndrome can begin after a few hours of stopping the drug. The worst withdrawal symptoms generally peak between 24-48 hours later.
Opiate withdrawal symptoms include:
- Intense, persistent cravings
- Nausea and vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms
- Poor appetite
If you or someone you love is showing signs of opiate withdrawal, you should seek medical assistance immediately.
What Can You Do for Opiate Addiction Help?
Please call our AZ rehab center today to find out what therapy programs may be available for you or your loved one. Call us – 24 hours a day – at 866-239-1700, or contact us here.