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 In Addiction

Opioids are a pharmaceutical classification of pain-relieving drugs that may be natural, partially or fully synthetic. These drugs are either a natural derivative of the poppy plant or chemically manufactured in a laboratory. The opioid classification includes legal prescription drugs, such as codeine, morphine and oxycodone, and illegal drugs, like heroin. Other opioid drugs include:

  • -Fentanyl
  • -Hydrocodone
  • -Hydromorphone
  • -Methadone
  • -Morphine
  • -Opium
  • -Oxymorphone
  • -Paregoric
  • -Sufentanil
  • -Tramadol

Opioids are also an ingredient in some prescription cough medicines.

How Do Opioids Work?

Opioids help people cope with pain by binding to the body’s natural opioid receptors in the brain, imitating specific natural chemicals that create sensations of pleasure and pain relief.

Opioids are highly effective when used for pain relief and prescribed predominantly for severe pain or when other pain-relief methods have proven ineffective. However, because the drugs produce psychological stimulating properties, opioids are one of the most abused of all drugs. While not an exhaustive list, physicians will typically prescribe opioids for the following conditions:

  • -Chronic conditions like severe back pain
  • -Dental procedures and toothaches
  • -Severe injuries
  • -Surgeries
  • -Painful end-stage illnesses, like cancer

Opioids are typically safe when used as directed. However, not following their physician’s directives often leads to misuse and patients becoming addicted to opiates. This frequently results in the patient taking the drug illegally. In most cases, illegal opioids are considerably stronger than prescription forms and usually lead to severe addiction.

When opioids are abused the administration method is often changed. Pills may be ground up and the powdered smoked, snorted or mixed in water and injected with a syringe. These processes speed up absorption, leading to a potent and fast-acting effect often referred to as a “rush.”

Even when opioids are taken as prescribed, the potential for abuse is significant. Continual long-term use can create a physical dependence within four to six weeks, but psychological addiction can happen in just two days.

Understanding Addiction

Addiction is a physical and/or psychological dependency on a substance that biologically affects the brain’s ability to make rational decisions. This results in a change in thinking and behavior.

A common misconception is that addiction is a moral issue and all the person has to do is stop taking the drug. However, the brain actually undergoes physiological changes with addiction, and it requires a lot of work for the brain to return to its natural state.

A normal, healthy brain rewards healthy behaviors, such as eating or exercising. However, researchers have discovered that a lot of addiction’s power resides in the ability to hijack, even destroy, key regions of the brain that are used for making survival decisions. People have control over their choices to use drugs when they first begin using opioids. However, continual misuse of opioids actually changes the brain in ways that create a compelling urge to continue using the drug.

Signs of Opioid Addiction

Recognizing there is a problem with opioids is the first step toward recovery. The signs of addiction to opioids typically present with simultaneous physical, psychological and behavioral symptoms.

People with opioid addiction lose control over their actions and seek out drugs no matter the cost, even at the risk of destroying their lives by ruining friendships, family relationships, and jobs.

One obvious sign of addiction is the individual is not able to stop taking the drug or taking more than the prescribed amount. Some other obvious symptoms, that are usually self-diagnosable, include irresistible cravings and the inability to control drug use even when there are clear signs it is putting a strain on both personal relationships and finances. People close to an addict may observe these signs of addiction:

  • -Uncontrollable craving
  • -Profuse sweating
  • -Mood swings, including euphoria or general discontentment
  • -Chronic constipation
  • -Small pupils
  • -Nausea and vomiting
  • -Reduced sex drive
  • -Increased sensitivity to pain
  • -Shallow breathing
  • -Slurred speech
  • -Poor coordination
  • -Drowsiness and sleeping more or less than usual
  • -Physical agitation
  • -Poor decision making
  • -Abandoning responsibilities
  • -Irritability
  • -Depression
  • -Reduced motivation
  • -Anxiety or panic attacks

Opioid Overdose

An opioid overdose dictates an immediate call to 911. The prescription nasal spray under the tradename Narcan, naloxone in generic form, can help counteract an opioid overdose. Symptoms of an opioid overdose include:

  • -Loss of consciousness or unresponsive
  • -Exhibits slow, irregular, erratic breathing
  • -A slow, erratic pulse or lack of pulse
  • -Severe vomiting
  • -Constricted pupils

Side Effects of Opioid Use and Addiction

There can be both short- and long-term side effects resulting from opioid addiction. Continued use or abuse of opioids can result in the body adapting to the drug and withdrawal symptoms usually occurring if use is discontinued or even reduced. Tolerance may also occur, requiring users to continually increase the dosage level to achieve the euphoric feeling or “high.”

Short-Term Side Effects

  • -Chronic drowsiness
  • -Labored breathing
  • -Constipation
  • -Coma

Long-Term Side Effects

  • -Restlessness
  • -Muscle and bone pain
  • -Insomnia
  • -Diarrhea

Why People Become Addicted to Opioids

The body produces a natural opioid called endorphins, typically released during exercise, to block pain and create a feel-good sensation. Opioid use alters brain chemistry by introducing artificial endorphins.

Excessive opioid use causes the brain to become dependent on artificial endorphins. Once this happens the brain stops producing its own endorphins. The longer opioids are used the more likely this dependence becomes. Consequently, opioid users require more and more opioids over time as tolerance to the drug continually increases.

Treatment will depend on the individual and the seriousness of the addiction. If the addiction is not too severe, some people are able to stop on their own. However, more severe cases can require several months, sometimes years, of treatment with a concerted effort by the individual that usually requires complete abstinence from opioids after recovery.

Scientists do not yet know why some people become addicted and others don’t. Addiction does often appear to run in families and some specific gene types have been connected to some addictions. However, not all members of an affected family are prone to becoming addicted to opiates.If you or your loved one is dealing with addiction, you don’t have to go through it alone. Contact us today for more information.

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