Opiates are prescription pain relievers designed to manage moderate to severe pain that does not respond to other forms of analgesia. These drugs are also called narcotics and work by attaching to opioid receptors in your brain to block the sensation of pain. The list of narcotic drugs includes codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, meperidine, morphine, oxycodone and tramadol, though these are their generic names, so they are also known by their brand names such as Vicodin for hydrocodone. Although these are prescription drugs, it doesn’t mean that they are safe, as like other medications they carry a range of side-effects and an opiate overdose is potentially fatal if you do not receive medical attention in time. Adverse reactions and overdose are not the only complications associated with opiate use, as they are no less addictive than heroin, which is also an opiate. With growing rates of prescription opiate abuse more and more people are now seeking help with narcotic withdrawal.
Short and Long term Opiates Effects
When you take opiates, their binding to the opioid receptors in your central nervous system and vital organs doesn’t just provide pain relief. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, you may also experience drowsiness, confusion, constipation and nausea, and at higher doses your breathing is affected. Opiate binding also triggers the release of extra dopamine, so you may experience feelings of intense pleasure, which is why this group of medications has the potential to be abused. These short-term effects of opiate use are all reversible, but if you take prescription painkillers for a longer period of time, whether to manage chronic pain or due to prescription drug abuse, there is a risk of lasting health problems.
Among the main risks of chronic opiate use are:
- Bowel obstruction due to chronic constipation, which may require hospital treatment and is potentially life-threatening. Milder cases can still cause significant distress and impair quality of life.
- Bleeding within your digestive system, though the risk is similar to anti-inflammatories like aspirin
- Sleep apnea, where you temporarily stop breathing while you are asleep
- Reduced oxygen supply to your tissues due to altered breathing
- Slow heart beat and low blood pressure
- Increased risk of a heart attack or heart failure
- Increased risk of falls and fractures as a consequence of dizziness and drowsiness
- Reduced levels of testosterone, male infertility and sexual dysfunction
- Interference with the menstrual cycle in women, which has a knock on effect on osteoporosis risk
- Reduced immune function, which puts you at greater risk of infections
- Opiate dependency and addiction
Signs of Opiate Abuse
According to Government data, each month more than 4.8 million Americans misuse prescription painkillers. A range of factors can make people more susceptible to prescription opiate abuse, which include a family history of substance abuse, pre-existing mental health problems, family difficulties or poor support from parents, poor school performance and feeling detached from the community. Whatever the reason for misusing opiates, there are certain signs that indicate you have a problem opiate use. If you can identify with any of the following, it is a signal that you need to seek treatment for drug abuse:
- Using painkillers when you do not suffer from pain
- Taking increasingly high doses of narcotics and using them more frequently
- Spending a lot of time and effort sourcing prescription pain relievers
- Withdrawing socially, so you spend less time with friends and family
- Neglecting your studies, work, family commitments or finances
- Attempting to hide your opiate habit from others
- Changes to your mood and personality
If you use opiates repeatedly it is possible for an addiction to develop. As California State University discusses, narcotics bring about changes to your brain’s structure and function, which leads to changes in your behavior, emotions and motivation. This encourages you to crave drugs and seek them out, while you lose interest in other areas of your life. At this stage the only way you can overcome your destructive habit is with the help of specialist drug addiction treatment.
Whether you have a codeine, hydrocodone or morphine addiction, the first stage of treatment is to undergo an opiate detox. However, as your body is dependent on opiates you experience a variety of symptoms if you stop using painkillers altogether or suddenly reduce your dose. The Medical College of Wisconsin describes the symptoms of withdrawing from opiates, which include chills, sweating, a runny nose and watery eyes, insomnia, feeling restless and anxious, a fast heart rate and raised blood pressure, digestive upset and muscle pains. These symptoms aren’t usually dangerous, but they are unpleasant to endure and can make it more difficult to successfully detox from painkillers. Thankfully though, medications are available to provide relief from withdrawal symptoms, allowing you to detox and take part in rehab to help you give up your prescription painkiller habit for good.
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