The U.S. is in the midst of a crippling opioid addiction epidemic. Opioid addiction is a growing crisis, and people need to be aware of that as powerful drugs increasingly cause more overdose deaths across the nation.
Opioids occur in nature, or they are human-made. The chemical makeup of opioids is derived from opium, which comes from the poppy plant. Although different opioids range in potency, they all produce the same effects and negatively affect the brain and body.
Long-term use of opioids will eventually cause you to develop tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal.
Opioid prescriptions and non-prescriptions are common in the treatment of chronic pain. Despite the opioid user’s intentions when initially taking a drug, more often than not, opioids are taken more frequently and longer than required.
Opioids are highly addictive, and the overconsumption of opioids is the reason behind the current crisis. Over time, if you do not stop taking opioids, you will begin to need more of the drug to get high. Also, with prolonged use comes withdrawal in the absence of the drug.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms consist of:
- Muscle aches
- A runny nose
- Cold sweats
- Dilated pupils
- Excessive yawning
- Abdominal cramping
- Gooseflesh skin
Opioid withdrawal can be severe, but it is not fatal. It can, however, prevent individuals with opioid addiction from getting help because it is both physically and psychologically agonizing.
Opioids and the Brain
Opioid addiction affects the brain just as much as it affects the body. Most opioids bind to the mu opioid receptors in the brain. Opioids bind to these receptors and activate them immediately, causing an influx of pleasure.
A large amount of dopamine is released with every hit or bump.
However, the pleasure does not last as long as you might think.
Opioid abuse will eventually leave you with a depletion of dopamine, causing overwhelming feelings of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.
The constant invasion of dopamine from an outside source sends signals to the brain that it no longer needs to produce as much dopamine as it did before. Also, opioid use always leads to adverse psychological side effects despite being known to cause euphoria. However, the brain becomes used to the overabundance of opioids, which means it gradually responds less to them. When this begins to happen, you will need more of the drugs to achieve the effects you desire or felt upon initial use.
Opioids are extremely dangerous if used too much, but dependence has developed, they can be dangerous to stop. Your brain will stop producing natural painkillers if it is inundated with opioids too often. Once you stop using opioid medications, you are left with nothing to keep you chemically balanced. This state can trigger uncomfortable and even dangerous symptoms such as:
- Muscle aches, cramps
- Increase heart rate
- Intense drug cravings
Below is a list of commonly abused opioids. Read on to learn more about these opioid drugs and their impact on those who abuse them.
Codeine is a liquid pain reliever and cough suppressant. It is often glorified in certain genres of the music industry as a safer alternative. However, it is equally as dangerous as other opioids. Those who drink codeine will experience symptoms of opioid addiction despite the misinformation.
Demerol (generic names meperidine and pethidine) is a synthetic opioid pain medication most commonly used in pregnant women during labor and delivery.
Propoxyphene and acetaminophen make up the brand or generic drugs such as Darvocet. There is a lot of controversy over the use of this drug because of the risks associated with propoxyphene. This drug is known to cause severe side effects and people taking it are at high risk of developing an opioid addiction.
Dilaudid (generic name hydromorphone) derives from morphine and most commonly used in hospital settings. The bioavailability of this drug is very low in other routes of administration, except intravenously. Individuals who abuse Dilaudid inject it because of the intense, immediate rush that occurs after it enters the bloodstream.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid commonly used intravenously in medical settings as an anesthetic. A skin patch of fentanyl is sometimes prescribed to treat severe chronic pain. Fentanyl is extremely powerful, and it is used today to cut other drugs, like heroin. It currently plays a large role in the increasing overdose death rates relating to opioid addiction.
Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid deriving from codeine. The effects of the euphoria associated with hydrocodone make it easy for people using the drug to develop an opioid addiction.
Methadone is used to treat opioid addiction. It reduces withdrawal symptoms of any opioids, but people can become dependent on methadone. Using methadone along with other opioids can lead to dangerous side effects.
Morphine is an opioid that occurs naturally in plants and animals. It treats acute and chronic pain; however, it is highly addictive. Morphine is the most abundant analgesic opioid in opium, and its use is prevalent in medical settings. It also can be used illegally and causes intense physical dependence.
Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid. It is one of the most common drugs of abuse in the United States, and its use contributes to the nation’s opioid epidemic. Oxycodone immediately relieves pain. This often leads to an increase in people becoming physically dependent after long-term use.
OxyContin is a brand name for oxycodone and Roxicodone. People with an opioid addiction use OxyContin because of its extended-release properties. The effects can last up to 12 hours.
Percocet (a generic combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen) treats acute to moderate pain. The use of an opioid and non-opioid pain reliever makes this drug especially harmful to the body. Although there is a low number of narcotics in Percocet, it is still highly addictive, and it has a high risk of abuse.
Suboxone, also known as buprenorphine, is a partial opioid, which means it attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain but doesn’t activate them. It alleviates the symptoms of opioid addiction withdrawal almost immediately. It is the most commonly used drug to treat addiction and dependency in detoxification centers.
Ultram is the brand name for Tramadol. It has two functions. It works as a pain reliever, and it also works as a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). Prolonged tramadol use will lead to addiction, dependence, and severe withdrawal symptoms.
Opioid Addiction Treatment
There is hope for people who have an opioid addiction. By entering an accredited substance abuse treatment facility, you can work alongside medical and clinical professionals to address your addiction from the inside out.
Because opioids hijack the pain and reward systems of the brain, most people with opioid abuse disorder will undergo a medically supervised detox before entering clinical treatment. This is a four- to seven-day process when the drug will be flushed from your system. Opioid withdrawal is uncomfortable, and its symptoms often drive people to return to drug or alcohol use just to feel better again. A medical detox is a safe way to go through withdrawal under the care of a physician. In some cases, replacement medications are used to help the person mitigate withdrawal during the detox process.
Once detox has been completed, many addiction professionals will recommend that you go to residential treatment. Here, you will live at the facility in a secure and drug-free environment for 30-90 days while participating in individual, group, and even family therapies daily. These therapies will help you to identify and address the underlying issues, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that have fueled your addiction. Undergoing residential treatment is often the difference between a successful long-term recovery and frequent relapse.
For those that either finish residential treatment or do not have the flexibility to live at the facility, outpatient treatment is a great option. This gives you the freedom to live at home (or in a sober living home) while still participating in weekly or even daily therapies and modalities. Outpatient treatment helps you stay connected to the recovery community and avoid relapse as you ease into or continue your everyday life.
Opioid Addiction Statistics
- Opioid overdoses increased by 70%in the Midwest between July 2016 and September 2017.
- 80% of people who abuse prescription painkillers make the switch to heroin.
- The opioid epidemic costs the U.S. an estimated $78.5 billion every year.