Why are Opiates So Addictive? The Fast Road to Addiction - AspenRidge

What are opiates?

One of the most addictive drugs, opiates are actually used to treat pain. They are also used to suppress coughs in severe lung conditions. They are derived from the opium poppy and include:

  • Opium
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydromorphone

Are opiates and opioids the same? What is an opioid?

No they are not the same. While opiates are alkaloids derived naturally from opium poppy, opioids are synthetic drugs manufactured to work the same way as opiates. The two have similar molecules but the active ingredients of opioids are synthetically processed chemicals.

Types of opioids:

  • Heroin
  • Oxycodone
  • Methadone
  • Tramadol
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydromorphone

Are opiates and heroin the same?

No. Because heroin is synthetically processed, it is not an opiate but an opioid.

Lately, however, the terms opioids and opiates are used interchangeably. This is because they both have the same molecules, they both relieve pain and they both work in similar ways.

Opiates are very effective painkillers. So effective are they that the first known use of opiates was in 3400 BC when ancient Sumerians grew and harvested opium. Today, opiates are used medically to relieve pain during dental operations and during invasive surgical procedures.

Unfortunately, for all their medical benefits, opiates have a dark story. One that has destroyed thousands of lives, broken an equal number of families and even caused death; a story of addiction.

Opiate addiction in the United States

Opiates are one of the most abused drugs in the country because they are easy to get hold of, are very addictive and are relatively cheap.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the number of prescription opioids sold in the United States grew by 400 percent despite there being no changes in the amount of pain Americans reported.

In 2014, as many as 2 million Americans either abused or were dependent on prescription opioids.

In 2012, 259 million prescription opioids were prescribed in the country, enough to give every American a bottle of pills.

From 1999 to 2015, the number of drug overdose deaths linked to opioids quadrupled. In fact, out of the over 500,000 Americans who died from a drug overdose in that period, over 60 percent of the deaths involved opioids including prescription medications and heroin.

In 2015, over 15,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose, the most popular being narcotic pain meds methadone, hydrocodone and oxycodone.

More than 1,000 Americans are treated in emergency wards every day for overdosing on opioids.

Why are opiates so addictive? The path to opiate addiction

Aside from their pain relieving properties, opiates cause an intense euphoric “high.” The feelings of euphoria are usually accompanied by sedation or drowsiness. Because many opiates have a short duration of action, they are able to cause a “feel good” high in a relatively short amount of time.

This is how opiates affect the brain to cause euphoria:

Once opiates are consumed, they release chemicals that bind onto opioid receptors in the brain’s nerve cells, causing euphoria. The brain interprets euphoria positively and releases the feel good neurotransmitter dopamine as a reward for indulging. The two are responsible for the intense high. The more an addict indulges, the more the euphoria, the more dopamine is released and the more intense the high is.

Unfortunately, the more opiates an addict consumes over time, the more resistant the body becomes to its effects. Gradually, the brain develops more active opioid receptors. Therefore, to achieve euphoria, an addict has to consume more opiates. This is called drug tolerance.

To make matters worse, as addiction becomes more intense, the brain gets accustomed to flooding the body with dopamine. Over time, it begins to interpret unbound opioids as discomfort or pain, perpetuating a strong craving for the drug.

It gets to a point where dopamine is only released once high doses of opiates are ingested. This significantly affects the mood and motivation of an addict. At this point, he/she is fully dependent on the drug.

What are the negative effects of opioid addiction?

Opioid addiction has both long term and short term effects. Short term opiate effects include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sedation
  • Slow reaction times
  • Confusion
  • Slow breathing
  • Heightened sensitivity to pain
  • Constricted “pinpoint” pupils
  • Loss of consciousness

Because opiates cause delayed reaction times, many states have imposed strict laws against drivers who take to the road after using the drugs.

The long term effects of opiate addiction include:

  • Weakened immune systems
  • Gastric problems such as constipation or bowel perforation
  • Severe respiratory depression

In cases of severe addiction, opioids do cause death. In fact, the CDC estimates that every day, 91 people die from opioid overdose . The New York Times estimates that more people die from opioid related complications than from any other drug.

How long a person stays before becoming an addict of opioids is relative. However, once dependence is established, stopping becomes very difficult. In fact, the person can suffer severe withdrawal symptoms if he/she stays long without consuming the drug.

What are the withdrawal symptoms of opioids?

They include:

  • Agitation
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea

These symptoms may start anywhere from 12 to 30 hours since the addict last ingested the drugs.

Are you an opioid/opiate addict?

There are many telltale signs of prescription drug abuse. Here’s a simple way to find out:

  1. Do you often find yourself craving opioids?
  2. When you get hold of the medication, do you use more than was medically prescribed?
  3. Are you taking higher doses to get the same “high” you’d get with smaller doses before?
  4. When you go a while without consuming heroin or other opioids, do you suffer withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, anxiety, muscle aches and agitation?
  5. Have you tried to quit but found yourself relapsing again and again?
  6. Have you neglected your responsibilities at school, home or work because of opioids?
  7. Are you burning through your financial savings or cash at hand to feed your opiate cravings?
  8. Have you committed illegal acts to get money to buy the substance?
  9. Have you gotten into legal trouble because of opioids?

If the answer is yes for a number of these questions, then it is likely you are addicted to a form of opioids.

What are the treatment options for opiate addiction?

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a heroin addiction and then seeking professional treatment. Opiate addiction treatment usually involves therapy, medication and counseling in a prescription drug rehabilitation center.

Many rehabs offer both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. Inpatient programs have more recovery rates and typically last between 30-90 days.

At the rehabilitation center, medical professionals will usually start by conducting blood and urine tests to confirm the opioid addiction. They may also perform chest X-rays, blood analysis, liver examinations and cardiovascular tests to ascertain whether the opioid addiction has dealt a significant blow to vital body organs. These vitals will be monitored during the course of treatment.

After testing, treatment will usually begin with a drug detoxification program. A professionally conducted detox will rid the body of harmful traces of the addictive narcotic pain medication.

After detox, the addict will attend in-patient group and individual addiction recovery therapy. These will be moderated by a trained counselor. They will also attend 12-step meetings and engage in group activities such as yoga and meditation.                                                             

Because prolonged withdrawal has negative effects, patients in the recovery programs are prescribed FDA-approved medications to treat opiate addiction. These drugs include methadone, buprenorphine, clonidine and naltrexone.

Regardless of how bad or severe an addiction is, treatment is possible. With opioids, the earlier an addict commits to treatment, the better.

Opioid overdoses kill more Americans than any other drug. Do not let your loved one be a statistic.

Do you know anyone who has an opioid/opiate addiction? Ask them to take the test above to find out.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply