Learn About Opioids
Derived from the poppy plant or manufactured synthetically by pharmaceutical companies, opioids are drugs that are known for their pain-relieving properties. Heroin, a commonly used opiate, is an illegal and highly addictive narcotic that can be injected, smoked, or snorted by users. Legal opiates, such as codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and OxyContin, are commonly prescribed analgesics that are often abused by consuming or administering them in a way not recommended by doctors.
What makes opioids so harmful and addictive to users is that they block pain receptors and can alter brain chemistry over time. Producing a high that brings about euphoric feelings and tranquility from stress and one’s surroundings, users often become addicted as they want to continue those feelings of relaxed detachment from things around them. However, simply taking prescribed opiates does not signify abuse. It is when users take more than prescribed or alter the route of administration by crushing or dissolving the pills and disabling its time-release properties.
Research has shown that nearly 20,000 people die each year from opioid overdose and that, of the total overdose-related deaths in the United States, 60% have been as a result of pharmaceutical drug consumption. The number of deaths related to heroin remain staggering as the total number reported has doubled since the early 2000s.
Causes and Risk Factors of Opioid Abuse
While opiate addiction does not discriminate, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind when trying to understand the causes of the addiction.
Genetic: Experts suggest that some individuals have a genetic predisposition to opiate addiction. Research on families has shown that people with a family history of opioid abuse have a greater chance of developing a problem with opioids themselves.
Psychological: Individuals with a preexisting or undiagnosed mental illness are at risk of developing opioid addiction. Euphoria, the feeling of being disconnected from the world around a person, and lack of pain experienced when high on opiates provide an escape for those who may be struggling with the adverse effects of having a mental disorder. Furthermore, research suggests that people with low self-esteem are susceptible to opiate abuse as the elevated mood while under the influence of opioids may allow the individual to feel as though he or she functions better in social situations.
Environmental: Exposure to opiate abuse can contribute to the likelihood of a person abusing opiates. Moreover, certain environmental factors, such as stressful interpersonal relationships, lower socioeconomic status, lack of housing, and experiencing trauma can all contribute to a person turning to opioids to cope and manage their stress.
- Family history of substance abuse
- Personal history of trauma
- The ability to obtain multiple prescriptions from potentially more than one doctor
- Easy access to other people’s prescription drugs
- Low socioeconomic status
- Preexisting mental health disorder
- Undiagnosed mental health disorder
Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction
Depending on the level of abuse, some or all of the following signs and symptoms may be present in someone with an opiate addiction.
- Socially withdrawn or isolated
- Slurred or incoherent speech
- Lack of coordination
- Weight loss
- Dry mouth
- Track marks, injection sites
- Poor impulse control
- Lack of good decision-making
- Inability to communicate
- Depressive symptoms
- Mood swings
- Inability to concentrate
- Disconnected from reality
Effects of Opioid
Should an opiate addiction progress, there are a number of effects that can adversely impact a user.In addition to the short and long-term health effects, an opiate addiction can influence numerous areas of a person’s life. Loss of support (emotional, financial, etc.) from those around the user, loss of employment due to poor work performance, interaction with the legal system, and commitment to a mental health hospital are all possible outcomes for long term opiate abuse.
Health risks, with death being the most serious of all, carry the possibility of causing permanent damage to the user. Risks to a person’s health may include:
- Infections of the heart
- Collapsed veins
- Increased heart rate
- Contraction of infectious diseases (HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C)
- Raise in blood pressure
- Decreased lung functioning and complications
- Multiple organ damage or failure
- Bacterial infections
In addition to opiate abuse, it is common for addicts to have another mental illness. While not all addicts develop all of these disorders, the presence of an addiction to opiates renders the user susceptible to the following:
- Another substance abuse disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Personality disorders
- Eating disorders
Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose
With the onset of withdrawal beginning within a few hours from the last dosage and potentially lasting for a few days, withdrawal from opioids is not only painful and unpleasant to users, but can also be life-threatening. A person going through withdrawal may experiences any number of the following symptoms:
- Intense cravings for continued use
- Muscle cramps
- Bone pain
Because opiate withdrawal has the potential to be life-threatening, medical attention is often sought in treating the addiction. If an addict is overdosing, the following could happen:
- Shallow breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Change in skin tone
- Limp limbs
- Choking or gurgling sounds
- Inability to speak