What are Opiates?
Table of Contents
- What are Opiates?
- The Different Types of Opiates
- What Makes Opiates Addictive?
- How do Opiates Affect the Body?
- How are Opiates Used?
- Understanding Opiate and Opioid Addiction
- Who is at Risk of Drug Abuse?
- Understanding the Relationship Between Mental Health and Substance Abuse
- Recognizing the Signs of Opiate Abuse
- Side Effects of Opiate Abuse
- Is it Possible to Overdose on Opiates?
- How is an Opiate Addiction Treated?
- Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms
- Finding Opiate and Opioid Addiction Treatment Services Near You
- Medically Reviewed By
Opiates can be both natural or synthetic drugs that are often medically used to treat chronic or severe pain. These include morphine and other similar opioid pain relievers, including codeine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and oxycodone.
Opiate or opioid medications are derived from the seeds of the opium poppy plant and can be especially effective for treating people with health conditions that cause chronic pain or terminal cancer, as well as various digestive issues.
However, these substances can also pose several dangers to a person’s health, including a high risk for drug addiction. Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl or heroin, also present an increased likelihood of drug abuse compared to prescription opioids.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies natural opiates as Schedule II substances, due to their combined clinical usage and high potential for addiction. Illegally produced opioids, however, have a Schedule I classification, due to their lack of medical use.
The Different Types of Opiates
You may have heard the terms opiates and opioids used interchangeably, but there is a difference between these two drug terms. The term opioids broadly refer to a class of drugs that can all interact with opioid receptors in your brain and body.
Some are natural, like opiates, while others are made with synthetic chemicals in laboratories. Opiates are drugs that are naturally derived from the opium poppy plant. There are four different opiates, which include:
While opium and heroin are both considered illegal drugs, morphine and codeine are still used in modern medicine as opioid painkillers. However, these medications are strictly regulated when administered to patients and rarely prescribed by a doctor without absolute necessity.
What Makes Opiates Addictive?
Despite their ability to be used as medicine, opiates, and opioids also present a high possibility for those using them to form a physical dependence on these substances. This is because opioid misuse can produce a pleasurable “high.”
This may include feelings of intense euphoria and relaxation. Both can make people want to repeatedly abuse these drugs. However, prolonged opioid misuse can have many harmful side effects; including, of course, psychological or physical dependence on them.
How do Opiates Affect the Body?
Once introduced to a person’s system, opiates make their way to the brain, where they attach themselves to opioid receptors located on nerve cells throughout the central nervous system and other areas of the body.
This interaction blocks pain signals from being distributed through the spinal cord to the brain, helping to relieve pain and induce sedation. This may also cause the production of the brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin.
These chemicals are what produce the euphoric high associated with opioid abuse, often causing individuals to become dependent on these drugs in order to continue to feel happy or normal.
How are Opiates Used?
Someone who is taking a prescribed dose of an opioid medication will usually do so orally by consuming a pill or tablet. Opioid misuse, however, typically occurs through other administrative methods, including crushing these pills into a powder and snorting it.
Some people may also choose to dissolve this powder in liquid and inject it directly into their bloodstream. Both of these consumption methods can produce a more fast and more intense high than just taking a pill would.
However, with these faster results, snorting or injecting these drugs will also increase a person’s likelihood of experiencing far more negative side effects, including a higher risk of experiencing opioid overdoses.
Understanding Opiate and Opioid Addiction
It is important to understand that, when it comes to opioid addiction, those who struggle with this issue rarely ever develop these habits on purpose. Rather, their opioid use likely started as a way to treat chronic pain, whether this is emotional or physical.
Over time, however, a person will build a tolerance to these substances. As a result, they will have to use these drugs more frequently, and often in higher doses in order to achieve the desired effect.
Because opioids are highly addictive, it will not take long before this behavior results in a full-blown dependence on them. This will make attempting to stop or reduce their opioid use extremely difficult, as their body has become reliant upon them in order to properly function.
Thus, even if someone genuinely wants to overcome their drug abuse, they will likely be unable to do so without the help of professional treatment providers and recovery services.
The Rise of Opiate and Opioid Abuse in the United States
Unfortunately, while opioid pain relievers can be highly effective medically, as discussed, their high potential for abuse often clouds their health benefits. Even someone who is taking a prescription opioid can become dependent on their medication if not used exactly as prescribed.
This happens more commonly than many people may think. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, misuse of prescription opioids is quickly becoming one of the biggest addiction concerns in the United States today.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), In 2019, an estimated 38 prescription opioid-involved overdose deaths occurred daily, totaling over 14,000 deaths; this totaled an estimated 28% of all opioid-related overdoses that occurred that year.
This has become a leading contributor to the public health crisis that is currently wracking the nation known as the “Opioid Epidemic.” This spreading issue of drug abuse and opioid overdose deaths has greatly increased accessibility to addiction rehabilitation and prevention services.
Who is at Risk of Drug Abuse?
While many people associate the cost of illegal drug use as only affecting specific types of individuals, this is most certainly not true. In fact, addiction can affect anyone, regardless of their personal, economic, or social background.
However, there are various risk factors that may increase an individual’s likelihood of developing an addiction to opiates or opioids, including:
- Family or Personal History of Substance Abuse
- Environmental Factors
- A Prescription for Opioid Pain Relievers
- Negative Social Influences
- High-Stress Work, Home, or School Conditions
In addition to the risks listed above, one of the most concerning factors in developing a substance addiction of any kind is the presence of any underlying undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions.
Understanding the Relationship Between Mental Health and Substance Abuse
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), many people will be diagnosed with both substance use and mental health disorder. These are known as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis.
This is because, for many individuals struggling with mental illness, the negative thoughts and feelings these conditions can cause will lead to their attempted self-medication with drugs or alcohol.
This is particularly true for those who have developed an opioid use disorder, as they likely began abusing these substances as a means of temporarily relieving both their physical and mental pain.
When this behavior has continued over a long period of time, opioid abuse likely will only worsen these conditions and their side effects. Furthermore, prolonged misuse of opioids can even end up causing new physical and mental health issues to develop.
Recognizing the Signs of Opiate Abuse
There are several signs that may indicate if you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction. These can be behavioral, emotional, or physical, and may include:
- Taking opiates in larger amounts for longer periods of time than originally intended.
- Attempts to reduce or stop using opiates by oneself are unsuccessful.
- Spending large amounts of time and money acquiring, using, or recovering from the effects of opiates.
- Craving opiates when not using them, or when using in smaller amounts than normal.
- Having issues at home, work, or school due to opiate use.
- Getting an opiate or opioid prescription from several doctors, or “doctor shopping.”
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, hobbies, or relationships due to opiate use.
- Having to use opiates more frequently or in higher doses in order to achieve the desired effect.
- Experiencing withdrawal effects when stopping or reducing opiate use.
- Continuing opiate use despite this causes conflict with family members, friends, or other loved ones.
If you recognize any of these behaviors either in yourself or a loved one, it may be a good time to begin seeking out professional treatment and recovery support services. You can speak to a Find Addiction Rehabs representative today to find treatment options that work for you.
Side Effects of Opiate Abuse
There are various negative consequences that may occur due to someone’s abuse of opioids, whether these be prescribed or illicitly produced. Many of these side effects, if left unmanaged, can cause permanent damage, or even become life-threatening.
Short-Term Side Effects
Someone who uses natural or synthetic opioids without an actual need for them, or outside of their prescription guidelines, may experience several unpleasant short-term side effects, including:
- Stomach pain
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Mood changes
While these effects may not be life-threatening on their own, continued drug use may exacerbate these symptoms. At this point, they may become more dangerous in nature, or even produce additional health consequences of their own.
Long-Term Side Effects
The longer someone continues to abuse opiates, the more drastic the resulting health effects of this behavior will become. Over time, more severe problems may develop, including kidney, liver, or heart problems, as well as a condition called hypoxia.
Hypoxia occurs when opiate misuse results in the extreme slowing of a person’s breathing, preventing their brain from receiving enough oxygen. This can cause both short and long-term health effects, including more severe ones, such as brain damage, coma, and even death.
Is it Possible to Overdose on Opiates?
As with many drugs, there is such a thing as taking too many opiates. This is referred to as an opioid overdose which, if not properly treated, can quickly cause permanent damage, and even death.
Recognizing the signs of an opioid overdose can help prevent an affected individual from developing serious adverse health effects, including the ever-growing numbers of opioid overdose deaths currently plaguing the nation.
Signs of Opiate and Opioid Overdose
There are several warning signs of opioid overdose that can be looked out for if you suspect that you or someone else has taken too high a dosage of these substances. Possible side effects that may occur from this form of overdose include:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach spasms
- Low blood pressure
- Weak pulse
- Coma (unresponsiveness)
- Possible seizures
- Difficulty or complete stopping of breathing
- Blue-tinted lips & fingernails
How is an Opiate Addiction Treated?
There are several addiction treatment options available to those struggling with opioid addiction. While this treatment process will likely vary based on an individual’s specific recovery needs, this generally includes medical detox services, as well as inpatient and outpatient levels of care.
Integrated dual diagnosis treatment options may also be beneficial for those affected by co-occurring disorders. This can address both the addiction itself, as well as help these people recover from the underlying causes of their addictive habits.
Opioid addiction treatment may also include the administration of specific medicine during this process, which may help to reduce opioid cravings, as well as a recovering individual’s risk of relapse.
Figuring out what level of treatment is best for you can be overwhelming and may require extensive research. Speaking with a healthcare provider or addiction specialist, such as a Find Addiction Rehabs representative, can help you narrow down these options.
Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms
If someone who is dependent upon opiates attempts to stop or reduce their use of these substances on their own, they will usually experience unpleasant withdrawal side effects. This withdrawal process usually happens in two stages.
Stage One of Opiate Withdrawal
The first opiate withdrawal stage occurs within the first day of stopping opiate use, or even after just a few hours for more severe addictions. The symptoms of this stage include agitation, anxiety, muscle aches, watery eyes, runny nose, trouble sleeping, insomnia, and sweating.
Stage Two of Opiate Withdrawal
After the first one to two days, the second stage of withdrawal begins. This will usually produce symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dilated pupils, and goosebumps. These effects typically peak in three to four days, before gradually tapering off.
While rarely life-threatening, these symptoms can be very difficult to deal with by yourself. This is what makes medical detox an integral part of many individual’s treatment processes, as they can help manage and even prevent these effects.
Because of how severe the substance withdrawal process can be, many treatment centers also utilize a recovery method known as medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. MAT uses addiction medicine, and occasionally behavioral therapy to treat these conditions.
When using medicine to treat someone who is addicted to opioids, these programs may administer several drugs, including:
- Buprenorphine forms an effective drug craving reducer.
- Methadone can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, as well as prevent users from experiencing high opiate use.
- Naltrexone can prevent an opiate high but is only safe to use after the individual has been completely detoxed from an abused drug.
This form of treatment can help individuals better maintain their sobriety after they have completed their initial recovery process, and ensure they remain responsible for their continued abstinence from opiate abuse.
Finding Opiate and Opioid Addiction Treatment Services Near You
If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, know that you are not alone, and help IS available. At Find Addiction Rehabs, we help people like you find the recovery support and resources they need.
Our 24/7 hotline is staffed with addiction specialists who can help walk you through the treatment process and find an addiction treatment center capable of providing all of your or your loved one’s unique care needs.
So start your recovery process by calling now, and let us help you take that first step towards overcoming addiction and achieving a happier, healthier, and successfully sober you, today!
Nicole Rogers is an experienced and accomplished writer with special interests in the fields of Anthropology, English, and behavioral health, and has written countless articles for newspaper publications, institutional research journals, and Find Addiction Rehabs.
Her alma mater is Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Nicole hopes to spread awareness of and combat the stigmatization surrounding addiction and substance abuse treatment through her writing and work in the field.