Opiates are medicines made from the seeds of the opium poppy plant. These medicines are usually used to treat moderate to severe pain, especially for people with chronic pain conditions or terminal cancer, and can also be used to treat severe diarrhea. One of the other side effects of opiates, however, is that they can make you feel relaxed and give you a “high.” This is what makes opiates dangerous, as these effects make them very easy for a person to become addicted to.

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 refer to a class of drugs that 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 the drugs that are derived from the opium poppy plant. There are four different opiates, which includes:

  • Opium
  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Codeine

Opium and heroin are both considered illegal drugs. Morphine and codeine, however, are still used in modern medicine for pain relief.

How do Opiates Affect Your Health?

One of the biggest problems with opiates is that your body builds up a tolerance to them. This means that you will have to take more and more in order to feel their effects, both in regards to pain relief and getting high. The more opiates you take, the more likely you are to have negative side effects. These effects can include:

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Itchiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Sweating

The longer that you abuse opiates, the worse these symptoms will become. Over time, even more severe problems can arise, such as kidney, liver, or heart problems, and a condition called hypoxia. This happens when opiates cause your breathing to slow too much, which doesn’t allow enough oxygen to get to your brain. Hypoxia can cause both short and long-term health problems, including brain damage, coma, and even death.

Signs of Opiate Abuse and Addiction

The signs of opiate addiction can be psychological, behavioral, and physical. And while many people think opiate abuse only happens if you take them without a prescription, this simply isn’t true. Many people who end up with an opiate addiction started with a prescription from their doctor for pain relief. It is all too easy, however, to abuse these drugs even with a prescription. If you aren’t sure whether or not you’re abusing opiates, here are some questions that you can ask yourself:

  • Are you taking larger amounts of opiates, or taking them for longer than you were supposed to?
  • Have you tried to cut down or stop taking opiates, but find that you can’t?
  • Do you spend a lot of time getting opiates, or dealing with their side effects?
  • Do you crave opiates when you aren’t taking them?
  • Are you having issues at work, school, or home?
  • Have you stopped doing things you used to enjoy so that you can take opiates?
  • Do you need to take more opiates in order to feel better?
  • Do you experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking them?
  • Have you started resorting to using illegal opiates because you can no longer get prescriptions for legal ones?

If you can answer “yes” to more than one or two of these questions, there is a good chance that you are already addicted to opiates, and should seek help at an opiate addiction treatment program.

Opiate Withdrawal Effects Can Be Severe

When someone is addicted to opiates, it means that their body is physically dependent on these drugs. So if you stop taking them, or try to take less, you are likely to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Opiate withdrawal usually happens in two stages.

The first stage starts within a day of stopping opiate use, though for people with long-term addictions it can start within just a few hours. The symptoms of this stage of withdrawal include agitation, anxiety, muscle aches, watery eyes, runny nose, trouble sleeping, insomnia, and sweating.

After a day or two, the second state of withdrawal will begin. These symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dilated pupils, and goosebumps. These symptoms usually peak in three to four days before slowly tapering off.

The entire withdrawal process usually takes a week, but can last a little longer for people with the most serious addictions. While these symptoms are rarely life-threatening, they are very difficult to deal with on your own. That is why rehab treatment facilities offer detox programs. These programs are designed to help support people with medical treatments during withdrawal so that the symptoms are less severe and easier to deal with. And if you do end up having a serious problem, you will receive immediate help from their medical staff.

Opiate Addiction Treatment Options

While not all treatment options will suit every person, most rehab centers are very successful in treating opiate addiction with something called medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. MAT uses medicines along with behavioral therapy to treat opiate addiction. The medications used in MAT affect the same area of the brain that opiates do, without giving people a “high.” There are a few different medications that are commonly used during medication-assisted treatment for opiate addiction. These include:

  • Buprenorphine, which works to reduce drug cravings.
  • Methadone, which works to reduce drug cravings as well as withdrawal symptoms, and also helps prevent users from getting high if they do use opiates.
  • Naltrexone, which prevents users from getting high on opiates. This medication is only safe for use after a person has totally detoxed from opiates.

Each of these medications are safe to use for an extended period of time, under a doctor’s supervision. This is very helpful because of how difficult it is to overcome opiate addiction, unless you’ve undergone thorough addiction treatment. Because these drugs change the way that your brain works, many people find that they still crave opiates months or years after they stopped using them. These medications help your brain slowly adjust to being opiate-free without negative side effects or drug cravings. This means that you will be far more likely to remain sober after you have completed your treatment plan, keeping you on the road to a lasting recovery from your addiction.