Effect of Opioid Abuse
Author: Shernide Delva
Opioids are a class of narcotic drugs originally derived from the opium plant but may be synthetic or man-made. Drugs like Oxycodone, Methadone, Hydrocodone and most prescription pain killers are opioids. Heroin is an example of an illegal opiate.
Opioids are useful for their ability to decrease perception of pain, decrease reaction to pain and increase pain tolerance. As a result, opioids produce sedating effects as well as a strong sense of euphoria that can be addictive.
You may hear the term opiate or opioids. The different is opioids are narcotics derived from an opium poppy (natural). Opioids are narcotic drugs that are at least somewhat synthetic. Both terms are often used interchangeably.
Opioids Affect the Brain
Opioids attach to opioid receptors in the brain. Once attached, the brain receives a signal which blocks pain, slows breathing and results in a general calming anti-depressing effect. Doctors prescribe opioids because our bodies are not able to produce enough natural opioids to stop severe or chronic pain.
Opioids activate receptions because their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter. The similarity in structure tricks the brain receptors and allows the drugs to lock onto nerve cells. Although these drugs mimic brain chemicals, they still are not the same as natural neurotransmitters so abnormal messages are sent through the network.
Opioids target the brain’s reward system by flooding it with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates movement, emotion, cognition, motivation and feels of pleasure. An increase in dopamine produces a sense of euphoria which causes people to misuse drugs and acquire an addiction to them.
Our brains send us messages so we repeat life-sustaining activities by associating them with pleasure or reward. When the reward circuit is activated, the brain notes that it is something we should do again and again without thinking about it. Drug abuse stimulates this same circuit so through repetitive use, we begin to abuse drugs in the same way.
Withdrawal Symptoms of Opioids
A person with an addiction to opioids will develop a dependence and tolerance to the drug. This results in them having to take more of the drug to continue to get high. The increase use of these drugs result in physical dependence which is what causes withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms of opiate withdrawal include:
- Muscle Aches
Withdrawal from opioids can be very uncomfortable and many people return to using because they cannot handle the withdrawal symptoms. It is important to find the right treatment center that will put you on a plan that treats your withdrawal symptoms. Opiate detox is always recommended.
For most, the beginning of treatment involves detoxification which is the controlled and medically supervised withdrawal from the drug. There are a variety of detoxification methods and each person is different
- Often heroin addicts are switched to the synthetic methadone, a long-acting drug taken orally or injected. The dose is gradually reduced over a period of time.
- Although controversial, since the 70s many physicians realized that heroin addicts were unable to quit the drug so methadone maintained was a better option.
- Methadone can be continued indefinitely or the does can be gradually reduced in preparation for withdrawal.
- The drug clonidine is something administered to shorten the withdrawal time and relieve physical symptoms.
Another approach to maintenance is the partial opioid agonist buprenorphine. This drug is taken three times a week as a tablet absorbed under the tongue. The drug produces a mild opiate like effect. At high doses, it continues to produce a mild effect while displacing more potent drugs.
The drug is often taken with naloxone, a drug used to neutralize the effect of injected opiates. The combination is sold under the name of Suboxone. The main advantage of this drug is that patients can take it at home rather than have to use a methadone clinic making more patients willing to use the drug.
If you feel you are developing an addiction to opiates, find a professional to get you on the right treatment plan that works for you.
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