Opioid medications are also known as narcotic medications or opiate medications. Some examples of opioid medications include: morphine, oxymorphone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, buprenorphine, fentanyl, levorphanol, alfentanil and codeine, though there are numerous others available not only on the market in the United States, but across the globe as well. Opioid medications are the most powerful of all known pain relievers, and they have been used for pain relieving purposes for millennia.
The way that opioids act is by binding to the opioid receptors on the neurons in the nervous system as well as the immune system. These opioid receptors are binding sites for a number of endogenous peptides such as endorphins and dynorphins. These are responsible for a number of essential functions including motivation, mood, respiration, stress, temperature, pain, endocrine activity and gastrointestinal activity. This is why these opioid drugs can have such a profound impact on so many different aspects of the body’s function all at once.
Positive Effects of Opioid Medications
Opioid medications can offer a lot of positive effects when patients are taking them as prescribed. These positive effects can include relief of pain, positive alteration of mood and cough suppression. The most common reason behind prescribing this medication is to deal with pain especially in patients who experience chronic, severe pain such as individuals suffering from cancer or severe autoimmune disorders.
Negative Effects of Opioid Medications
The negative effects of opioid medication use fit into two categories. There are negative effects that occur from its normal usage and those which occur as a result of overuse, abuse or dependency on the drug. Opioid medications can cause respiratory depression which can lead to death in an overdose situation. These medications may also cause pruritus, vomiting, nausea, miosis or pinpoint pupils and a number of other undesirable side effects of use. Patients must consider these side effects when taking opioid medications, but the most important consideration is the addictive properties of opioid medications.
Substance Abuse Involving Opioids – Substance abuse typically entails any type of use of a drug or medical substance that goes against how that medication was originally prescribed. If you are taking a medication in any manner that defies the prescribing physician’s recommendations, then you fall into this category of substance abuse. The problem with opioid medications is that any level of substance abuse can lead more quickly to a physical tolerance and addiction to that drug. The rush sensation that opioid medications create in the brain are what cause those using it, to crave more of the medication. When opioids are used chronically, physical dependence and physical tolerance can occur.
- Physical Tolerance – This occurs when the body becomes accustomed to the medication to the point where it experiences a perceived reduction in the effects of the medication.
- Physical Dependence – In a physical dependency situation, the body has become dependent on the drug and craves more of it. The downside to physical dependence is that the body will begin to produce many unwanted side effects in order to signal this craving including withdrawal symptoms and feelings of sickness until the patient takes the medication again.
Many people begin their opioid drug abuse simply by:
- Taking more of the drug in a single dosage than how the drug was prescribed.
- Taking dosages of the drug more frequently than how the drug was prescribed.
- Taking the drug in a manner which goes against how it was prescribed, such as by crushing and snorting a tablet or dissolving a tablet in water or another fluid and then injecting it intravenously. This is one of the greatest steps into substance abuse because these medications were not designed to be use in this manner.
Perils of Opioid Substance Abuse – When people begin to take opioid medications in an abusive manner, there are a number of negative effects that can occur. For example:
- Intravenous injection of opioid medications can cause a severe, rapid high that is followed by unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, typically within a few hours.
- The unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that stem from this rapid change typically cause the individual to take more of the drug immediately or to try and get more of the drug if they do not have enough.
- Many opioid abusers become drug seekers, having to shop for multiple pharmacies in order to secure more of the medication. This has led to legislation in many areas requiring permission from the prescribing physician prior to filling prescriptions of narcotic medications and opioid drugs.
- When the opioid medication abuser can no longer acquire the medication through legal means, they may either begin trying other opioid medications or they may engage in illegal or destructive activities in order to acquire more of the drug.
There are many problems with this cycle. The largest is the fact that people using opioid medications in a destructive or abusive manner will continue to develop a stronger and stronger tolerance to the drug, requiring them to consume more and more of it. Not only will they require more of the drug to get the same “high” that cause the substance abuse problem in the first place, but they will also require more of the drug in order to get the same effects for which they are taking the drug in the first place. In other words, someone who is taking an opioid like morphine for severe and chronic pain may suddenly be unable to get any pain relief from the drug because they have been abusing it and developing a tolerance over time.
When the individual with the substance abuse problem suddenly stops taking the drug, withdrawal symptoms set in. These are potentially serious and even life threatening symptoms that affect the individual in order to signal that the body wants more of the substance. These can include symptoms that are simply irritating, such as nausea and vomiting to those that are actually quite life threatening, including serious heart arrhythmias as well as stroke, seizures and overdose related death.
Another serious problem associated with opioid substance abuse and addiction is that people who once suffered from addiction to the drug can actually relapse long after the withdrawal symptoms disappear. Researchers are still trying to understand the specific mechanism behind this relapse, but it is thought that stress, exposure to conditional cues and any dosage of the drug may bring about the relapse symptoms. Because relapse is always a possibility, even years in the future, it becomes essential to work with the right people when overcoming a substance abuse problem involving opioid medications.
Getting Help and Support – Many people believe that they can overcome addiction without assistance. The truth is the most effective way to overcome a substance abuse problem involving an opioid medication is to work closely with a drug rehabilitation facility in your local area. Working with expert medical professionals can help you overcome not only the physical impact of opioid drug dependence but the psychological and emotional impacts as well. Getting the right help is essential, because if you do not have the support that you need, you may end up relapsing or simply being unable to quit. When you consider the health implications of an opioid abuse problem, you should understand that getting help now is the absolute best thing that you can do. The right support and medical care can go a long way in ensuring that you overcome your opioid abuse problem so that you can focus on achieving good health and longevity.