Opiate addiction is one of the oldest addictions known to man, dating back to use of the opium in poppy plants in the Neolithic age (beginning in 10,200BC). Today, the term opiate is commonly used to describe painkillers, which are actually opioids (because they are semi-synthetic), but have the same effects and action on the brain of users. Painkillers that are referred to as opiates include OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Fentanyl, and Dilaudid, among others. True opiates are directly derived from the poppy plant and include morphine, heroin, and codeine.
Process of Opiate Addiction
Opiates are depressant drugs, which slow the functions of the brain and human body. Additionally, opiates have an analgesic effect that works to dull the brain’s perception of pain. Addiction to this class of drugs typically occurs gradually, through a series of effects with the brain and its functions.
- When opiates are used, the user initially experiences a rush of euphoria, which is caused by a flood of dopamine to the reward center. When stimulated, the reward center sends a message to the brain that the cause of the stimulation is a good and life-sustaining thing which should be repeated.
- When opiate use is continued, and large amounts of dopamine continue to be released, the brain responds by decreasing the amount of dopamine it naturally produces.
- Since dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure and well-being, without sufficient amounts, an individual will feel depressed, experience malaise, and have an overall sense of anxiety and dissatisfaction in life.
In addition to the psychological dependence produced by opiates, is a physical addiction that results in painful symptoms that largely mimic the flu. Many who initially use opiates may not be aware of this process, and when they stop using these drugs after a period of continuous use, withdrawal symptoms can be jarring and prompt continued use of opiates to resolve the problem.
In the modern world, opiate use is wide-spread, especially in the United States, where Americans consume 80% of the world’s supply of narcotic painkillers. While many people may start using opiates as a result of a legitimate medical need for pain management, millions of Americans begin using these drugs for recreational purposes. No matter how opiate use begins, addiction can quickly develop, depending on the individual and the amount and frequency of his or her opiate use.
Signs and Effects of Opiate Addiction
Opiate addiction, like any other addiction is characterized as the continued use of opiates despite repeated negative consequences resulting from use. Once addiction develops, individuals often lose control over their ability to change their behaviors, even when negative consequences continue to disrupt and damage their lives. Although the way opiates work is to change the brain’s perception of pain, they can change an individual’s entire thought process to the point at which his or her motivations, priorities, and sacrifices to maintain addiction become bizarre, erratic, and self-destructive.
As addiction develops, one of the most notable signs exhibited is a series of behaviors categorized as drug-seeking behaviors.
Opiates and Drug Seeking Behaviors
Depending on how an individual first begins using opiates, his or her drug seeking behavior may vary, but the following chart outlines examples of clear behavioral patterns associated with those who are drug seeking to get more opiates.
|Medical Drug Seeking||Recreational Drug Seeking|
|Using more opiates than directed, and running out prior to refill||Purchasing opiates from street level dealers|
|Doctor Shopping||Taking or stealing opiates from friends and family|
|Making frequent and/or late night emergency room visits||Purchasing opiates from overseas online pharmacies|
|Using opiates in unintended ways (i.e. snorting or injecting intravenously)||Soliciting “pill mills” or other medical practitioners who will write prescriptions for opiates in exchange for money|
Regardless of how an opiate addict goes about getting more opiates, there is little he or she will not do to maintain addiction and avoid opiate withdrawal symptoms. Since painkiller and heroin have the same action on the brain and produce the same kind of addiction, the effects of the use of both are identical in users. When an individual uses opiates of any kind, the most commonly known effect is overwhelming euphoria, but there are several other signs, some physical and some psychological. Many of the signs of opiate use can include such effects as:
- Constricted (pinpoint) pupils
- Heavy limbs
- Reduced blood pressure
- Shallow breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Droopy eyelids
It is also not uncommon for opiate users to vacillate in between periods of being awake and asleep, also known as nodding off. The more opiates are used, the higher an individual’s tolerance to the drugs becomes, which requires higher and more frequent doses in order to achieve the same effect. Over time, this tolerance can reach very dangerous levels, making each dose of opiates more and more deadly. This is especially dangerous because opiates are depressant drugs, and an overdose can easily result in respiratory depression and death. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 14,800 people died from opiate painkillers in 2008.
Death is the ultimate price to pay for opiate addiction, but there are many other negative consequences addicts experience throughout the course of their addiction to opiates. Often, several of these consequences seem like everyday life for addicts, as they are rarely enough for these individuals to accept the fact that their lives are out of control. Some of the negative consequences commonly experienced by addicts include, but are not limited to:
- Legal trouble from charges for DUI, possession, sale, and solicitation of controlled substances
- Financial burdens resulting from spending all available resources on opiates
- Inability to maintain or establish employment resulting from frequent absenteeism, unacceptable work production, and/or erratic behaviors at work
- Broken or lost relationships resulting from opiate addiction
- Health issues and complications from excessive opiate use, using dirty or used needles for intravenous injection
- Placing oneself in dangerous and compromising positions in attempts to get more opiates (i.e. illegal activities like theft, fraud, and prostitution or dangerous situations like meeting violent street dealers)
Signs of Opiate Addiction
Many of the signs of opiate addiction can be recognized across all addictions. These are typically behavioral and relating to physical appearance, but generally provide an accurate picture of a loved one who is addicted to opiates. Some of these signs include:
|Change in personal hygiene and physical appearance||Change in friends and associates|
|Discovery of drug paraphernalia (i.e. needles, spoons, excessive amounts of lighters, aluminum foil, etc.)||Drastic and sudden mood swings|
|Excessive need for more privacy (i.e. locking doors)||Drastic weight loss|
|Track marks on arms, hands legs, feet, and neck (for intravenous use of opiates)||Loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable|
|Frequently appearing intoxicate and/or high||Becoming irate or hostile when confronted about opiate use|
Recognizing the signs of opiate addiction can be devastating to the loved ones of the addict, as they realize their worse fears. Often, families do not know how to begin to confront an addicted loved one, or where to begin to look for help. The truth of the matter is that addiction is a non-discriminatory, progressive and fatal disease until the addict agrees to participate in a drug rehab program. Although it often has personal roots, anyone can become addicted, and societies worldwide have lost some of the most talented, brightest, most promising members to addiction.
If you, or a loved one is addicted to opiates and in need to direction and guidance of where to look for help, or the kind of help that is needed, please stop looking and call us now to speak with a trained counselor about your situation. We understand the hardships of opiate addiction and the urgency of addiction treatment. We will work with you to determine the most effective type of drug rehab, based on needs, preference, and belief system to ensure that the message received in treatment is one that is conducive and in line with the way in which the individual prefers.
Opiate addiction ends in death for many, but millions have saved their own lives by learning the skills and tools of survival and sobriety, offered by addiction treatment. Call us now and let us help you find the treatment program that will work for you. We are here to help.