Some opiates are illicit drugs, such as heroin. Others are commonly prescribed painkillers, including codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, Dilaudid (hydromorphone), Demerol (meperidine), methadone, morphine, Oxycontin (oxycodone), Suboxone (buprenorphine), and Percocet (oxycodone + acetaminophen). Opioids are typically taken in pill form, while some drugs in this class are available in a transdermal patch (sticks to the skin), such as fentanyl.
Effects of Opiates Use
The body makes natural opiates as a response to pain. The body’s opiates are not very strong, and their effects fade quickly. When a person uses opiates that come from outside the body, such as Vicodin, the brain is flooded with pain-blocking chemicals that bind to opiate receptors, creating fast relief from intense pain.
When taken as prescribed by a doctor, opiates are effective at relieving pain. However, many people build up a tolerance to opiates quickly, which results in the need to take larger amounts of the drug to get the same pain-relieving effects. When taken in larger doses than prescribed by a doctor, opiates create a euphoric, blissful effect that can quickly lead to addiction.
When the brain gets used to receiving opiates from outside the body, it may stop making opiates independently. This means a person who stops getting outside opiates may feel their body is in a constant state of pain and discomfort. Many addicted to opiates began misusing the drug(s) to stop the discomfort of withdrawal and continue feeling the euphoric high that opiates produce. Stopping often requires professional help to manage withdrawal and learn sober skills to stop their reliance on opiates.
While opiate addiction can be devastating in the short-term, long-term effects can be even more difficult. As with any drug, long-term effects of use can differ from person to person and may depend on sex, dosage, other drugs used in combination with opiates, personal biochemistry, and more. Possible long-term effects of opiate use may include:
- Restlessness and/ or insomnia
- Muscle, bone, and joint pain
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea and vomiting
- Changes in speech and cognition
While recovery from opiate addiction is possible, it is essential to get help from a qualified, professional recovery center. Many people who attempt to stop opiates find that it is impossible to get clean without help.
It is possible to become addicted to opiates in as little as a few weeks. Some early signs of this would be running out of prescribed opiates quickly and then beginning to “doctor shop,” meaning they make appointments with several doctors in hopes of getting new prescriptions for opiates. Others steal pills and even money from friends and family members, buy drugs illegally, or even turn to heroin.
Withdrawal symptoms differ from person to person and may include:
- A general feeling of pain or discomfort throughout the body
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
- Anxiety, irritability, and other negative cognitive/ mood changes
- Sleeping changes, such as extreme fatigue or insomnia
As the opiate crisis continues to sweep the United States, there is an increasing body of research on how these drugs affect people. Recent studies on opiate use have found:
- More than 130 people in the United States overdose on opiates every day.
- Between 21 and 29 percent of people prescribed opiates for chronic pain use the drug differently from how their doctor prescribed it.
- Eighty percent of heroin users took opiates at some point before trying heroin.
The statistics are clear – many people start using opiates for a physical ailment and may find themselves unable to stop.
While detoxing from opiates is not typically life-threatening, it can be extremely uncomfortable. Symptoms of detox may include:
- Shaking and chills, with or without sweating
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Intense cravings for opiates
Many people who attempt to detox on their own end up using again, promising themselves that it is the last time. It can be hard to go through the physical and mental symptoms of withdrawal alone. A medically supervised detox is often recommended to ease discomfort and begin recovering from opiate use disorder.
Signs of Opiates Addiction
If an individual is struggling with opiates or heroin addiction, there are some common signs that it may be an addiction and need to get help may include:
- Constant focus on how to get more opiates
- Stealing opiates from family members
- Illegally purchasing opiates
- Feeling a sense of unease or discomfort when you go too long without opiates
- Anxiety at the thought of running out of pills
If you are struggling with oxycodone addiction, you are not alone, and opiate addiction treatment is available. Reach out today to start the journey of getting your life back.