Opiates are a class of drugs, either natural or synthetic, derived from opium and originating in the poppy plant. The synthetic versions are actually called opioids, but both natural and man-made versions are generally referred to together as opiates or narcotics. The most common opiates are:
- Prescription pain relievers, including morphine, oxycontin, percocet, and vicodin
Opiates work by depressing the central nervous system, helping to suppress pain signals and slow breathing.
The use of opiates increases every year. increasing the chance for abuse and addiction to these substances. According to the Institute of Addiction Medicine, 31% of those age 12 or older began using illicit drugs with the use of opiates1. In fact, between the years of 1992 and 2003, just the abuse of narcotic prescription pain relievers increased by 140%1. Opiates are the largest type of drug abused after marijuana, which ranks at number one.
Opiate Abuse and Addiction
Opiate abuse is considered a disease, specifically a mental disorder. This condition is categorized by having a specific set of symptoms that can be diagnosed and treated. It is even listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by physicians to diagnose certain types of mental illness. The reason opiate addiction is classified as a mental health issue is because this type of addiction actually changes the workings of the brain. There are signs of opiate addiction that include physical, mental, and behavioral changes in the person who is addicted.
Signs of Opiate Addiction
There are several symptom and signs of opiate addiction and abuse. These include:
- Cravings for the desired substance
- An increased tolerance to the drug leading to greater amounts being used
- Withdrawal symptoms when not using narcotics
- Failure to meet obligations due to use
- Continued use of opiates despite the problems associated with such use
Cravings.Cravings for opiates are more than just strong desires to use the drug. These intense urges may take control of a person so that using the drug is all that is on their minds.
Tolerance.An early warning sign of opiate addiction is that of increased tolerance. This means that the person’s body needs more and more of the drug over a period of time just to feel the same effects. Increased tolerance may lead to taking the drug in other manners, such as crushing an oral pill to snort it to receive a stronger and more immediate effect.
Withdrawal.Those who are addicted to narcotics will experience withdrawal symptoms if they do not use the drug or if they try to quit using. Withdrawal symptoms happen due to changes that occur in the brain from nerve damage of an addicted individual. The brain stops producing endorphins, which are natural feel-good chemicals. Thus, it is not just that the person who is addicted wants the drug to feel good, they need the drug to keep from feeling bad. According to Addictions.com, signs of opiate addiction in connection with withdrawal include:
- Nausea, cramping, and vomiting
- Chills, sweating, and muscle tremors
- Muscle and bone pain
- Irritability or anxiety2
However, it is noted that life-threatening signs of opiate addiction withdrawal can occur depending on the severity of the addiction. These include:
- High fever
These life-threatening withdrawal symptoms require emergency care and treatment.
Obligations.Those addicted to narcotics spend all of their time using, obtaining, thinking about the drug, or finding ways to obtain it. They neglect responsibilities of family, work, and school in the process. Financial obligations are also neglected as those addicted to narcotics may spend all of their money and even sell what they have in order to obtain the drug.
Continued use.Despite the potential dangers of opiate use, symptoms with withdrawal, and the negative effect on life, finances, and relationships, those who are addicted will continue to use opiates regardless of the effects.
Those who suffer with signs of opiate addiction are at higher risk of overdosing on their drug of choice. Symptoms of overdose require immediate medical attention. Signs of opiate addiction overdose, according to paramedic Rod Brouhard3, may include:
- Restricted pupils
- Slurred speech
- Slow or halted breathing
- Lack of consciousness
If not treated immediately, overdose on narcotics can lead to death.
Treatment for Opiate Addiction
Opiate addiction can be effectively treated, just like any other disease. The difficulty is in encouraging the dependent individual to seek treatment by teaching that person the signs of opiate addiction.