What are Opioids? Why are They So Dangerous? Opioids are synthetic drugs designed to replicate the effects of natural opiates (i.e., opium and morphine) from which they are partially derived. They are indicated to treat moderate-severe acute pain, such as after injuries and surgeries.
Types of Opioids
Opioids are commonly prescribed legally by health care providers and include, but are not limited to the following:
- fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, etc.)
- hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER)
- hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Norco, Vicodin)
- hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- meperidine (Demerol)
- methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
- morphine (MS Contin, Morphabond)
- oxycodone (OxyContin)
- oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet, Roxicet)
How Opioids Work?
Opioids are chemicals that contribute to pain relief by attaching themselves to corresponding receptors in the brain cells of animals. Once bonded, the cells transmit signals that stifle feelings of pain and increase feelings of well-being.
However, opioids alter one’s perception of pain more than they actually numb or block it. This effect can lead to increased sensitivity to pain, also known as opioid-induced hyperalgesia.
Other possible side effects and dangers of opioid abuse include:
- Heavy sedation
- Blurred vision
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle fatigue
- Changes in appetite
- Skin rash
Tolerance, Dependency, and Addiction
Opioids have a high potential for misuse, dependency, and overdose. Their psychoactive properties impact a number of neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine that produce euphoria and feelings of reward.
Signs and symptoms of opioid addiction include, but are not limited to the following:
- Continued opioid use despite unwanted physical and psychological effects.
- Lack of interest or enjoyment in activities once considered important.
- The use of opioids in dangerous or inappropriate settings.
- Negative changes or problems in other areas of life such as work, school, relationships, and financial status.
- General malaise, lethargy, or sedation.
When used long-term (more than a few days) opioids can become addictive. Addiction is fueled by dependency (withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation) and tolerance (increasing amounts of the drugs are needed to achieve the same effect.)
Dependency decreases one’s desire to quit or cut down, due to the unpleasant effects of withdrawal. The onset of withdrawal symptoms is a tell-tale sign that the user’s system has become compomised and less capable of functionally properly without the drug’s presence. These mental and physical symptoms often persist for several days after the user’s last dose.
Symptoms of opioid withdrawal may include but are not limited to the following:
- Mood swings
- Appetite changes
- Enlarged pupils
- Chills and shivering
- Rapid breathing
- Muscle aches and pains
- Sleep disturbances
- Runny/stuffy nose
On the other hand, tolerance drives users to take higher doses, which can lead to potentially life-threatening central nervous system (CNS) depression, a condition characterized by slowed breathing and heart rate.
Also, when combined with the use of alcohol, benzodiazepines, or other CNS depressants, an opioid’s impact is exponentially greater than when used alone. The effects of other substances can be enhanced as well, meaning the risk of overdose and death is significantly higher.
Opioids and Overdose
Opioid misuse, especially in combination with other drugs or alcohol, can lead to life-threatening central nervous depression, overdose, and death.
Symptoms of an opioid overdose include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Restricted pupils
- Low blood pressure
- Pale, blue lips and nails
- Limp body
- Cold, clammy skin
- Respiratory distress
- Extremely slow heart rate
- Respiratory depression
- Coma and death
From Detox to Addiction Treatment and Beyond
Despite the dangers of opioid addiction, may who misuse prescription painkillers such as oxycodone downplay the seriousness of their condition. Refusal to seek help can result in chronic, life-threatening effects. Conversely, receiving treatment at any stage of addiction is absolutely crucial to long-term sobriety.
Treatment for opioid use disorder starts with our medical detox program, a process in which health care providers monitor patients around the clock and administer medication-assisted treatment (MAT) as needed to lessen cravings and mitigate the symptoms of withdrawal. MAT is a therapy that makes use of pharmaceutical drugs approved for the treatment of opioid use disorders, such as methadone and suboxone.
Upon discharge, most patients seek admission to one of our treatment programs, which include both inpatient and intensive outpatient therapy (IOP).
Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Persons who choose inpatient treatment stay reside in our center 24/7, ideally for 30 days or longer. Those who require more freedom due to school, work, or family responsibilities can opt for IOP treatment, a program that requires the attendance of several scheduled sessions per week while the patient lives independently outside of the center.
Why Seek Our Help?
Opioid use disorder is extremely hazardous and even life-threating. It is an incurable disease that is best treated through ongoing therapy, counseling, and support. Those who receive treatment are given the opportunity to regain control of their addiction and well-being while enjoying long-term sobriety – hopefully for the rest of their lives.
Our Approach To Addiction Treatment
We provide a comprehensive, holistic method to treatment, encompassing a wide array of different evidence-based practices in combination. All of Midwood Addiction Treatment’s primary therapists are either licensed or master’s level clinicians.
Our programs are structured with various components of evidence-based treatment practices and holistic approaches to treatment that provide our patients with the knowledge and tools they need to be successful in their recovery.
If you or your loved one is suffering from substance abuse, please seek help as soon as possible.