What Opioid Abuse Does to the Body

Opioids are a broad class of drugs that range from medically beneficial and legally prescribed painkillers to illicit street drugs with no medical use, like heroin. Most people encounter opioids as extremely potent medications prescribed to treat chronic, severe, or post-surgical pain. When used as prescribed, opioids are relatively safe and effective, but when misused or used illegally, they can be deadly. Opioid abuse is a growing problem in the United States. Many people began using painkillers in a legally prescribed manner but found themselves slowly drawn into the cycle of addiction.

Because of the potential for addiction, doctors have begun to watch opioid use among patients closely. All patients taking opioids should make sure medical professionals closely monitor their dosage. Addiction, now referred to as substance use disorder (SUD), is characterized by the continued use of a substance despite adverse consequences. It is a chronic, relapsing mental disorder that can range from mild to severe.

Should legally prescribed use stray into abuse, dependency, or addiction, a professional opioid rehab center like that at BlueCrest Recovery Center is the best option for treatment. Call 888.292.9652 to learn more about the effects of opioid abuse and treatment options.

How Opioids Interact With the Brain and Body

Opioids interact with the opioid receptors of the brain, blocking pain signals and triggering relaxation, euphoria, and an overall sense of well-being. These drugs influence how pain signals are transmitted via the spinal cord and central nervous system in order to alter how the body perceives pain. Because of these effects, opioids are also used illegally for recreational purposes.

Opioids send chemical messengers to the “pleasure and reward” center of the brain, causing a rush of dopamine throughout the body. Dopamine, often called the “feel-good hormone,” triggers intensely pleasurable effects. While the body naturally increases dopamine levels in response to a pleasurable experience, opioids cause an unnaturally high increase in dopamine. Due to the intensity of the opioid-produced “high,” the desire to recreate the experience is strongly reinforced.

As opioid use continues, the brain adapts to the presence of certain levels of the drug, resulting in an increasingly higher amount of the opioid needed to achieve the desired response. This adaptation is called tolerance and is how the cycle of dependence and addiction begins. After a prolonged period of use, the brain may become incapable of experiencing pleasure without the drug.

Once tolerance exists, and drug use is stopped, withdrawal symptoms are likely. Symptoms may include:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Uncontrollable spasms, especially in the legs
  • Pounding heart
  • Severe cravings

Drugs are available to treat withdrawal symptoms of opioid abuse as part of medication-assisted therapy at a professional treatment center. Treatment helps to reduce the risk of relapse and provides tools for a successful recovery from opioid addiction.

What Are Some Side Effects of Opioid Abuse?

NIDA warns that opioid abuse can be life-threatening. The most significant risk may be severe respiratory depression, which can cause breathing to be so slow that users fall into a coma or experience brain damage. Other side effects of opioid abuse can include:

  • Drowsiness – can be extreme
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Constipation – can be severe
  • Sedation
  • Respiratory depression and arrest
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma
  • Death

The above side effects are possible even when the drug is used as prescribed; however, they are much more likely to occur when the drug is misused or used illegally.

Additional serious side effects have been reported and may include the following:

  • Lethargy
  • Vision problems
  • Stiff or rigid muscles
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Urine retention
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite

The chances of severe side effects and life-threatening reactions are greatly increased with the use of illegally produced opioid drugs.

Effects of Opioid Abuse: Opioid Overdose

Opioid overdose is a medical emergency. If you experience the following signs or observe them in another person, call immediately for emergency medical assistance. According to the DEA, warning signs of opioid overdose may include the following:

  • Stupor
  • Changes in pupillary size
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Coma
  • Respiratory failure leading to death

The DEA points to a “triad of symptoms,” including coma, pinpoint pupils, and respiratory depression (slowed breathing) as most indicative of opioid poisoning.

How Is Opioid Overdose Treated?

If help arrives quickly, an opioid overdose may be successfully reversed by administering a drug called naloxone.

Some states allow pharmacies to dispense naloxone to family and friends without a prescription. Many lives have been saved by non-medical individuals administering the nasal spray or auto-injector versions of naloxone. If you are at risk or know someone at risk for opioid overdose, see the CDC website for more information on naloxone.

Contact BlueCrest Recovery Center for Opioid Abuse Treatment

BlueCrest Recovery Center offers an intensive outpatient program (IOP) for those seeking to recover from the use of opioids and other synthetic or prescription drugs. Contact us today at 888.292.9652 or reach out online to learn more about our opioid abuse treatment and recovery programs and how we can help you or a loved one overcome their addiction.

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