How Opioids Affect Your Body
The United States has been facing a tremendous problem that’s destroyed millions of lives in the form of the ongoing opioid epidemic since the 1990’s.
Each year thousands more people are drawn to this addictive substance. This crisis kills over 130 people a day.
Addiction to opioids can destroy your life, and it can also cause great harm to your body. Today, we’ll take a closer look at opioids and the damage they can do.
What Are Opioids
Opioid derivatives have been used for millennia to treat pain. They are a type of drug found naturally in the opium poppy plant. Evidence suggests ancient users were aware of the psychoactive effects of opium. The Sumerians referred to the vibrant red flowers as “the joy plant”.
Different uses were found for this flower over the centuries. Some applications are medicinal, while others are purely recreational.
Morphine is derived from the seeds of opium poppies, and heroin is made from morphine. You can now also find synthetic opiates.
The most commonly used opioids today include:
- Prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin
- Synthetic opioids like fentanyl
- Illegal substances like heroin
Opiates are highly addictive substances, whether the opiates are naturally derived or found in the form of prescription drugs. They can trigger many problems for anyone that uses them.
Addiction to Opioids
Addiction to opioids usually happens accidentally. These drugs are commonly prescribed to patients after surgeries or when they’ve sustained an injury. Over time the body builds a tolerance to the drug, and more is needed to achieve the same level of relief. The patient can easily become addicted to the opioid if they are not careful.
The CDC reports that up to 25% of all people taking prescription opioids will become addicted. Once a person is addicted it can feel impossible to quit.
Opioids operate in essentially the same way that all addictive substances do. Feel-good chemicals are released in the body when it’s used. Taking opioids not only dulls pain, but can also induce relaxation and near-euphoria.
Unfortunately, prolonged use of opioids can create many problems.
How Do Opioids Affect Your Brain?
Your body releases large amounts of dopamine when you continue to use opioids. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical and it triggers the reward pathways of your brain. This process is what tells your brain to continue using opioids because it makes you feel good.
Using opioids can alter and damage these pathways over time. Repeated use of opioids becomes a “boy who cried wolf” situation for the brain. Then, brain no longer recognizes the dopamine release or the illumination of reward pathways.
The user must take a higher dose, or use more illicit heroin, to experience the same high.
This quickly leads to addiction. In addition, if the person is unable to get the fix they need, they will experience opioid withdrawal.
Opioid withdrawal can be intensely painful. It can also cause psychological and mental problems like anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.
Studies have shown that dependence on opioids can permanently alter the brains of those who are addicted.
Physical Effect of Opioids
So, opioids can cause changes to your mental state and can easily lead to addiction.
There are also many physical side effects to using opioids, both short-term and long-term.
Short-term Effects of Opioids
Opioids can quickly take effect on the body, and these effects are felt more strongly by new users.
Some of these short term effects include:
- Respiratory depression
If you’ve ever been prescribed opioid painkillers, you’ll know the bottle advises against driving or operating heavy machinery. The warning stems from these short-term effects.
Long-term Effects of Opioids
As well as being highly addictive, opioids can also cause other long-term health problems. Due to tolerance building, it’s not uncommon for people to take too many opioids.
Higher doses of opioids can have serious long-term side effects like:
- Bloating and distention of the abdomen
- Depressed immune system
- Heart problems
- Higher risk of depression
- Nausea and vomiting
- Higher risk for disease of the liver and kidneys
- HIV risk
High doses of the drug can slow or stop your breathing. This is because opioids depress the body’s central nervous system. The hypoxia can result in brain damage, a coma, or even death.
Other Effects of Opioids
Excessive use of opioids can bring about other problems as well.
Researchers have found that people who abuse opioids face many issues including:
- Cognitive impairment
- High divorce rate
- Financial problems
- High rates of incarceration
- Low achievement in life
- High suicide rates
- Low life expectancies
What Comes Next
If you or someone you love is facing life while battling an opioid addiction, you don’t have to beat it alone.