What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of synthetic and partially synthetic drugs and compounds that are used as painkillers. An opium-like substance, in which is derived from natural opium alkaloids, opioids act on the brain’s receptors to relieve pain.

Opioids are essentially used as a term for the whole family of opiates. Medical professionals refer to the term “opioid” in substitution for “opiate,” even though they’re definitions are very similar.

The main difference between opioids and opiates is that opiates encompass drugs that are naturally derived from the poppy plant’s active narcotic components while opioids describe both synthetic and partially synthetic drugs. These terms are interchangeable, however.

Opioids are always prescribed by a doctor for pain relief, but because of the euphoric feeling that one can receive from taking the drug, it is often misused in terms of prescribed dosage.

Because they’re so effective in pain management, they can become highly addictive which ultimately leads to opioid dependency. The rapidly growing epidemic of opioid addiction is staggering.

This is why seeking professional drug and alcohol addiction at a professional treatment facility is absolutely necessary, as an addict cannot simply abstain from opiate abuse on his or her own.

List of Common Opioids

Opiate addiction has swept the nation at an alarming rate, and the number of opioid-related deaths continues to grow more and more each day.

These pain relievers are oftentimes diverted for nonmedical purposes, are highly misused, and are sold on the streets illegally.
Some of the better-known opioids include:
• Actiq
• Duragesic
• OxyContin
• Fentanyl
• Dilaudid
• Sublimaze
• Percocet
• Percodan
• Hydrocodone
• Oxycodone
• Morphine
• Demerol

To be well informed of the names of these opioids is imperative, especially for the loved ones of those that are suffering from opioid addiction.

Many of these generic and combination opioid prescriptions are derived from a mix of fentanyl, morphine sulfate, methadone hydrochloride, oxymorphone hydrochloride, codeine, and acetaminophen.

There are many street names for opiates and opioids, as oftentimes they are sold illegally. Some of these street names include:

• Oxycat
• Tango and Cash
• Apache
• China Girl
• Goodfella
• Percs
• Hillbilly Heroin
• Demmies
• Cody or Captain Cody
• Schoolboy

How Do Opiates Work?

Opioids work by attaching their molecular structure to tiny parts of the brain’s nerve cells called, “opioid receptors.” There are 3 different types of opioid receptors. These 3 receptors are kappa, delta, and mu, which are named after letters of the Greek alphabet.

Each of these opioid receptors work on different parts of the brain and each one plays a different role.

The mu receptor, for example, is responsible for the opioids’ euphoric and pleasurable effects, as well as their ability for pain relief. Opioids act on numerous parts of the brain and the brain’s nervous system.

What Parts of the Brain Do Opioids Affect?

Opioids affect a number of areas in the brain, on which include: the limbic system, the brain stem, and the spinal cord.

The limbic system of the brain controls emotions, as well as more advanced mental functions, such as the formation of memories and learning. Opioids tend to suppress emotions by creating feelings of relaxation, pleasure, and contentment. The limbic system of the brain is located under the brain’s cerebrum.

The brainstem controls everything that you do involuntarily or automatically, such as breathing, swallowing, consciousness, blood pressure, heart rate, etc. It controls the flow of messages between the person’s brain and the rest of their body. Connected to the spinal cord, the brainstem consists of the medulla oblongata, the pons, and the midbrain.

The spinal cord commands the center of your body, in which it is essentially your brain’s central nervous system. Similar to that of the brainstem, the spinal cord acts as a back and forth pathway for messages that are sent from the brain to the body and vice versa.

learn more about how opioids affect the brain.

The Opioid Epidemic

Covering a wide range of drugs, such as morphine, codeine, and fentanyl, opioid addiction is a massive epidemic and continues to become a major problem more and more each day.

Medications are rather overprescribed in the United States and are surprisingly easy to obtain. Doctors are notorious for overprescribing opiates and opioids, and because of this, there was a major crackdown on freely prescribing opioids and opiates in the US.

The opioid epidemic has resulted in 100,000 deaths per population in each state of the United States per year. Because opioids are being used to mix with heroin, this also contributes to the alarming death rate of the opioid epidemic.

Fentanyl, for instance, is up to 50 times more powerful than that of heroin. It looks, smells, and tastes nearly identical, so there is really no way of knowing if the heroin is cut with fentanyl. This has led to a staggering amount of overdoses in the last 5 years alone.

This, along with a plethora of reasons, is why seeking professional treatment at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center is so necessary. Men and women ranging from the ages of 16 to 60+ are primarily affected by the continuously growing opioid epidemic.

The opioid epidemic and/or opioid crisis is so serious that by 2015 alone, the annual death rate for opiate-related overdoses surpassed the annual death rate of both homicides and car accidents combined.

Drug overdoses have become more prevalent in Americans under the age of 50, with a staggering two-thirds of those deaths caused by opiate and opioids. While death rates vary from state to state, the opioid epidemic is of critical significance and should be recognized and openly discussed.

Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

There are a number of indicators that someone is addicted to opioids. They vary from person to person, but in general are almost equivalent to that of the symptoms associated with heroin and all prescription pain medications.

Physical signs of opioid and opiate addiction include:

• Noticeable euphoria
• Noticeable drowsiness or sedation
• Constricted pupils
• Loss of consciousness or intermittent nodding off
• Constipation
• Slower breathing
• Confusion

More behavioral signs of opiate addiction or abuse include:

• Isolation/social withdrawal
• Sudden financial instabilities
• Doctor shopping
• Mood swings

People that are addicted to opiates and opioids may also experience withdrawal symptoms if they are abused for an extended period of time. These withdrawal symptoms may include:

• Migraine headaches
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Inability to Sleep
• Restless legs
• Anxiety
• Fatigue
• Excessive sweating and shaking
• Diarrhea

Why Are Opioids and Opiates So Addictive?

When opiates and opioids are taken and act on the brain, they trigger the part of the brain that experiences pleasure. Because these drugs are so powerful, they send this part of the brain into overdrive, causing extreme relief, euphoria, and elation.

It makes perfect sense as to why someone would become addicted to opioids, as anyone would want to experience the feelings associated with opioid use. Opioid use results in a release of the dopamine chemical in the brain, which is also known as the pleasure chemical.

This highly contributes to opiate addiction and ultimately, the widespread opiate crisis in America.

Opioids Tolerance, Dependency, and Addiction

Just like most other drugs, an opioid addict may experience an increased level of tolerance for the drug over time. This is when they become not only mentally dependent on the drug, but also physically dependent.

People who are in legitimate pain that abuse opioids will have an increased tolerance over time, which may result in their pain becoming worse since the pain-relieving effects of the drugs are lessened.

Opioid addiction interferes with daily life and will make an addict’s life unmanageable. Even opioid addicts that go to work every day and are fully functioning are always in an altered mindset.

People don’t realize that opioid addiction, as well as addiction to any of drug or alcohol, can alter the way that you experience all of the wonderful things that life has to offer. Opioids numb both physical and emotional pain. They can also numb how you enjoy life in general.

It affects an addict’s personal relationships, as well as their finances and overall physical well-being. It causes uncontrollable cravings, which eventually leads to full blown dependency.

There are treatment options available to those that are addicted to opiates and opioids, of which are mainly conducted through medically-assisted detoxification. Medically-assisted detox for opioid addiction involves the process of removing the opioid toxins from the addict’s system in a controlled and safe environment.
Certain medications may be prescribed during this process to keep the patient both safe and comfortable throughout the potentially dangerous process.

This can be done at a hospital or drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. Despite medically-assisted detox being extremely effective in ridding oneself of the addictive substance, it does not affect an addict’s craving for the drug.

Relapsing after medically-assisted detox is extremely common, as most addicts lack the necessary coping skills that it takes to remain clean and sober.

Methadone and Suboxone are the more commonly known medications that are administered to heroin, opiate, and opioid addicts so that they can be weaned off of the drugs safely and prevent from experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

To learn more about opioid and opiate addiction and how it starts, check out this blog.

Side Effects of Opioid and Opiate Abuse

There are many side effects associated with opioid and opiate abuse, as there are with most other types of drugs. There are both short term and long-term effects.

Some short-term effects that are both associated with withdrawal symptoms and overall effects of the opioid drug include:

• Sedation
• Feelings of elation of euphoria
• Drowsiness
• Delayed reaction time
• Vomiting
• Nausea
• Diarrhea

Long-term effects of opioid addiction include:
• A highly weakened immune system
• Gastrointestinal problems (i.e. constipation, bowel perforation, intestinal ileus, etc.)
• Medical issues due to intravenous administration (i.e. contraction of blood diseases, infection, localized abscesses, etc.)
• Respiratory depression and/or organ failure

Signs of an Opioid Overdose

It can be quite difficult to tell if someone is under the influence of opioids. It can also be somewhat difficult to see if someone is experiencing an overdose from opiate or opioid abuse.

Some of the tall tale signs of an opioid overdose include:

• A loss of consciousness
• Unresponsive to an outside stimulus
• Excessive nodding out
• Vomiting
• Choking on one’s vomit
• Shallow, very slow, or nonexistent breathing
• Purple or gray skin tone
• Slow, erratic, or nonexistent pulse rate
• Limp body

Drug and alcohol addiction is a life-threatening problem that continues to devastate the lives of people all around the world. If you’re addicted to alcohol and drugs, such as opioids or opiates, enter a professional drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility immediately.