Chronic pain can be a debilitating condition, diminishing a person’s quality of life on all levels. Whether it be a result of an injury or a chronic medical condition, there’s a critical need for some form of treatment to relieve ongoing pain symptoms.
Prescription opiate medications, such as Demerol, fentanyl and Vicodin make-up the first line of defense when it comes to treating pain symptoms in general. While effective, the risk of developing an opiate abuse problem increases the longer a person remains on the drug.
According to the Journal of Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, opiate abuse affects an estimated 20 to 24 percent of people struggling with conditions involving chronic pain. Understanding how opiates work and the potential risks they carry can help you take steps to avoid the threat of opiate abuse and get needed treatment help.
How Opiates Relieve Pain
Opiate effects develop out of how these drugs increase the brain’s neurotransmitter chemical production rates. When ingested, opiates force chemical-producing cells to release massive amounts of neurotransmitter-type chemicals.
With long-term opiate use, the affected cells suffer considerable wear and tear, leaving them unable to produce neurotransmitter materials on their own. Over time, pronounced brain chemical imbalances take shape, which gradually work to reconfigure the brain’s chemical pathways, its overall structure and how it works.
Opiate Abuse Risks
Rising Tolerance Levels
Opiates and the brain’s neurotransmitter chemicals share a similar chemical structure, so opiates can integrate easily within the brain’s chemical system. In effect, the brain auto-adjusts its own chemical output to accommodate opiate effects.
As a result, opiate pain-relieving effects will weaken over time unless a person keeps increasing dosage amounts or dosage frequency, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This opiate abuse risk starts the abuse/addiction cycle rolling.
With continuous opiate use, the brain comes to rely on opiates to produce needed neurotransmitter supplies. This creates conditions where brain chemical imbalances can develop and grow increasingly worse with time.
Withdrawal effects result from this growing state of chemical imbalance. In effect, these effects set the cycle of opiate abuse in motion as users are inclined to ingest more of the drug as a way to gain relief from uncomfortable withdrawal effects.
Withdrawal symptoms to watch for include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Muscle aches
- Muddled thinking
- Feelings of sadness
Worsening Pain Symptoms
Opiates interfere with the body’s central nervous system functions and essentially distort nerve cell communications in the process. As a result, an opiate drug will eventually lose its ability to relieve pain and may actually cause pain symptoms to get worse.
These developments can trigger opiate abuse practices in a big way in terms of driving a person to augment his or her prescription with another opiate drug, or even illegal opiates like heroin.
Ideally, non-opiate based medications offer the safest approach for treating chronic pain symptoms; however, these drug types tend to be less effective than opiates at relieving pain. Regardless, it’s important to address opiate abuse during the early stages to prevent an addiction problem from developing.