The opiate addiction epidemic of the 1960s pales in comparison to today’s rates of abuse and addiction and for good reason. Today’s prescription pain pills produce powerful effects, with some drugs formulated to produce pain-relieving effects for 24 hours or more.
Opiates also come with unintended side effects, such as euphoria and calm that further reinforce their potential for abuse. Over the course of months, and in some cases mere weeks, ongoing opiate use places users at increased risk of entering the opiate abuse cycle. Once this cycle takes hold, a person can easily lose control of his or her ability to stop using the drug. When this happens, it may well be time to consider getting treatment help.
Opiate Effects over Time
Prescription opiate medications, such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and Percocet contain either natural opium-based materials or synthetically made opium-type materials. According to the University of Virginia School of Medicine, more than a few of the brain’s own endorphin chemicals have a similar chemical structure to opiates. This similarity in chemical makeup enables these drugs to integrate seamlessly within the brain’s chemical system. These conditions make it possible for an opiate abuse cycle to begin.
As of the very first drug dose, opiates alter endorphin production rates, forcing chemical producing brain cells to increase their output. Endorphins, also known as neurotransmitter chemicals, act as communication messengers within the brain as well as between the brain and central nervous system. This means any imbalances in endorphin levels can have any number of harmful health effects. Once chemical imbalances exist the likelihood of opiate abuse increases.
Since opiates have a similar chemical makeup to endorphins, the brain easily integrates these drugs within its chemical system. With ongoing opiate use, brain chemical processes come to depend on the drug’s effects to carry out its normal functions and so become physically dependent on opiate effects.
In the absence of a steady supply of opiates, the brain cannot properly regulate the body’s processes. When this happens, a person starts to experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- Muscle aches and pains
- Anxiety symptoms
- Bouts of depression
Withdrawal periods only work to increase the urge to take more of the drug, which makes them a driving force within the opiate abuse cycle.
With continued drug use, opiate dependency progresses to a new level in the form of addiction. With addiction, a psychological dependency takes center stage as a person comes to rely on opiates as a means for coping with daily life pressures, according to Case Western Reserve University. At this stage of the opiate abuse cycle, a person loses the ability to control his or her drug-using behaviors.
As harmless as the effects of these drugs may feel, opiates slowly but surely take over the brain’s chemical system and eventually change how the brain works. These changes take shape within a person’s psychological makeup, redirecting his or her attentions, motivations and behaviors towards drug-related pursuits. While the need for treatment help becomes fairly obvious at this point, the sooner you get help the easier it’ll be to break the opiate abuse cycle.
If you or someone you know struggles with opiate abuse practices and have questions about available treatment options, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-584-3274 Who Answers? to speak with one of our addictions specialists.