How are opioids healthy?
Opioids are natural or man-made substances that interact with nerve cells to alleviate pain.

Opioids are powerful pain relievers. Unlike steroids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, these do not cause bone or kidney damage. However, this does not mean these are healthy.

Opioids are prescribed by the doctor if you have:

  • Significant short-term (acute) pain, such as pain from
    • Surgery
    • A broken bone or any injury
    • Dental procedures
    • Toothaches
  • Cancer-related persistent pain (pain that lasts longer than three months)
  • Pain management during palliative or end-of-life care

What are opioids?

Opioids are natural or man-made substances that interact with nerve cells to alleviate pain. 

Types of opioids include:

What are the risks of opioid use?

People can get addicted to the commonly administered opioids because they numb pain and generate euphoria. Healthcare providers have altered their prescribing methods to limit the time and dosage of opioids supplied to patients.

Opioid use issues affect adults and newborns. If a woman abuses opioids while pregnant, the child may be born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Many children suffer from NAS.

Opioids are mostly administered through injections; improper use of syringes is responsible for the raise of human immunodeficiency virus and hepatitis C infections among opioid users.

What is opioid addiction?

An addiction is defined as a strong desire to do something. In this scenario, there is a strong desire to consume opioids.

  • Addiction is a disorder of the brain and behavior.
  • You have control over whether to use opioids. However, if you do not follow your doctor's directions for the medication, its influence will ultimately make you want to continue using it.
  • Your brain changes over time, causing you to acquire a strong desire to use opioids.

Opioids operate by reducing pain signals sent to the brain by your body. They alter how your brain reacts to pain. They are safe when administered in the prescribed dosage. You can get addicted to opioids if you abuse the medication (opioid use disorder).

Symptoms of opioid abuse

Substance abuse is another term for opiate addiction. Substance misuse signs and symptoms can be physical, behavioral, or psychological. The inability to quit using opioids is an obvious symptom of addiction. Another obvious symptom is a person is unable to quit using more than what their doctor has prescribed.

Other symptoms of opioid abuse include:

If you crave the substance or believe you cannot control the impulse to use it, you may develop an opioid addiction. You could be addicted to it if you continue to use the substance even though it is giving you problems. The problem might be with your health, money, job or education, the law, or your connections with family or friends.

Friends and family members could be aware of your addiction problem before you are. They may detect alterations in your behavior.

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What is opioid use disorder?

Opioids are highly addictive, and opioid misuse in the United States has become a national issue. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 2 million Americans abuse opioids, and more than 90 Americans die by opioid overdose every day on average.

Opioids have a high amount of positive rewarding stimulus, which increases the chance that you will continue to use them despite the negative effects.

Opioid use disorder is a chronic, lifelong condition with catastrophic implications, such as:

  • Impairment
  • Relapses
  • Death

Opioid use disorder causes issues or distress, with at least two of the following happening within 12 months:

  • Using high amounts or taking them over a longer time than intended.
  • Persistent desire or failed attempts to reduce or regulate opioid consumption.
  • Spending a significant amount of time getting, using, or dealing with the consequences of the effects of the opioid.
  • Craving to take opioids.
  • Issues with meeting duties at work, school, or home.
  • Continuation of opiate usage despite reoccurring social or interpersonal issues.
  • Opioid usage has resulted in the cessation or reduction of activities.
  • Using opioids in potentially dangerous settings.
  • Opioid usage continues despite a persistent medical or psychological condition that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by opioids.
  • Opioid tolerance (Continuous use of opioids makes the body tolerant to it. As a result, the effect of the drug reduces, and it increases the need for higher amounts of drug to get the desired effect.)
  • Having opioid withdrawal symptoms or using opioids or other similar drugs to ease or prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Though opioid use disorder is similar to other drug use disorders in many ways, it has a few distinguishing characteristics. Opioids can cause physical dependency in as little as four to eight weeks. In chronic users, abruptly discontinuing opioid usage causes significant withdrawal symptoms, such as:

Because these symptoms are severe, there is a strong incentive to continue taking opioids to avoid withdrawal.

What is opioid withdrawal?

When you are addicted to opioids and discontinue taking them, you may endure unpleasant and painful withdrawal symptoms. Taking an opioid for an extended time might result in tolerance (requiring more of the medication to have the same intended effect) and dependency.

As you develop tolerance to opioids, you require a higher dose to get the same effects, which frequently leads to the use of bigger quantities of opioids. You may eventually become physically addicted to the substance.

If you are addicted to opioids, you will experience withdrawal symptoms if you reduce or stop using opioids abruptly. This can lead to a vicious cycle in which you try to cut back or quit using. After experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, you may resume using the substance to alleviate the symptoms.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

Some opioids generate withdrawal symptoms sooner than others, and withdrawal symptoms from some opioids persist longer than others. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the type of drug used along with:

  • Time of emergence and duration of the symptoms
  • Duration of opioid use
  • The duration between the doses

Though opioid withdrawal symptoms are excruciatingly painful, it is rarely fatal. However, complications from previous medical issues or health complications because of injectable drug usage may become life-threatening in rare circumstances. If you reintroduce opioids after prolonged abstinence, you are at a higher risk of overdose. Dehydration and heart failure may occur if you attempt detoxifying at home or without medical supervision.

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What are the treatment options for opioid addiction?

Treatment often involves cognitive-behavioral techniques, such as motivating patients to change and educating them about treatment and relapse prevention. Participation in self-help programs, such as narcotics anonymous, is common. Medication-assisted treatment has been demonstrated to help patients stay in treatment, reducing opiate usage, overdoses, and the hazards associated with opioid use disorder.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three drugs to treat opioid addiction.

  1. Methadone
    • It prevents withdrawal symptoms and decreases cravings in opioid addicts. Even if you get tolerant of the drug, it does not produce any euphoric feelings. It is exclusively offered in strictly controlled clinics.
  2. Buprenorphine
    • It prevents the effects of other opioids, alleviates or eliminates withdrawal symptoms, and lowers cravings.
    • Buprenorphine therapy (detoxification or maintenance) is administered in office settings by properly trained and competent doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants who have secured a license from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
  3. Naltrexone
    • It prevents euphoria by blocking the effects of other opioids. It is offered in tablet form or as a monthly injection from office-based doctors.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these medicines do not replace one addiction with another. The medicine used in therapy does not get a person feeling euphoric. Instead, it helps minimize opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It aids in the restoration of equilibrium to the brain circuits disrupted by addiction.

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Medically Reviewed on 5/19/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Image

Johns Hopkins Medicine. What Are Opioids? https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/opioids/what-are-opioids.html

Choosing Wisely. Treatments to Relieve Chronic Pain. https://www.choosingwisely.org/patient-resources/treatments-to-relieve-chronic-pain/

American Society of Anesthesiologists. Opioid Abuse. https://www.asahq.org/madeforthismoment/pain-management/opioid-treatment/opioid-abuse/