We’re living in a time when opioid abuse is at an all-time high in the US. Not only is the United States the world’s biggest consumer of opioids, but it’s struggling with one of the worst heroin epidemics in recent memory.
The only comparison that doesn’t pale completely is 18th century China, when roughly a third of the country was addicted to opium. At the time, it took several reforms, international intervention, major changes in trade, a war and a cultural revolution before the opium epidemic began to lessen in severity. That alone should hint at how much of a scourge addiction is.
Opioids are also not just any addiction. Opioids, in all their forms, are among the most powerful and addictive drugs on the planet. Derived from the poppy plant, opioids describe any non-synthetic and synthetic derivatives of a special alkaloid compound that attaches to receptors in the human brain, causing an analgesic and euphoric effect.
In other words, we’re talking about a family of substances that act as powerful painkillers, and cause feelings of pure joy. While that sounds great on the surface, these substances also come with a side-effect: an often-lethal addiction. Here are a few common opioids, as well as more information on how the addiction develops, and can be identified.
Here’s What Classifies As An Opioid
Opioids are both natural and synthetic derivatives of opium (either chemically derived from the poppy plant, or designed with opium’s function in mind), including:
These are the generic names for most well-known opioids, but they have separate brand names as well. Commonly known brand names for opioids include:
Beyond that, an opioid may also refer to any substance that exhibits very similar symptoms or functions to natural or synthetic opiates. An opiate, on the other hand, refers to any derivative of opium. Opium itself is addictive and effective as a painkiller, but is nowhere near as powerful as its later derivatives, most famously codeine, morphine and heroin.
Physical Symptoms Of Opioid Abuse
Opioids in and of itself have great medical applications, particularly as painkillers for post-surgery or emergency room situations. They’re also often used in end-of-life care, particularly with terminal cancer patients. However, when subject to misuse, they can cause significant physical side-effects including:
- Loss of consciousness
- Respiratory difficulty/respiratory arrest
As an addictive drug, opioid abuse can lead to withdrawal symptoms, which are mostly flu-like. Although opioid withdrawals are not as fatal as alcohol withdrawals, they can be quite painful and uncomfortable.
Beyond the physical symptoms of opioid abuse, there are a few other ways in which an opioid addiction will change someone – specifically behaviorally. Opioid abuse can lead to:
- Dramatic mood shifts
- Unexpected and noticeable euphoria
- Social isolation
Most forms of addiction will lead to behavioral changes, as people typically try and cover up their drug use. They may go out of their way to create an illusion that everything is fine, which inadvertently can cause suspicion.
Other common changes from opioid abuse include financial trouble, excessive amounts of stress, and erratic behavior at work or at home. Finding drug paraphernalia is an obvious sign of use as well.
Heroin and other opioid abuse can cause long-term changes in the body, some of which may be irreversible. For example: there may be evidence to suggest that heroin use leads to the deterioration of white matter in the brain. This affects learning and can slow cognition.
Other long-term behavioral changes include difficulty in decision-making and a difficulty with mood regulation and behavioral control. In short, heroin use can lead to long-term deficiency in brain function, thus impairing your thinking, reasoning and memory. This can also affect your ability to plan, solve problems, and multitask.
The brain is a remarkable organ, but it takes time to recover from abuse. Any damage to the brain can take decades to resolve, or even be permanent. The only way to know for sure is to keep working on improving your brain health after an addiction, through exercising, a healthy diet, and regular mental challenges such as tackling math, literature, or certain strategy games.
Treating Opioid Abuse
As dangerous and powerful as opioid abuse is, it can be “defeated” – or in more apt words, an addiction to opioids can be overcome. But it isn’t easy. Heroin and other opioids continue to be one of the harder addictions to beat, because of their inherent addictiveness, and availability. If it isn’t through prescription medication on the black market, then it’s through the heroin on the streets.
Overcoming addiction is difficult no matter what you’re addicted to, but some vices give you a longer period to cut yourself off from them. With heroin, your chances are a bit slimmer – but they’re there, and you’re by no means hopeless.
It’s not as easy as just checking into a treatment facility or Los Angeles Sober Living, though. Recovery is a life-changing process, and you’ll need all the help you can get. But with the help of your loved ones, your friends, and a little bit of luck, you can reclaim your life and live drug-free again.