An opioid is a type of narcotic drug that provides powerful pain relief. Opioids cannot be purchased over the counter and are only available through prescription in the United States. The primary reason that they are only available through prescription is because opioids are highly addictive and commonly abused.
How Opiates Work
Opioids tend to be effective ameliorating or suppressing pain that traditional over-the-counter pain medication is ineffective on. The reason these drugs are so effective is because of how they work. Opioids bind to the opioid receptors found primarily in the brain and spinal cord. This binding reduces the quantity of pain messages that are sent to brain, reducing the feelings of pain in the patient.
While this technically does not decrease the level of pain or remove the source of the pain, the patient simply can’t tell the difference because human beings process pain through their brain.
Opiates vs. Opioids
Opioids are often confused with opiates, though they are not the same thing. An opiate is an alkaloid derived from opium. Opioids are synthetic drugs that are designed to work similarly to opiates, but are different on a molecular scale. Despite these differences, because they offer similar benefits in terms of pain moderation and create similar sensations when abused, people that are addicted to one will often find the other to work as an acceptable substitute for their addiction needs.
How Opiate Addiction Starts
Addiction to opioids almost always starts one of the two different ways. The most common way for it to start is overuse of the drug in order to relieve some sort of constant or recurring pain. The human body gains a tolerance to a drug when it is used excessively. In this regard, opioids are no different than any other drug. When opioids are used for an extended period of time, the body requires higher and higher doses for the same benefits. Eventually this creates a physical need in the patient, just to be able to perform normal daily activities.
The other way that an addiction starts is when opioids are taken even after the pain they were prescribed for is already gone. This can happen due to a patient being overly cautious, failing to follow instructions, or because the patient is trying to treat some less severe pain and has some opioids available. When there is no pain (or no severe pain), instead of blocking pain signals, opioids instead create feelings of relaxation or sometimes even elation in the user. Users then continue to use the opioids in order to continue to enjoy these pleasurable feelings.
Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms
Once a person has reached the point of full addiction, any significant length of time spent without the drug in their system can be very unpleasant. Besides the lack of pleasure or return of pain, opioid abusers are also likely to experience diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, irritability, and muscle pain. Avoiding these side effects usually becomes the main goal of addicts, perpetuating the addiction for months or even years.
Opiate Addiction Treatment
Because opioids are such a powerful drug, ending addiction is nearly impossible without assistance. Simply going cold turkey is physiologically and psychologically dangerous, and unlikely to actually succeed. The best way to end addiction is to enroll in a drug treatment program that includes a full medical staff. Recovery is often slow and difficult, but a high quality program is the best option for ensuring success.