Overview of Opioid Addiction
Opioid addiction is the persistent, compulsive consumption of opioids for short term reward, despite addicts knowing that they will experience other, seriously negative consequences as a result.
Opioids are also called opiates. At one point only natural products from the poppy plant were called opiates, whilst synthetic derivatives were called opioids. Lately they are, generally, all called opioids, though some sources still list them separately. They differ somewhat in the way that they interact with the nervous system, but both stem from the poppy plant and, in terms of drug addiction, they are closely related. For the sake of simplicity, we will call them all opioids here.
Medicinal opioids are best known as pain relievers. Technically, they differ from normal painkillers. They are less effective at killing pain, but they do reduce pain to a comfortable level and they have the added benefit of inducing tranquillity. When doctors prescribe opioids for pain, patients sometimes expect their pain relieving powers to be stronger and, when it is not, they use more than the prescribed dosage. This misunderstanding may lead to patients becoming addicted to the medication.
There is a difference between medical and recreational opioid dependency. Technically, medical dependency excludes abuse or addiction. The person simply needs (depends on) the medication to get beneficial treatment for a professionally diagnosed health problem. For instance, opioids are often prescribed to relieve physical pain. This article is not aimed at fair medical usage.
However, opioid abuse causes other forms of dependency, where it is not needed for health reasons, but exploited for recreation and to overcome emotional disorders without professional help. The user becomes dependent on it for rewards not related to a medical problem like chronic pain.
In this article, we use the terms abuse, dependency and addiction at random, as it is difficult to draw lines between the three. They overlap and all of them can cause problems and addiction. At the least, abuse and dependency can point to a vulnerability to addiction. This is why the words are also used ambiguously in everyday conversations.
Opioid intoxication is caused by drugs like codeine, heroin, morphine, propoxyphene, hydrocodone, methadone and other synthetic opioids. Many pain relievers contain opioids. Signs of opioid abuse include euphoria, unusual calmness, small pupils, difficulty breathing, drowsiness and unconsciousness.
Some people develop addiction after an original prescription for a pain reliever. Others use it for short term recreation or because the tranquillising effect suppresses dysfunctional emotions. After taking the medication for a while, the body gets used to the drug and develops tolerance, which means that the user must take increasing amounts to get the same reward. This has a snowballing effect that grows out of control. Dependency will incur unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when the short term euphoria wears off. In the end, you develop physical and psychological dependence.
Opioids are widely available and, generally, socially acceptable, but they affect brain functions – this is why some people do not always realise the danger or even that they are becoming addicted.
Abrupt cessation of the drug leads to withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, agitation, restlessness, diarrhea, joint and muscle pain, perspiration, lacrimation (excessive tears in eyes), nasal discharge, nausea and fever. Unfortunately, this eventually leads to compelling and often desperate actions to get more of the drug by whatever means, legal or illegal.