Opioids are extremely addictive substances that are frequently obtained as a prescribed medication for the purpose of managing and treating pain. Organically, opioids are a derivative of the opium poppy plant.
Understanding Withdrawal from Opioids
The most common prescription opioids are OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Percodan, and Avinza. Opium, morphine, codeine, and thebaine fall into a smaller category of opiates, which means that they are directly produced from the opium poppy.
Under medical supervision, opioids are intended to be used for analgesic (painkilling) purposes by blocking pain. Pain is blocked by interacting with specific receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body. By using opioids, the portion of the brain that controls emotions and automatic functions (breathing, for example) is affected. The transmission of pain signals to the brain is also impacted. Due to the extreme euphoric high that is generated with their use, opioids are often abused and taken recreationally. Dependence can result when a person abuses opioids and that can trigger intense cravings as well as strong physical and psychological side effects.
In both a medical and recreational setting, individuals taking opioids are at an increased risk for developing a tolerance to them. In other words, the individual will need to consume increasingly larger doses to experience the same euphoric high or painkilling effect. Due to the fact that opioids can create an intense euphoric feeling, can slow the user’s breathing and pulse, abruptly stopping opioid use can have an extremely dangerous effect on the body that can lead to both psychological and physical distress.
When an opioid is consumed, the intense euphoric feeling is caused by dopamine rushing throughout the body. Dopamine is the hormone that is commonly associated with pleasure. Issues arise when the body becomes accustomed to these intense feelings and the individual finds it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to experience happiness without consuming more of the opioid. Experiencing an average level of euphoria without the assistance of opioids becomes impossible since the neurotransmitters that convey dopamine have become overstimulated. Ceasing use of opioids does not return these individuals to their baseline emotional states. Abrupt use can, instead, plummet users into a more difficult state both physically and psychologically.
The emotional and psychological side effects of opioid withdrawal can range from a disruption of daily life to incapacitation. The physical side effects of withdrawal from opioids are the direct result of the body becoming accustomed to the presence of the substance and then quickly reacting to their absence. Tolerance and dependence for the opioid will increase the longer it is consumed. However, it is not uncommon for an individual to become dependent within five days of beginning to abuse these substances.
Symptoms of Withdrawal from Opioids
The following are among the more common symptoms of opioid withdrawal:
- Extreme fatigue
- Hot flashes
- Cold sweats
- Intense drug cravings
- Muscle pain
- Pupil dilation
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Severe cramping
Dangers Associated with Opioid Withdrawal
Due to painful withdrawal symptoms that can last for weeks, individuals often return back to opioid abuse. This return then opens the door to a multitude of physical and psychological issues. Individuals who abuse opioids have an increased risk of developing liver damage, kidney problems, seizures, cardiac arrest, coma, and respiratory distress. Recurrent diarrhea and vomiting are common side effects, which can cause malnutrition and dehydration as the body is depleted of nutrients. Other side effects include weakness, dizziness, and various cognitive distortions (which can cause additional potential accidents when individuals trip and fall). Because the physical and emotional pains are often overwhelmingly difficult for individuals to handle, many users attempt to self-medicate with non-opioids (alcohol, for example), which is equally as dangerous. Opioid abuse can also result in death if left untreated.
Due to the dangerous nature of withdrawal, the ideal way to rid an individual of opioids is under the supervised watch of a trained medical professional at a licensed center.