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Opioid addiction, an addiction each and every one of us can fall into easily

Abraham Eisenstein, M.D. |
Painkillers are a very common thing: we all use them from time to time to get pain relief. But for some of us painkillers may lead to death.

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Sometimes there is a confusion about opiates and opioids, and those terms are used interchangeably but there is a difference.

Opiates are derived from opium and morphine is maybe the one we all heard about.

Opioids are synthetically manufactured substances, some fully, some partially synthetic, and they all mimic the natural effects of opium.

In any case, they both may lead to addiction. Those drugs are used to treat pain, from mild to severe, and opioid painkillers have high rates of abuse. They have a calming effect, they take the pain away and it's no wonder some patients use them with even the slightest amount of pain.

The problem is, the patient may develop tolerance to the painkiller and on top of that there may be a subjective feeling that it doesn't help anymore. Combine those two together and you have a patient that needs more and more of those drugs.

There are two aspects of addiction.

First, a person is addicted to its effects: painkillers are making us calm and we all like to be calm and with less worries.

Second, the body may develop a physical dependence when it needs some element. It may be heroin, it may be chocolate, but the body needs it. Both of those situations are dangerous because ultimately they may lead to death.

When the addiction is serious, the person's behavior is out of control and the only thing that matters is to get another dose, no matter bad consequences that may be experienced. A full addiction is in fact a neurological disease when the patient no longer has a control over his own body and needs.

So, what are the symptoms?

There are a lot of them but easiest to spot are sweating, dilated pupils, loss of sleep, too much sleeping, bad coordination, inability to focus on things on hand, confusion, disorientation and even hallucinations. We can add to this mood swings, depression, and anxiety. As we can see, those are all very serious conditions.

The problem is, opiates are used in a wide range of medical situations. And as we are all different, some people develop an addiction easier and some may use a larger amount of opiates to be really addicted.

There are two groups of those helpful but sometimes dangerous drugs: antagonists and agonists.

Antagonists are less addictive but there is a potential for abuse still exists. They are often used to help with the detoxification (we all heard about Naloxone).

Agonists, on the other side, mimic the effects of natural endorphins in the body and they interact with some receptors in the brain. Morphine is a typical drug in this group, it is used in a medical facility and has a strong effect. Drugs in this group have a very high potential for addiction.

Drugs from both groups work basically in a simple way: they activate receptors in the brain and depress the central nervous system. Then receptors release endorphins, chemicals that make us feel good. And that feel good effect is very dangerous because one of the goals of our brain, so to speak, is to make us feel good.

So, no matter the drugs, the process of production, or the group, every opiate and opioid hide a similar potential for addiction.

Now, if you take more and more of anything, there is a risk that your body can't get rid of it. So, if you take too many opiates you may lead your body to a state when it just can't handle it anymore and it may shut down.

Even greater risk is a combination of opiates and other substances that make you feel good. Combine opiates and nervous system depressants or alcohol and you are on the way to heavenly fields. Just remember numerous celebrities that died of that combination.

So, what can we do to avoid an addiction and use painkillers safely when we need them?

The first and most important rules is to follow your doctor's advice. Don't use over the counter medicine if your doctor didn't prescribe it to you. This is the most important advice you can get and we can't stress enough how important it is to forget painkillers and opioids if they are not prescribed.

Then, if you have chronic pain, there are other options for treatment, maybe a nonpharmacological therapy, maybe less addictive drugs, but each of them must be in cooperation with your doctor. And it is possible to live your life with controlled chronic pain without a risk to end up dead.

And remember that every drug may be risky if you don't take it as prescribed. Opioids, sedatives, antidepressants, stimulants, painkillers, they all follow that old saying "A small dose cures, a big dose kills."

You can do a lot to help yourself to use opioids safely. If you notice that you are using them regularly, the moment you notice that go talk to your doctor. Your doctor is not your mother and won't judge you, she will help you to find a solution that is not dangerous and that still works.

If you are deeper into addiction, some detox and rehab clinics will help and remember just one thing: you are not first and you certainly won't be the last that enjoy prescribed medicine or opioids too much. So, don't be embarrassed and seek help, you will get it promptly.

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