What is Opium?
Opium is a highly addictive drug derived from the opium poppy plant. It can be smoked, injected, or orally ingested. Recreational use of opium is not as common as it once was, but many drugs derived from opium are abused.
Opiates are drugs derived from natural opium, such as heroin and morphine. Opioids are synthetically manufactured drugs that have a chemical structure similar to opium. Many prescription painkillers are opioids, including Codeine, Hydrocodone (such as Vicodin), Oxycodone (such as Oxycontin), and Fentanyl.
These drugs are powerful painkillers and have an important role in pain management. However, opioids carry a strong potential for habit formation. When taking them for pain, it is critical to take these drugs only when necessary and to follow the doctor’s instructions for timing and dosage.
How Do Opium-related Drugs Affect the Brain?
Whether natural or synthetic, all opioids affect the brain in the same way. They work by binding to receptors in the brain and spinal cord to prevent the release of a chemical called GABA. GABA normally regulates dopamine production, so when GABA is blocked, dopamine floods the brain. This combination blocks pain messages to the brain and produces a pleasurable high. This high can be as short as 15-30 minutes, in the case of heroin, or as long as 4-6 hours for morphine.
Side Effects of Opium, Opiates, and Opioids
The greatest risk is that an overdose of opium or its companions can cause death. Other short-term side effects include:
- Pain relief
- Depressed breathing
Long-term use or abuse further these effects and can lead to:
- Hypoxia (reduced oxygen)
- Bowel problems
- Liver damage or failure
- Kidney damage or failure
- Heart damage
- Brain damage
- Abdominal distention and bloating
Depressed breathing rates reduce oxygen to the brain, called hypoxia. The long-term effects of hypoxia include coma and permanent brain damage, which can impair the ability to make decisions, regulate behavior, and respond to stressful situations.
Chronic constipation can lead to a reliance on laxatives to produce a bowel movement. Strained bowel movements caused by constipation can damage the anus and sphincter. It can also lead to a condition known as narcotic bowel syndrome, in which the sufferer experiences nausea, bloating, vomiting, abdominal distention, and constipation.
Long-term opioid abuse also leads to liver and kidney damage and failure. Often, this damage is not directly caused by the opioids but by the acetaminophen that is commonly combined with opioid painkillers.
Opioid painkillers, especially when crushed and injected into the bloodstream, can damage the heart and lead to an increased risk of heart attack.
Symptoms of Opium Addiction
Opium addicts continue to take these drugs in spite of the negative consequences and suffer withdrawal if they quit. If the user stops cold turkey, he will suffer from early symptoms such as:
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Muscle pain
- Poor sleep
Continued withdrawal can cause:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
Withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as 12 hours after the last use and last from 4 to 10 days.
Treatment for opium addiction can take three months or longer, in either an outpatient clinic or residential rehab. An opiate replacement such as buprenorphine or methadone can mitigate withdrawal symptoms, with the clinic helping to reduce the dose over time to ease the transition to clean living. Classes, therapy, and counseling can help as well.
If you or someone you care about struggles with opium addiction, call 1-866-233-0599. We can help place you or your loved one in the right rehabilitation center.