September 4th, 2023
As the opioid crisis continues to harm millions of people in North America, it is impossible to truly estimate the devastating reality it presents. Most experts agree that the opioid addiction epidemic has its roots in the overprescription of opioid medicines, described as “one of the greatest mistakes of modern medicine” by Dr David Kessler, the director of the FDA between 1990 and 1997. While the UK has been fortunate to avoid such a widespread crisis, opioid addiction continues to impact many British people with serious and potentially deadly consequences.
What are opioids?
“Opioid” is a term used to describe a broad group of drugs that bind to specific opioid receptors in the brain and other parts of the body. They are named “opioids” because they are synthetic or natural drugs that have similar effects to opium.
Opioids work by interacting with opioid receptors in the brain and nervous system. This interaction can decrease the perception of pain and lead to intense pleasure or euphoria, particularly when opioids are taken in high doses. This euphoric feeling is what often leads to misuse and addiction.
Different types of opioids
Opiates, synthetic opioids and semi-synthetic opioids are all types of opioids, but they differ based on their origin and chemical structure:
Opiates: These are natural compounds that come directly from the opium poppy plant, Papaver somniferum. Examples include morphine and codeine. These substances bind to the opioid receptors in the brain and other parts of the body, reducing pain and causing a sense of euphoria.
Synthetic opioids: These are fully synthetic, meaning they are completely man-made in a laboratory and don’t use any natural opium materials. They are designed to interact with the same opioid receptors as natural opiates but are usually more potent. Fentanyl and methadone are examples of synthetic opioids.
Semi-synthetic opioids: These drugs are a hybrid of sorts. They are made in a lab but use natural opiates as the starting point, with the natural substance chemically modified to create a new compound. Examples include oxycodone, hydrocodone and heroin. Like their fully synthetic and natural counterparts, semi-synthetic opioids also act on the opioid receptors in the brain to provide pain relief and induce a state of euphoria.
What is opioid addiction?
Opioid addiction is characterised by a compulsive pursuit and use of opioids. People who are suffering from opioid addiction continue to take opioids even though it is causing problems in their lives and may be in denial about the situation. Opioid addiction can manifest itself in various forms, depending on the specific opioids involved but prescription drug addiction involving opioids has become a major issue in the UK and abroad.
Some common forms of prescription opioid addiction include:
As one of the most potent opiates, morphine addiction can be particularly devastating. This manifests as physical and psychological dependence, accompanied by severe withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped. Click the button below to learn more.
Codeine, a relatively weaker opiate used in some prescription cough syrups and for mild pain relief, can also be addictive. Users may find themselves needing increasing amounts to achieve the same desired effects and may experience withdrawal symptoms upon cessation.
Vicodin, a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, can lead to addiction characterised by a compulsion to seek and use the drug, tolerance requiring higher doses to achieve the same desired effect and withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. Click below to learn more.
Dihydrocodeine is a semi-synthetic opioid analgesic prescribed for pain or severe dyspnea. The addiction involves a psychological and physical dependence, characterised by withdrawal symptoms when the drug use is stopped and an intense desire to continue use despite harmful consequences. Click below to learn more.
Buprenorphine is used in treatment to help people reduce or quit their use of opiates, such as heroin. Despite its therapeutic use, it can be addictive, with users experiencing withdrawal symptoms and uncontrollable cravings. If you would like to learn more about buprenorphine addiction, click the button below to navigate to a new page.
Oxycodone addiction involves the compulsive use of this powerful painkiller despite negative consequences. Symptoms include an increased tolerance to the oxycodone, withdrawal symptoms when not using and a life dominated by the pursuit of the drug. Many experts blame the approval and widespread prescription of oxycodone on the opioid crisis.
A synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times more potent than morphine. Addiction often involves an escalating pattern of use due to rapidly developing tolerance and manifests as intense cravings and severe withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. Fentanyl is now responsible for most drug-related deaths in the US.
Methadone, a synthetic opioid which is actually used to treat opioid addiction, can itself lead to addiction. This manifests as a physical dependence, where a person feels unable to function normally without methadone, leading to withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop. click the button below to learn more.
Tramadol addiction includes symptoms like compulsive drug-seeking behaviour, a built-up tolerance requiring higher doses for effect and physical withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop use. If you would like to learn more about addiction to tramadol, click on the button below.
Am I addicted to opioids?
Recognising an addiction to opioids can be difficult, especially due to the speed at which it can develop. Signs of opioid addiction can include:
- Increased tolerance to opioid effects
- Withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop taking opioids
- Loss of control over opioid use
- Neglecting responsibilities due to opioid use
- Continued opioid use despite problems
- Unsuccessful attempts to quit
- Spending a lot of time and energy obtaining, using or recovering from opioids
What causes opioid addiction?
Opioid addiction can originate from several avenues. The most common route is through the misuse of prescription painkillers prescribed by healthcare providers for legitimate medical reasons like post-surgical pain or chronic conditions. Some people may develop an addiction after using these medications longer than intended or by taking higher doses than prescribed.
Other routes are through the recreational use of opioids for the relaxing or euphoric effects they produce and through people self-medicating with opioids without a prescription.
There are several risk factors that can increase a person’s chances of becoming addicted to opioids. These include:
- Genetics: People with a family history of substance abuse are at a higher risk of people with some experts believing this is the most critical factor.
- Environment: Stressful or traumatic events, early exposure to drugs, peer pressure or lack of family involvement can increase the likelihood of opioid addiction.
- Method of administration: Injecting or smoking opioids increases their euphoric effects and can increase the potential for opioid addiction.
- Mental health disorders: People with untreated mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, are at a higher risk.
- Prior substance abuse: People who have previously abused alcohol or other drugs are at an increased risk of opioid abuse and addiction.
- Age: Younger people, particularly teenagers, are at a higher risk due to peer pressure, risk-taking behaviour and developing brains.
- Lack of knowledge: Not understanding the risks associated with opioid use can lead to misuse and addiction.
What are the effects of opioid addiction?
Opioid addiction can have serious health effects in both the short-term and long-term. These include:
- Opioid overdose: Overdoses occur when too much of the drug is taken and can result in a decrease in consciousness and, in severe cases, respiratory failure and death.
- Mental health problems: Depression, anxiety and other mental health problems can be exacerbated by opioid addiction. These psychological issues may persist even after the physical addiction has been treated, requiring long-term management and support.
- Infectious diseases: If opioids are injected, there is a risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV or Hepatitis C. This is often due to the sharing of needles among drug users and risky sexual behaviour when under the influence of drugs.
- Respiratory issues: Opioids can slow breathing, potentially leading to hypoxia, a condition in which too little oxygen reaches the brain. Hypoxia can have both short- and long-term psychological and neurological effects, including permanent brain damage.
- Gastrointestinal issues: Chronic opioid use can lead to constipation which can result in serious complications such as bowel obstruction or perforation if left untreated.
- Endocrine dysfunction: Chronic opioid use can also disrupt the endocrine system, leading to sexual dysfunction, infertility and a weakened immune system.
- Cardiovascular issues: Opioid abuse can lead to a variety of cardiovascular complications, including endocarditis, an infection of the heart’s inner lining, typically occurring when opioids are injected.
- Increased pain sensitivity: Ironically, long-term use of opioids can lead to a condition called opioid-induced hyperalgesia, which is an increased sensitivity to pain.
Beyond the health effects, opioid addiction can also lead to several other negative consequences, including:
- Financial difficulties
- Relationship problems
- Legal issues
- Career and educational struggles
How can you recover from opioid addiction?
Opioid addiction treatment starts with detox, where your opioid dosage is gradually tapered, and withdrawal symptoms are managed with medical care and medications. Alongside detox, rehab provides therapy, holistic treatments and peer and professional support to help change your attitudes and behaviours related to drug use, increase healthy life skills and maintain lifelong sobriety.
How to get help for opioid addiction
If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, it’s important to seek help immediately. Oasis Runcorn is one of the leading facilities in the UK offering comprehensive treatment for opioid addiction. Contact us today and take the first step to a future free from opioids.