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The Short and Long-Term Effects of Opiate Use

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Illegal use of prescription opiates is a real problem in the United States. A survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration concluded that roughly 80 percent of the world’s supply of opiates is consumed by Americans. Opioids are narcotic drugs that work by altering receptors in the brain, resulting in opiate effects such as a prolonged high. While some opiates are illegal, such as heroin, most are prescription drugs given by doctors for the relief of severe or chronic pain. Whether legal or illegal, addiction can happen if these drugs are taken in in large doses or for prolonged periods of time.

Various Prescription Opiates

OpiateThere are many analgesics available today, but opiates are generally only given to people suffering extreme pain, such as pain from surgery, cancer or severe injury. The most common opiates prescribed for medical use include:

What Causes One to Develop an Addiction?

Opiates work by binding directly to receptors on the brain, causing a feeling of an intense and pleasurable high followed by relaxation. The body can quickly build up a tolerance, requiring more and more of the drugs to get the same result. The opiate effects of mental addiction then set in.

Many of the prescription opiates, such as Percodan, are mixed with analgesics to combat pain. When taken for a prolonged period, particularly if taken in large doses, the brain stops production of the body’s natural painkillers, endorphins, causing a physical dependence on the drugs.

Signs of opiate dependence include:

  • Spending a large amount of time focusing on the drugs, particularly how to get more of them
  • Mild to severe depression, possibly leading to thoughts of suicide
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Lack of attention to physical appearance
  • Possible weight loss

Short-Term Effects of Use

The effects of opiate use can be felt very quickly after taking the drug, but the duration depends on the type and amount of opiate taken. The most noticeable short-term effect of opiate use is a flushed feeling, called a “high,” along with intense feelings of pleasure and relaxation. Other short-term effects include:

  • Dry mouth
  • A feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs
  • Alternating between an alert or drowsy state
  • Impaired mental functioning
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Itchy skin
  • Depressed respiration rate

Most of the short-term opiate effects are more severe in elderly patients, particularly those already suffering from a central nervous system illness.

What are Common Long-Term Effects?

The long-term effects of opiate use are not limited to drug tolerance and addiction. There are many physical symptoms that can cause severe medical issues as the drug use continues. The most common long-term effects of opiate abuse include:

  • A suppressed immune system, leading to frequent infections and possible heart and liver problems
  • Frequent and severe constipation
  • Opioid endocrinopathy, with symptoms that include decreased libido and possible infertility, anxiety, loss of muscle strength and mass, irregular menstruation and an increased risk of osteoporosis
  • Opioid-induced hyperalgesia, a condition that makes patients more sensitive to pain

Since opiate effects include impaired mental functioning, most addicts believe they can stop taking the drug and beat the addiction themselves, but this is rarely the case. A certified rehabilitation center with on-site medical assistance is the best chance most addicts have to beat their addiction.

The Withdrawal Process

“Because of the way opiates affect the brain, addiction is both physical and psychological.”Because of the way opiates affect the brain, addiction is both physical and psychological. Before any further treatment can begin, addicts must go through the process of withdrawal. Depending on the length of the drug abuse and the amount of drugs taken, people going through withdrawal need the assistance of trained medical personnel to help them go through the process without any severe medical complications setting in.

There are three basic techniques used to treat withdrawal from opiate addiction, including weaning the addict off the drug gradually, using light medication to ease the physical effects of withdrawal, and the Waismann method where the addict is placed under general sedation, allowing a rapid detox.

Recommended Psychological Support

Once the physical withdrawal is complete, licensed drug rehabilitation centers begin the process of psychological counseling. The best centers will treat the cause of the addiction, rather than the addiction itself, through group and individual counseling. They teach addicts how to regain control of their lives, say no to drugs, and substitute healthy and positive activities to relieve stress in place of drug use.

Most residential treatment programs last a minimum of three months during which time the addict completes physical withdrawal and learns enough skills to live a drug-free life after leaving the center.

If you feel as though you are suffering from long-term opiate effects and addiction, seek out a drug rehabilitation center that fits your individual needs. Call us at for more information and assistance in finding the right residential treatment program and post-program support.

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