Differences Between Side Effects of Opiate and Addiction Symptoms

Differences Between Side Effects of Opiate and Addiction Symptoms

Common opiate side effects are confusion, dizziness, delirium, hallucination, headache and memory loss

Knowing what to expect when you take a drug is one of the first steps in preventing or identifying addiction. Separating early signs of tolerance and dependence from typical side effects of opiates allows you to take action and talk to your doctor if these unwanted symptoms appear. The American Public Health Association[1] states, “Primary drug abuse prevention efforts that aim to educate patients and their families form the foundation for reducing prescription drug demand.” Prevention begins with information and education. Additionally knowledge of addiction risks and symptoms helps you or a loved one take action if a problem with opiate drugs does arise. Recognizing early signs of addiction means addressing substance abuse issues before they become a greater problem in life. Recognizing later signs of addiction means taking action to free yourself, a family member or friend.

Opiate Side Effects

Side effects are common with any medication, and they vary from person to person. If you experience any unexpected mental or physical health effects when taking an opiate, talk with your doctor, even if the effect seems positive or seems too small to bother mentioning. According to WebMD[2] the most common opiate side effects include the following:

  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting

If you are using alcohol, other prescription drugs, or over-the-counter medications, these symptoms may be exacerbated. Avoiding complications involves talking with your doctor about any possible interactions.

Two other common side effects of opiate use are tolerance and dependence. These are symptoms that begin to blur the lines between expected opiate side effects and signs of addiction. Tolerance and dependence can occur even if a medication is taken exactly as prescribed, and they occur faster and to a greater degree when a drug is misused. Tolerance begins to develop after the first use of an opiate. The effects of tolerance may not be noticed for some time, but patients will come to find that their pain is no longer managed as well, or recreational users will find themselves chasing a now-elusive euphoric high. More of the drug will be needed to experience the intended effects. As the drugs become less effective, side effects continue to accrue. The AAPS Journal[3] shares, “Long-term use of opioids can be problematic due to the rapid development of profound tolerance to the analgesic effects coupled with slow development of tolerance to many of the untoward effects of these agents.” This means that tolerance to the wanted effects of opiates develops faster than tolerance to unwanted side effects such as the ones listed above. This is one of many reasons opiates are typically only prescribed for short-term pain management. When you begin to experience tolerance, it is time to reassess your prescription drug use and determine if opiates are still necessary or if use has become problematic.

Dependence, another result of opiate use that is both a side effect and addiction symptom, follows tolerance closely. If you are dependent on an opiate, you will experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug is no longer present in the body. At this point your body has adjusted so that it is “normal” when the drug is present and becomes unbalanced when the drug is not. Science & Practice Perspectives[4] explains the effects of tolerance and dependence in just one area of the brain: “With repeated exposure to opioids…neurons adjust by increasing their level of activity. Now, when opioids are present, their suppressive impact is offset by this heightened activity…When opioids are not present to suppress the brain cells’ enhanced activity, however, the neurons release excessive [activity], triggering jitters, anxiety, muscle cramps, and diarrhea.” These are just a few of the uncomfortable or even painful side effects of withdrawal. Some of these, such as muscle cramps, may cause individuals to believe they are experiencing the original pain for which they received opiates. This leads to a false assumption that the drug is still necessary for continued pain management. Medically supervised detox services help patients address withdrawal symptoms as they arise and differentiate between expected withdrawal symptoms and the appearance of any underlying mental or physical health concerns masked by opiate use. Treatment ensures you will be safe and as comfortable as possible during early recovery.

Tolerance and dependence are not the only signs of addiction, but they are early signs and are often some of the most obvious. Additional addiction symptoms are often psychological or behavioral, and these can be hard for a person to recognize at first or to attribute to a developing addiction problem. The very nature of addiction makes denial and minimization common reactions from both the drug user and those who love and support him or her. You may find that you are spending less time with friends and less time engaging in once-favorite hobbies, opting instead to spend time and energy getting or using opiates. You may start lying about how much of a drug you use, hiding the drug or visiting multiple doctors or pharmacies to get the greater number of pills you need to combat tolerance. Life comes to revolve around opiates, and when you try to stop using opiates or to cut back, you may find you can’t or that withdrawal symptoms quickly send you back to these drugs.

Ending Side Effects and Addiction Symptoms

Addiction is a serious disease with both physical and psychological roots, and experiencing addiction as a result of opiate use is nothing to be ashamed of. It is something to speak up about and get help with. Effective treatment options exist, and we are here to connect you to the ones you need. If you experience addiction symptoms or are simply tired of the effect opiates have on your health and your life, call our helpline. We are here 24 hours a day to help you begin your personalized journey to wellness. All conversations are free and confidential, so please reach out to us today.

[1]    http://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2015/12/08/15/11/prevention-and-intervention-strategies-to-decrease-misuse-of-prescription-pain-medication. “Prevention and Intervention Strategies to Decrease Misuse of Prescription Pain Medication.” American Public Health Association. Web. 18 May 2016.

[2]    http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/narcotic-pain-medications. “Opioid (Narcotic) Pain Medications.” WebMD. 23 Apr 2015. Web. 18 May 2016.

[3]    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2628209/. “Opioid Tolerance Development: A Pharmokinetic/Pharmacodynamic Perspective.” The AAPS Journal. 7 Nov 2008. Web. 18 May 2016.

[4]    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851054/. “The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment.” Science & Practice Perspectives. Jul 2002. Web. 18 May 2016.