The term “opiates” refers to a classification of narcotic drugs that suppress the central nervous system (CNS). Natural opiates come from the opium poppy plant; heroin and morphine are the most common of these. Synthetic opiates are manufactured in laboratories and have a similar chemical structure to natural opiates. The most common synthetic opiates include Demerol and Fentanyl. Semisynthetic opiates are a combination of both natural and laboratory-created opium. The most common of these are hydrocodone and oxycodone. Together, natural and synthetic opiates are also commonly referred to as opioids.1
What Happens in the Body When Opiates Are Used?
Opiates (or opioids, as they are also commonly called) act by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs in the body. When these drugs attach to their receptors, they reduce the perception of pain. Opioids can also produce drowsiness, mental confusion, nausea, constipation, and, depending upon the amount of drug taken, can depress respiration. Some people experience a euphoric response to opioid medications, since these drugs also affect the brain regions involved in reward.
Taken as prescribed by a doctor, these drugs can help a person manage severe or chronic pain. However, when abused, opiates can result in serious side effects that can impair the user.2
How Can Opiates Negatively Impact My Behavior?
Opiates can create various negative behavioral changes:
Impaired judgment and poor decision-making – When your judgment is impaired, you might engage in behaviors that you otherwise wouldn’t dare. You might drive your car while high on opiates. You might have unprotected sex. You might take advantage of another person and cross socially acceptable or physical boundaries, which could result in legal trouble. You might take other drugs that, when combined with opium, are dangerous…perhaps even lethal.
Lethargy, slowed response time and lack of coordination – Opiates relax your body both physically and mentally. This means that you will likely be slow to respond to what’s happening around you. As a result, you may be open to physical and/or sexual assault. It may also give others opportunity to take advantage of you. Your lack of coordination can also lead to accidents or serious injury.
Inability to perceive pain – Opiates are typically prescribed to manage pain. However, when you take too much of an opiate, you can no longer perceive pain accurately. This means that you could experience severe pain and not respond to it or try to avoid it. This could result in injuries like second- or third-degree burns, failure to seek medical attention, or accidental injury.
These side effects, especially when combined with each other, can leave a person at risk for physical harm and legal trouble. The short-term “high” from opiates can’t be worth the possible lifelong consequences that may result from drug abuse. It’s best to strictly follow your care provider’s instructions and get off opiates as soon as possible to avoid the development of tolerance, dependence and addiction.3
What Can Be Done to Help Control Opiate Use?
If you or a loved one is struggling with opiate dependence, abuse or addiction, we can help inform and guide you. When you call our 24/7 toll-free line, a trained coordinator will address your questions, listen to your concerns, and offer several sound treatment options for your specific needs and financial situation. We can even help you determine if your insurance will cover this vital care.
Don’t let an addiction to opiates, opioids or other addictive drugs – as well as any other mental health condition – control how you feel or behave any longer. Call someone you can trust…to get you started on the road to recovery. Your “authentic self” is waiting for you on the other side.
1 “Drugs of Abuse (2011 Edition)”, U.S. Dept. of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration, https://www.dea.gov/docs/drugs_of_abuse_2011.pdf .
2 “How Do Opioids Affect the Brain and Body?”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/opioids/how-do-opioids-affect-brain-body , (November 2014).
3 Gould, Thomas J., Ph.D., “Addiction and Cognition”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3120118/ , (December 5, 2010).