Throughout the United States, the present rates of opiate abuse and addiction are the highest that they have ever been. In fact, opiate abuse has been compared to an pandemic with regard to its having rapidly spread over the entire nation and beyond. Opiates are narcotic drugs derived from the opium of the poppy flower and was used for medicinal purposes upon its discovery thousands of years ago. However, the opiates abused today are predominantly heroin and prescription painkillers, both of which are highly addicted on physical and psychological levels.
While opiate abuse is at such an all-time high, there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings concerning opiates; knowing the key facts about opiates and opiate addiction can help to deter individuals from abusing it and help others to identify those who may have an addiction to opiates. Educate yourself with these facts about what is arguably the most lethal, addictive class of drugs, which continues to wield a destructive force on our culture: Opiates.
Derivative of opium that comes from the poppy flower, opiates are narcotic analgesics, which are medications intended to relieve pain, that are classified as depressants due to their tendency to depress, inhibit, or reduce functioning of the central nervous system. The opiates we see today are mostly semi-synthetic, lab-created opioid narcotics derived from variants of morphine and intended for medicinal use. The most common opioids used in the medical field are morphine and codeine, but individuals with moderate to severe chronic pain are frequently prescribed one or more opioid painkillers such as oxycodone (Roxicodone, Oxycontin) and hydrocodone (Percocet, Vicodin, Zohydro).
The most common opiate that’s abused today is heroin. It’s created from the milky, sap-like opium obtained from the poppy flower; when opium is refined, it creates morphine and can be further refined into forms of heroin. There are many characteristics and properties of heroin and its use that have given it a reputation for being the most dangerous, addictive drug that exists. The tolerance of a heroin user increases rapidly, requiring more and more of the drug in order to achieve the same results and rapidly increasing risk of overdose. Additionally, the most common means of administering heroin is intravenously via hypodermic needles; and since heroin users are unable to buy clean needles from pharmacies like someone with a legitimate medical condition can, this opens heroin users to the possibility of infection and transmission of disease via dirty and shared needles.
There have been many studies attempting to link between drug addiction and, in particular, opiate addiction with some sort of genetic cause or contributor. However, there’s currently no evidence that can directly and definitively identify any biological, natural causes. The closest to a genetic factor to be found involves studies of families in which opiate addiction was present.
According to the research, individuals with first-degree relatives—those who live in the same household such as parents, children, and siblings—who have suffered from a substance abuse disorder such as opiate addiction or alcoholism are at significantly higher risk of developing the disorder than those who don’t have substance abuse and addiction in the family unit. While this shows a familial correlation, it’s still unclear whether this indicates a genetic cause of addiction, whether this means that being exposed to substance abuse from a young age can create a predisposition for substance abuse, or whether it’s some combination of the two.
In terms of biological and genetic causes of opiate addiction, it’s been suggested that there could be genetic causes of opiate addiction, but they function through indirect influence via a chain of causation. These studies have looked at genetic indicators of certain personalities traits such as risk-taking behavior and impulsivity, among many inborn others, that tend to be common among opiate addicts or that have even been linked to increased susceptibility to opiate addiction. What’s more, certain personality traits can influence or guide social behaviors such as the peer group to which an individual identifies; since peers who abuse drugs are one of the most common social causes for experimentation with opiates and other substances, it’s these types of complex, indirect links between genetics and addiction that put many in danger of opiate addiction.
Additionally, a number of physiological and social factors have been suggested to causing opiate addiction. Some individuals become addicted to opiates or other drugs after using the substance as a coping mechanism, which is often referred to as self-medication. These individuals are usually unable or ill-equipped to process intense emotions, but sometimes this self-medication occurs due to having had experiences that were traumatic and has a lasting emotional effect. As is common, many individuals become addicted to the short-term effects of opiate use such as the rush of euphoria, body warmth, tingling sensation throughout the body, and numbing effect that’s felt physically, mentally, and emotionally. Acting on the brain’s pleasure center, opiates trigger an unnatural release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkiller, creating pleasurable, enjoyable feelings—the “high”—that users want to experience repeatedly, over and over again.
Individuals who suffer from opiate addiction have become physically and even psychologically dependent on opiates, which has a number of side effects and symptoms. In terms of mood and personality, those with an addiction to opiates often suffer from higher rates of general anxiety, experience anxiety and panic attacks, can be inexplicably irritable or moody, may seem depressed, and tend to lack motivation. In terms of behavioral, the opiate addict will typically hide much of the behavior that most obviously associated with their addiction; however, these individuals will often be very unreliable and are always late due to spending much of their time either seeking, using, or recovering from opiates. Individuals suffering from opiate addiction usually abandon the things that used to be important to them, which is a result of the all- consuming nature of opiate and drug addiction.