The use of painkillers has been prevalent in the United States for decades. It’s not hard to see why – they are effective at relieving chronic and acute pain while also providing feelings of euphoria or relaxation. But while opioids can be a lifesaver when taken as prescribed by doctors, their abuse is deadly. This article will discuss how dangerous opioids are when used without medical supervision.
How can such a seemingly harmless substance cause so much harm?
Opioids, by definition, are substances that bind to opioid receptors in the central nervous system and other tissues to elicit their effects. These effects vary from person to person depending on genetics and other factors; however, they can include feelings of euphoria and relaxation and relief from pain and anxiety. They can also produce constipation, nausea, and difficulty breathing. The opioid receptors in the brain that opioids bind to are called delta receptors; these exist for our endogenous endorphins (the body’s naturally created painkillers) and other naturally occurring analgesics like dopamine and serotonin.
Delta receptors operate by reducing the ability of our neurons to fire and inhibiting the release of neurotransmitters that signal pain while also increasing the production of dopamine that creates feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and pain relief. What makes opioids particularly dangerous is that they not only activate our delta receptors but they do so at an amplified rate, making them significantly more effective than naturally occurring substances. They bind to these receptors and completely suppress our ability to sense pain. As the dosage increases, the effects become stronger until eventually breathing begins to slow and can stop altogether. Death from opioid overdose typically occurs due to respiratory failure.
Opioids are known for having a high potential for abuse because of their intense addictive nature and euphoric effects; however, they also carry the risk of severe adverse reactions, including respiratory depression (breathing slows or stops), extreme drowsiness and sedation, nausea, and vomiting, constipation, urinary retention (inability to urinate), blurred vision, and itchiness. Taking more opioids than prescribed or taking them in a way other than how they are prescribed can increase the rate of all of these effects. The abuse of opioids is considered one of the most pressing public health issues of our time. As more Americans are dying from opioid overdoses each year, it must be asked why exactly do these drugs pose such danger? Researchers have found that there are several reasons for this:
• Opioids have a high potential for abuse because their euphoric effects entice recreational drug users.
• Opioids bind more strongly to receptors in the brain compared to naturally occurring substances due to their increased potency
• Long-term use leads to changes in brain chemistry that can potentiate feelings of reward and increase the risk for addiction.
All three of these factors play a role in why opioids are known to be inherently dangerous; however, their strength makes them a particularly deadly drug. More research needs to be done on how exactly opioid overdoses occur outside of respiratory toxicity to understand what happens when someone abuses them entirely. Still, all evidence seems to point towards the brain’s delta receptors as being responsible for changes in consciousness and inhibition of breathing. When someone abuses opioids, their body tries to maintain homeostasis by increasing its endorphin levels through natural processes. However, because opioids bind more strongly and activate neurons more intensely than naturally occurring substances, usage leads to a chemical dependency which causes withdrawal symptoms when stopping use.
Scientists are still exploring the specifics of opioid addiction, but they have found that there are some commonalities among the experiences of opioid addicts. Because opioid medications activate the same areas in the brain as drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, long-term users can simultaneously find themselves addicted to more than one substance. Despite being different types of substances with different effects on the body, opioids, stimulants, and depressants interact with delta receptors to inhibit neuronal firing throughout the central nervous system. As a result, drug cravings often overshadow other motivations making it more difficult for people struggling with addiction to go about their daily lives without using.
This makes overcoming an addiction even more challenging because these chemicals have affected multiple parts of their brain and altered semi-automatic processes like decision making and impulse control. Once an opioid addiction has developed, the only way to recover is through professional treatment at a rehab center where behavioral therapy can be used to change patterns of behavior that led to drug abuse in the first place. It is dangerous for someone struggling with addiction to try quitting on their own because they are likely to relapse when faced with stress or negative emotions, which are powerful triggers for initiating use again. This is why it is crucial for people trying to overcome opioid addictions to receive support from counselors who understand the nature of addiction while they undergo treatment. The more support there is during this time, the greater chance there will be for overcoming dependence once and for all.
In conclusion, opioids are inherently dangerous because they have a high potential for abuse, bind more strongly to brain receptors than naturally occurring substances, and inhibit communication between neurons in the central nervous system, which makes it difficult for people struggling with addiction to overcome their cravings without assistance. If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, please do not hesitate to contact us for help. Call us at 424-499-2603.