If you are experiencing chronic pain, have suffered a severe injury or are coming out of surgery, the chances are likely that your doctor will prescribe an opioid to reduce pain. This medication is a pain-relief compound that is semi-synthetic and created from the opium plant.
Our bodies also produce a natural pain-relief compound acting on receptors in the brain known as opiates, but these synthetic opioids assist in “upping” the pain-relief. As a narcotic, opioids (such as heroin) don’t just block pain but also create a sense of euphoria. This article will act as a guide to opioid side effects, both the beneficial and detrimental.
How Do Opioids Operate?
The way an opioid works is by attaching themselves to specific receptors within one’s brain and spinal cord. Once attached, the opioid reduces the pain signals being sent to the brain and increases feelings of euphoria. The strength and duration of this sensation is dependent on the type of drug and the manner in which it is applied.
For instance, acetaminophen or ibuprofen is short-acting opioids as they are typically used as a pain medication to help attain pain relief for a few hours. For more severe pain relief, doctors will prescribe long-acting opioids which will provide eight to twelve hours of relief and can be taken on a regular schedule.
What Are The Different Opioid Side Effects?
There are various side effects associated with opioid usage, therefore, one should always speak with a doctor before utilizing this type of drug. Most of the side effects can be maintained by adjusting the dosage, changing one’s diet or exercising. The most common side effects include nausea, constipation, vomiting, drowsiness, and memory or thought problems. However, more severe symptoms can include respiratory problems, a lowered heartbeat and reduced blood pressure. If these symptoms are experienced, a doctor should be contacted immediately.
What About Opioid Dependence And Tolerance?
If a person continues to use certain medication for a prolonged period, it is common that they will develop a physical dependence on the drug and may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it. Common symptoms of opioid dependence include the following:
- involuntary leg spasm
- bone and joint pain
- muscle aches
Dependence is often associated with tolerance, which can result in the need to increase a medication dosage to achieve the same outcome. Unfortunately, increased doses can be more dangerous than beneficial. While a doctor can change the opioid being used or add a further pain relief agent to deal with tolerance, he can also use methods to remove pain.
What About Addiction To Opioids?
It is essential that one does not confuse dependence and tolerance with opioid addiction. Addiction is a condition marked by a compulsive need to take the drug. A person is addicted to an opioid will display the following symptoms:
- inability to stop using the drug
- spending all their money on the drug
- feeling depressed, moody or anxious at all times
- lying and stealing because of drugs
- slurring of speech
- severe agitation
- neglect of work, appearance and family
While opioids can offer a welcome relief from pain, there are several side effects that need to be considered. Dependence and tolerance are common among those prescribed, but it is possible to become physically dependent with or without addiction.