When people think of opioid drugs, they often think of prescription pain medications. While these are indeed common drugs classified as opioids, they are not the only drugs in the class. Illicit and synthetic opioids are also widely used and highly addictive substances that many seek help at a Santa Barbara women’s treatment center like Casa Serena to safely overcome. Opioid abuse and addiction frequently evolve out of prescription use. Despite the nationwide efforts to slow addiction by reducing the number of opioid prescriptions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly 143 million opioid prescriptions issued in 2020.

What Drugs are Opioids?

Opioid drugs may be prescription, illicit, or synthetic (artificial) drugs. Prescription opioids are drugs prescribed by a medical professional to help alleviate pain. There are many prescription opioids. Because prescription opioid use carries a significant risk of dependency, they are often prescribed as a short-term treatment. Unfortunately, addiction to the effects of opioids can occur quickly, and even when taken as prescribed for a short duration, struggles with dependency can occur.

Common names of prescription opioids are familiar to many. Some of the most common include oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, tramadol, Demerol, Percocet, and Vicodin. Drugs used as part of medication-assisted addiction treatment programs like methadone and buprenorphine are also prescription opioids.

Illicit and synthetic opioids are also significant sources of addiction struggles. Heroin is an illicit (illegal) drug frequently used as a “replacement” for prescription pain medications. It is not uncommon for someone who can no longer obtain a prescription medication to which they are addicted in turn to heroin because it is easy to get and produces similar effects.

Another opioid drug of significant concern is Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, meaning it is manufactured using ingredients that produce similar effects to those of naturally occurring opioids. It is prescribed (in specific circumstances) and widely available as a “street drug,” either sold as Fentanyl or used to cut other drugs. Some people who take Fentanyl are unaware they are taking it. Fentanyl is extremely dangerous and between 80 and 100 times more potent than morphine.

How Do Opioids Affect the Body?

Opioid drugs affect all areas of the body but most notably, your brain. When used, opioid drugs attach to specific receptors in the brain and body called opioid receptors. By binding to opioid receptors, the drug tells your brain to block pain signals sent from other body areas. Opioids also impact how your brain produces and releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical responsible for feelings of calm and pleasure.

The amount of dopamine produced when you take opioids far exceeds what it can produce under normal circumstances. With ongoing use, the natural production of dopamine decreases, and it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to feel pleasure without using opioids.

In addition to effects on the brain, opioid drugs also affect other body systems. You may notice increased sleepiness, confusion, slowed breathing, stomach problems (including nausea, vomiting, and constipation), slowed heart rate, and dizziness in the short term. The long-term effects of opioid use may include infections, cognitive decline, and addiction.

Why is Opioid Addiction Common?

Opioid addiction knows no limitations. Anyone who takes an opioid is at an increased risk of developing an addiction to its effects. Several factors may add to your risk for developing an addiction, including how long you have used opioids, the type of drug used, and your history with substance use and addiction treatment programs. Unfortunately, though, it is impossible to predict who may develop an addiction.

One of the most common reasons for opioid addiction is a dependency on the effects of the drug. When someone takes opioids, even as a prescription, it causes a rush of dopamine and other “feel good” chemicals in the brain. In addition to pain relief, this endorphin rush leads to feelings of pleasure and a sense of well-being that many who struggle with chronic pain or addiction crave. It does not take long for an addiction to the sensations produced by opioids to develop. In time, it becomes impossible to feel pleasure or comfort without drugs.

How to Find Opioid Treatment Centers

Achieving sobriety from opioid addiction can be difficult. Trying to stop or reduce taking an opioid drug can produce powerful withdrawal symptoms that are difficult to manage without help and support from a Santa Barbara inpatient treatment program like ours at Casa Serena. The safest and most successful way to overcome an opioid addiction is to choose a comprehensive program where you can detox and participate in Santa Barbara addiction therapy to learn more about how to manage pain without drugs. If you or a loved one are ready to begin your journey to sobriety, Casa Serena is here to help. At our women-focused treatment center, we are here to support you through each stage of detox and treatment. To learn more about our programs and how we can help you find freedom from the grip of opioid addiction, contact us today.

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