Opioids are commonly prescribed drugs because they relieve many types of pain. Also classified as narcotics, opioids can be dangerous when abused. When taken as prescribed, opioids are safe and relieve severe pain associated with post-surgery, cancer, and injury. For millions of people, opioids have been a remarkable help; however, for others, opioids have created psychiatric problems.
When taken as directed, opioids manage pain effectively for short-term use. For chronic pain, the patient must be monitored because a small percentage will abuse the drugs, give the medicines to others, and could develop an addiction disorder. Long-term daily use of narcotics could also lead to physical dependence, which is different than addiction disorder.
Addiction Disorder vs. Physical Dependence
An addiction disorder affects around 5% of people who take opioid pain medicines as directed over a year’s time. While an addiction disorder is treatable, like those who illegally distribute (sell) prescription drugs, the prescriber should be able to identify and address these issues. Because of the risk for addiction disorder, everyone who takes prescription narcotic pain relievers should be regularly screened and closely monitored.
When people have physical dependence, and they stop taking the opioid drug, withdrawal symptoms occur. These symptoms include diarrhea, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, vomiting, insomnia, cold flashes (chills) with goose bumps, and involuntary leg movements. When taken in large doses, or in combination with alcohol or tranquilizers, opioids can case overdose (breathing stops and death occurs).
Link between Mental Health Problems and Opioid Use
According to a recent clinical study, researchers found a link between those suffering from mental health conditions and the long-term use of opioid drugs. In this study, those that were diagnosed with some type of mental health problem were more susceptible to developing long-term abuse issues with opioid drugs later in their lives. The link was not found to be as prominent in younger persons.
Many factors were found to contribute to the association between mental health problems and opioid use. However, the reasons for the link were not specific enough to be broken down into the science of addiction, nor were they related to cross addiction. The connection between these two entities involves the chemical effect of opioids on the central reward system of the brain. Natural chemicals associated with pleasure (endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin) are boosted when one takes an opioid drug. The person will feel good for a while, but then crashes when the brain no longer is stimulated to produce these chemicals.
Even after years of abstinence from opioid use, other drug use can trigger cravings in the brain associated with these chemical changes. Because there is a clear association between mental health problems and opioid use, experts warn that doctors should find a drug-free method for treating emotional and mental health problems.
NESARC Research Study
Using the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions, researchers reviewed survey data from people age 18 and older. They found that non-medical use of opioids was associated with mood and anxiety disorders. Increased incidence of opioid disorder due to non-medical use of opioids was also associated with major depressive disorder, dysthymia, panic disorder, and anxiety.
Commonly abused opioid drugs include:
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NIH Medline (2016). Opioids and chronic pain. Retrieved from: https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/spring11/articles/spring11pg9.html
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. (2011, December 13). Opioid abuse linked to mood and anxiety disorders. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 28, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111213190158.htm