What Are Narcotics?

Narcotics are a class of drugs which are commonly also referred to as opioids. Opioids are prescription pain medications and they can range in potency from moderate to very powerful. Most narcotics bind to the same receptors in the central nervous system, they all have pain-relieving abilities, and they all have the potential for abuse. Narcotics work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, the spinal cord, and throughout the central nervous system. By doing so, opioids reduce how pain messages are sent to the brain and how the body senses pain. For years, opioids often the first-line of treatment for pain. Now, there has been a significant effort to reduce the prescribing of opioids. Opioids are only intended to be used in cases in which pain hasn’t responded to other treatments.

Opioids are available as either immediate release or extended release medications. An immediate release opioid starts working to relieve pain right away. Extended-release opioids are intended for around-the-clock pain management. Some of the side effects of opioids can include drowsiness, concentration problems, addiction and dependence. Narcotics are central nervous system depressants which potentially result in slowed coordination and activity, constipation, slow breathing, nausea and vomiting. Narcotics are classified as controlled substances in the United States. Most narcotic medications are categorized as Schedule II drugs -meaning that they have medical uses but are also habit-forming and have a high potential for abuse. Narcotics can also fall outside this classification system if they are illegal. Heroin, for example, is an illicit street drug which is a narcotic and has no medical uses in the United States.

What Do Narcotics Look Like?

that can be taken orally or injected. Narcotics are also available as lollipops, syrups and suppositories. Narcotics can be broken into subcategories based on whether or not they are naturally-derived, synthetic or semi-synthetic. Naturally-derived narcotics include morphine, which comes from the poppy plant. Synthetic and semi-synthetic narcotics are designed to replicate the structure and effects of natural narcotics. Some common narcotic drugs include:

  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone

Are Narcotics Addictive?

Narcotics are highly addictive. Narcotics, whether they are prescription drugs or heroin, are some of the most addictive drugs that exist. Narcotic use has given rise to the opioid epidemic in the United States. When someone uses narcotics, they bind to opioid receptors -which triggers a flood of dopamine. That dopamine creates a reward and reinforcement response in the brain, which leads to addiction. People who use narcotics may experience euphoria or pleasant feelings. When people become addicted to narcotics, every aspect of their lives can be negatively affected.

The body quickly builds a tolerance to narcotics, requiring higher doses of a substance to feel the desired effects. A narcotic tolerance leads to dependence. When someone is physically dependent upon narcotics, they will go through withdrawal when they stop using them. Opioid dependence complicates the issue of addiction even more and makes it much more difficult to stop using these drugs. In response to the addictive nature of opioids, many doctors have started limiting the number of prescriptions and are trying to recommend alternatives for pain management.

When someone’s doctor is considering prescribing narcotics to them, the patient should go over their medical history. Anyone with a personal or family history of substance abuse might not be a good candidate for opioids. Narcotics are not only dangerous due to their addictive nature, they can also cause a fatal overdose. Narcotics slow the central nervous system -affecting breathing and the heart rate. If someone takes a large dose of narcotics or mixes them with another CNS depressant, such as benzodiazepines, their breathing may slow to a dangerous level. The best way to minimize the risks of narcotic addiction, dependence and overdose is only to use these drugs as prescribed. If someone abuses narcotics, they are at an even higher risk of becoming addicted.

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.