Opiates are an enormous problem in the United States and around the world. They’re powerful and often deadly, yet they’re frequently found in medicine cabinets. Opiates include prescription painkillers like OxyContin. Heroin is also part of the opiate class of drugs and is a drug that hundreds of thousands of people are addicted to in the United States.
Often an opioid addiction to opiates can begin by accident. Someone may be injured in an accident or have surgery and their physician prescribes them an opiate painkiller. Unfortunately, these painkillers, while effective, also have a very high likelihood of abuse, dependence, and addiction. What usually happens is that someone is prescribed opiates, becomes dependent on them and then moves to stronger drugs like heroin, as the effects of the initial drug diminish.
Opiates can destroy every aspect of your life, and they can also destroy your body.
Not only can opiate abuse destroy your body, but it can destroy your way of life. The damage that opioids cause can severely impact your quality of life, leaving you unable to partake in activities you once enjoyed. The following are a few of the many ways how opiates destroy your body when you abuse them.
When you take opiates, they flood the brain with dopamine, which is what creates the pleasurable euphoria people feel on these drugs. It’s around a thousand times more of an effect than what you would experience under normal circumstances. Very quickly your brain can become adjusted to the presence of opiates.
As the brain starts to see the presence of the drugs as normal, it rewires itself. The brain changes so that activities that would normally activate pleasure centers, such as enjoying a meal, tend not to have the same effect.
After abusing opiates, the brain has to recover and relearn how to function without the drugs.
Also notable is the fact that your brain is designed to continue to seek out activities that bring pleasure, which is how addiction can develop.
The Respiratory System
What about how opiates destroy your body beyond your brain?
Opiates have a huge impact on your respiratory system. They depress the central nervous system, which means they are also a respiratory depressant. When you take heroin or prescription opiates, it can slow your breathing sometimes to the point where you can lose consciousness or die.
Regarding how opiates destroy your body in the long-term: if your rate of respiration slows too much it can lead to respiratory arrest. This prevents your brain and organs from getting enough oxygen, which can lead to damage and severe injury to your organs. Chronic opiate use is associated with multiple features of sleep-disordered breathing, including central sleep apnea, ataxic breathing, hypoxemia and carbon dioxide retentions, along with the aforementioned life-threatening respiratory arrest.
The Digestive System
One of the areas you’ll often hear about when it comes to how opiates destroy your body is the digestive system. There are opioid receptors throughout the digestive system, and the brain also controls this part of your body. When you take opiates, it impacts the muscles of your digestive system, which is why opiate abusers often have severe constipation, nausea, abdominal cramping, along with experiencing vomiting and bloating.
Ultimately what can happen with chronic opiate use are more severe issues like obstruction of the small bowel and perforation, which can result in hospitalization or death.
Opiates are generally not the cause of liver damage. However, overdosing on potent opioids can cause acute liver injury. Many opioid painkillers are combined with acetaminophen, and the liver can sustain damage as a result of toxicity from this substance. Particular risky opiates when it comes to liver damage include Lortab, Norco, and Vicodin. This is compounded when people combine alcohol with these opiates.
The liver’s ability to process these toxins is reduced, and there is the potential for liver injury or failure as a result of the acetaminophen component in opioids.
These are just some of the ways how opiates destroy your body. Other ways how opiates can destroy your body include the development of a condition called hyperalgesia, which creates an increased sensitivity to pain, slows movement and coordination and weakens immune system which leads to sickness and infection.
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.