Understanding Why Opiates Make Your Pupils Small

Opioids or opiates are drugs that have wreaked havoc on the lives of many people in the U.S. The use of opiates is a problem that plagues communities across the country, from inner cities to rural areas. Unfortunately, much of the reason opiates have become so problematic is because doctors so frequently prescribe these painkillers.

Opiates include prescription drugs like fentanyl, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine. Heroin is also an opiate, and many people begin using opiates when they have a legitimate prescription, but over time as they build a tolerance to the prescription opiate or find that it’s tougher to get, they move to the very deadly and dangerous heroin.

Understanding Why Opiates Make Your Pupils Small
Understanding why opiates make your pupils small is about understanding in a general sense how opiates work.

First opioids attach to tiny opioid receptors found throughout your brain and your body.

Opioids act on places throughout the brain and nervous system including the limbic system, brainstem, and the spinal cord.

Prescription opiates are drugs that are designed to help people deal with moderate to severe pain, often following an accident or injury, or maybe surgery. They may also be used to deal with chronic pain, but as the number of prescriptions in this country has grown, so have the problems with addiction that result from using these drugs.

Often loved ones of people who might be abusing opiates wonder what the signs of drug use are.

There are many signs someone is on opioids, including noticeable euphoria, drowsiness or nodding off, slowed breathing, constipation, and one of the most obvious signs for many people to notice: constricted pupils.

Constricted pupils are also frequently referred to as pinpoint pupils, and narcotic abuse or medication side effects are two of the most common reasons someone might have tiny pupils. Pupils that are extremely small even when the surrounding lighting is normal is also called mycosis or miosis.

In a normal situation, adults’ pupils would be between 2 and 4 mm in bright light and around 4 to 8 mm in the dark. Anything less than this can be an indicator someone is using opiates.

While there are many things that could contribute to someone having dilated or large pupils, there are very few things that make them small, which is why small pupils are such a significant indicator of opioid use.

So why do opiates make your pupils small?

It can be a somewhat complicated response of what’s happening in your brain when you take them. When you take opiates the constriction of your pupils is the result of a physiological response. Constriction of the pupil occurs when something called the circular muscle, which is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system, contracts.

Drugs that fall into the opiate category stimulate the parasympathetic side of the autonomic nervous system, thus the restriction of pupils.

The constriction of pupils is one of the biggest telltale signs of opiate use because it is so uncommon. Most other drugs tend to lead to dilation or enlarging of the pupils.

Also pertinent to the discussion of why opiates make pupils small is what happens when someone is going through withdrawal. It can be difficult for medical care providers to know when someone is going through withdrawal from opioids like heroin, so a lot of physicians and health care professionals have learned to start looking at the pupils. One of the top signs of withdrawal from opioids is the opposite of what happens when someone is high on these drugs: their pupils become dilated.

To sum up why opiates make pupils small, it’s an involuntary response to the ways these drugs interact with the autonomic nervous system.

Understanding Why Opiates Make Your Pupils Small
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