Opium is a psychoactive substance widely used in prescription and illicit products in the United States. When misused, opium products can result in overdose or death. To avoid the harmful effects of opiates and opioids, it is important to understand what these drugs are, their risks and how to seek help if you have an opium addiction.
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What Are Opium Products?
There are important but subtle differences when it comes to the definitions of products made from opium:
- Opium: A drug produced from the juice of poppy seeds. It has historically been used to treat pain. The active ingredients include morphine, codeine and thebaine. Opium is a schedule II controlled substance.
- Opiates: These naturally occurring opioids, including morphine, codeine, thebaine, and opium, are derived from poppy seeds.
- Opioids: An umbrella term to describe all naturally occurring and synthetic derivatives of opium. All opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates. Examples of opioids include heroin, morphine, hydrocodone, oxymorphone and some other prescription pain medications.
The three terms above are often used interchangeably when discussing opioid products in general.
Signs and Symptoms of Opium Abuse
Opium addiction can cause physical and behavioral changes. In some cases, people with an opium use disorder can hide the effects of their addiction. In other instances, family and friends can recognize changes in a person’s mood or appearance.
Signs associated with excessive opium use can be seen by others. For example, people can identify small or pinpoint pupils and mood swings. However, they cannot see some other symptoms, such as headaches or stomach pain.
Behavioral Signs of Opium Addiction
People addicted to opioids may isolate themselves or lose interest in their normal hobbies. They often have trouble accomplishing everyday tasks, like cleaning their home or caring for their children.
Additional signs of an opium addiction include:
- Mood swings
- Changes in appearance
- Hiding drugs in room or vehicle
- Volatile behaviors
- Engaging in risky behaviors, like driving while high on opioids
A telltale sign of an opium addiction is a lack of productivity at school or work. For example, many teens who are addicted to painkillers skip class or perform poorly on tests. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, adolescents with an addiction are at an increased risk of dropping out of school.
An opium addiction can also bring about mental health problems, like anxiety or depression. For example, many people experiencing heroin addiction deal with co-occurring disorders that can lead to suicidal thoughts. To reduce their psychological pain, many of these individuals use larger doses of opium products, which can result in overdose.
Physical Symptoms of Opium Addiction
Opium addiction can lead to physical health problems, like constipation and respiratory depression. The longer someone uses opium products, the more likely they are to experience these health issues.
Common physical symptoms associated with opium abuse or addiction include:
- Dry mouth
- Pinpoint pupils
- Excessive or difficulty sleeping
Some effects of chronic opium use are more severe than others. Individuals who have experienced an addiction to painkillers like OxyContin for several years might deal with more intense health problems, like:
- Low blood pressure
- Nausea or vomiting
- Redness of skin
- Chronic fatigue
Many people with an opium addiction try to reduce their drug use. However, decreasing their use can produce painful withdrawal symptoms that might be difficult to control on their own. Opium withdrawal symptoms include abdominal cramping, muscle aches and excessive sweating.
Long-Term Health Effects of Opium Use
Chronic opium use can lead to a range of long-term physical issues. These health problems might include brittle bones, hormonal changes and intestinal complications. Routinely abusing opium also increases a person’s risk of narcotic bowel syndrome, a condition characterized by the presence of consistent abdominal pain caused by opioids.
The psychological complications resulting from opioid abuse can be just as distressing as the physical problems. Opium use is closely associated with anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. If left untreated, these mental disorders can contribute to continued opium use or death.
According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 7.2 million people in the United States with a mental health disorder use prescription opioids. The report indicated that Americans with psychological problems receive more than half of opioid prescriptions distributed nationwide.
Using opium products by injection can carry an increased risk of complications, like developing infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis. People who inject opium run the risk of dealing with collapsed veins or clogged blood vessels.
Anyone can become addicted to painkillers. Opium addiction is a severe, long-term consequence of opium abuse. Addiction is a neurological disorder that can lead to compulsive behaviors. If a substance use disorder is not treated, it can produce several health disorders and exacerbate existing ones.
An opium overdose occurs when someone takes more than the recommended amount of opium. Upon taking too much opium, the drug impacts parts of the brain that control breathing. As a result, the brain and body do not receive enough oxygen, and people can lose consciousness.
Signs and symptoms of an opium overdose include:
- Clammy or pale skin
- Trouble breathing
- Decreased consciousness
- Slowed heartbeat
- Blue or purple nails and fingernails
An overdose should be treated as a medical emergency. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of an opium overdose, call 911 immediately. You could also contact the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 1-800-222-1222.
If someone you know has overdosed on opium, contact emergency services immediately and treat them with naloxone if available. Naloxone reverses the overdose effects of opioids for a short period of time. Some long-acting opium products stay in the system longer than naloxone, so a patient can re-enter an overdose once the naloxone is cleared from their body. Naloxone is not a replacement for emergency care at the hospital, which is often still required for a person to survive an opium overdose.
If you use opium and want to learn more about your substance use behaviors, take The Recovery Village’s self-assessment. These quizzes can help you recognize the presence of an opium addiction or dependence.
- Illicit Drugs
An opium overdose may indicate the presence of a substance use disorder. If you’re grappling with an addiction to opiates or opioids, addiction treatment may be necessary. The Recovery Village operates several rehab centers across the United States. The medical experts at each facility create treatment plans to meet an individual’s specific needs. To learn more about how treatment can help you heal, contact The Recovery Village today.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “How Does Drug Use Affect Your High School Grades?” Just Think Twice. Accessed August 22, 2021.
Matthew A Davis, Matthew A; Lin, Lewei A; Liu, Haiyin; Sites, Brian D. “Prescription Opioid Use among Adults with Mental Health Disorders in the United States.” Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, July–August 2017. Accessed August 22, 2021.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What’s the relationship between drug use and viral infections?” July 2020. Accessed August 22, 2021.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Opioid Overdose.” August 19, 2020. Accessed August 22, 2021.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.