While few people actually use opium in its pure form, the use and abuse of opium-based drugs, such as heroin and prescription pain pills runs high. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 2010 saw an estimated 12 million Americans abusing prescription pain pills. This number coupled with the rising numbers of people trying and using heroin makes opium the number one drug of abuse in the United States.
The natural ingredients found in opium work wonders at relieving most any form of pain symptoms. These ingredients have also formed the basis for most all of the synthetically made pain pills on the market. While abusing opium will most definitely place a person at risk of opium dependence, those who use the drug for medicinal purposes face many of the same risks as drug abusers.
Unfortunately, the cycle of abuse doesn’t end at opium dependence. When left untreated, opium dependence can quickly spiral out of control as addiction picks up where physical dependence leaves off. In actuality, addiction represents a second stage of opium dependence that alters a person’s thinking and behaviors. Once addiction enters the picture, signs of opium dependence are all but impossible to miss.
Opium Effects & Uses
Whether natural or synthetically made, opium’s ability to reduce pain symptoms works by the same mechanisms. The chemical make-up of opium plays a pivotal role in how this drug works.
Opium essentially blocks pain signals sent to the brain by interfering with the chemical processes that relay pain sensations. According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, opium effects increase neurotransmitter chemical outputs for dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Each of these chemicals helps in regulating central nervous system functions, some of which include –
- Heart rate
- Temperature regulation
- Cognitive processes
- Sleep cycles
In addition to opium’s intended pain relieving effects, it also produces feelings of euphoria and calm. These after effects play a significant role in driving the drug using behaviors that lead to opium dependence.
When used for weeks or months at a time, opium has a debilitating effect on brain chemical function, which ultimately lays the groundwork for opium dependence to take shape.
Physical Withdrawal Signs
Over time, opium use creates imbalances throughout the brain’s overall chemical system. Since neurotransmitters act as the brain’s communication messengers, any disruptions in chemical secretion levels impair brain communications as a whole.
When this happens, any one of the bodily functions regulated by the central nervous system can start to breakdown. Physical withdrawal symptoms are the result.
Physical withdrawal signs of opium dependence can vary from person to person through certain symptoms tend to happen across the board –
- Increase in Dosage Amounts – as opium continues to weaken brain functions, the brain comes to tolerate increasingly larger doses of the drug
- Problems Sleeping – neurotransmitter imbalances disrupt the brain’s sleep center, causing a person to have problems falling asleep and/or staying asleep
- Irritability – since opium naturally depresses or slows down nerve signal transmission rates, sensory-based functions enter a state of hyper-arousal once chemical imbalances form
Cognitive signs of opium dependence reflect the degree of impairment caused by ongoing opium abuse. Once the brain’s communications pathways start to breakdown, the brain’s system undergoes damage on both a structural and functional level.
Opium’s ability to over-stimulate neurotransmitter production takes place at individual brain cell sites. Opium effects force these cells have to work considerably harder than normal. When this happens on a repeated basis, cell structures inevitably deteriorate over time.
Cognitive signs of opium dependence can greatly impact a person’s ability to function effectively in daily life. They can also place the drug user and those around him or her in harm’s way depending on the circumstances.
Cognitive signs of opium dependence may include –
- Confused or muddled thinking processes
- Faulty reasoning and logic
- Making poor decisions and choices
- Problems focusing or concentrating on the task at hand
Ultimately, these signs mark the beginnings of a burgeoning addiction problem as a person’s perceptions regarding self and others start to change.
Psychological signs of opium dependence start to emerge once the cognitive and emotion-based centers of the brain start to deteriorate, National Institute on Drug Abuse. Psychological signs also mark the start of a growing addiction problem.
At the heart of the brain’s cognitive functions lies the brain reward center. This region dictates learning processes in terms of what a person comes to perceive as valuable and necessary for day-to-day living. Once signs of opium dependence reach this point, a person becomes psychologically dependent on the drug’s effects.
Psychological signs of opium dependence may take the form of –
- Symptoms of Depression – feelings of sadness, hopelessness and despair take shape as dopamine and serotonin chemical levels decline
- Anxiety Disorder Symptoms – feelings of anxiety and sometimes panic become more apparent as hyper-arousal states arise
- Psychosis – confused thinking processes coupled with growing feelings of anxiety create a state of paranoia and delusional thinking
By the time a person starts displaying lifestyle signs of opium dependence, he or she has developed an addiction problem. The damage caused by opium dependence drives continued drug use, which in turn becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of abuse.
At this point, both a physical and a psychological dependency drive drug-using behaviors, causing a person to crave opium’s effects in two ways. The brain “needs” opium effects in order to regulate central nervous system functions or else withdrawal symptoms will make a person’s life miserable. Likewise, opium’s damaging effects on a person’s mental outlook leaves him or her “needing” the drug as a means for coping with daily life.
Considering the diminished mental state of the addict, friends and family will notice these signs long before the addict does. Lifestyle signs typically take the form of –
- Problems on the job
- Financial difficulties
- Legal problems, such as getting arrested for a DUI or engaging in criminal activity (stealing)
- Relationship conflicts – separation, divorce
With continued drug use, these problems only get worse to the point where addicts can quickly end up jobless and homeless. Getting help for an opium dependence early on can help a person avoid falling into addiction’s trap.