By Sandy Baker
Opioid misuse occurs for many reasons. Often, when a doctor prescribes opioid-based medications, such as for the treatment of pain, they use the lowest dose possible and for the shortest time possible. This helps minimize risk of misuse.
The Risks of Opioid Overdose
If you take opioids prescribed to you by a doctor in the way the doctor recommends, there’s a low risk of addiction forming. But if you misuse these drugs, such as using someone else’s prescription, taking more than the prescription states, or using illicit forms of opioids like heroin, the addiction risk is high.
Overuse of opioids quickly leads to tolerance, which means your body wants more and more of the drug to feel the same euphoria or pain relief. Increasing your dose means more of the drug enters your system, and, as a result, your risk of overdose rises.
Understanding How Opioids Impact the Brain’s Function
When a person misuses opioids, they may be doing so because of the high opioid drugs create. These drugs trigger the pleasure center of the brain, changing the activity of chemicals called neurotransmitters. So, you feel good, but your brain is learning that only opioids can create this level of pleasure. With repeated use, your brain learns to seek out these drugs, and addiction forms.
Over time, the brain starts to require opioids to function normally. When this dependence forms, the brain and the body expect that the substance will be available and become aggravated when the substance is absent. If you have intense cravings for the drug or have withdrawal symptoms when you stop it, you are physically dependent on the drug.
As dependence builds, the drugs no longer provide a high. You may be driven to take more in the search for that good feeling the drug used to produce. This is an especially dangerous situation because high amounts of opioids can slow down the function of the brain, reduce the heart rate, and slow breathing, leading to an overdose.
Who Is Most at Risk for an Overdose?
Several situations put you at a higher risk for overdosing from opioids:
- You are taking a high dose of the drugs. The higher the dose, the higher the risk.
- You’ve used opioids for a long time. This leads to physical dependence and addiction. The U.S. Department of Labor states that 1 in 4 people who have a long-term prescription for opioids develop an addiction.
- You are using extended release or long-acting types of opioids. These drugs carry a higher risk for overdose because of the development of tolerance.
- You are using heroin. This drug is an opioid, but it can be laced with other drugs, including fentanyl, which is highly toxic even in a small amount.
- You’re misusing opioids of any type. Opioids are powerful enough to cause an overdose with a first dose in some cases.
Signs You Could Be at Risk for an Opioid Overdose
If you are using a prescription, only do so according to your doctor’s written details. There is no safe level at which to misuse these drugs. Some signs you may be at risk for an overdose include the following:
- When you stop taking the drugs, you feel intense cravings that make it impossible for you to think about anything else. It’s overwhelming to you.
- You feel muscle and bone pain, nausea, headaches, or other types of unexplained illness when you stop using for a short time.
- You’ve used opioids for a long time, and you’re taking a high dose.
- You’ve overdosed in the past. This puts you at a much higher risk of overdosing again.
- Prescriptions written for you run out before you can get a new one filled. You may be using someone else’s medications.
- There are times when you mix opioids with other drugs, such as alcohol, benzos, or other drugs, to get a different effect.
- You stopped taking opioids for some time, but then you relapsed. A person who is relapsing is at a higher risk for overdose because their body no longer has the same level of tolerance it had while using.
Help Is Available
If you are misusing opioids in any way and for any reason, seek out treatment. Even if you think you can control how much you use, you may still be at a high risk for overdose.
Help is available through our drug addiction treatment center in Lubbock to help you finally stop using for good. Reach out to us today to learn what your first step is in getting treatment.