Narcotics Abuse – What is it? How Does it Work? Are There Any Side Effects?

narcotics abuse and addiction

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Examples of Narcotics


Narcotics are extremely effective pain-relieving drugs. The word narcotics actually comes from the Greek word for sleep. However, the term is used to describe a number of substances including synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids and opium. These substances are also referred to as opiates.

What is the definition of narcotics? These are substances that reduce sensitivity to pain and produce feelings of intense euphoria. This is the primary reason why people abuse these drugs. They are so-called downers that depress the central nervous system, produce a sense of calm, and induce sleep. These drugs are highly addictive. Taking them without medical supervision can lead to tolerance, and later, to addiction.

Opiates, such as oxycodone and codeine, are available legally by prescription. Illegal narcotics are available on the street in the form of heroin and crack/cocaine. All opiates affect the human body in essentially the same way, although each has specific effects depending on the ingredients and additives. Read on to learn about the effects of narcotics and the dangers of addiction to these drugs.

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Table of Contents

What Are Prescription Narcotics and Illegal Narcotics?

According to the National Institutes of Health, narcotics are substances that bind to pain receptors in the brain and block pain signals. Prescription narcotics are given by doctors in a controlled hospital setting to minimize the chance of abuse. These medications are administered by mouth, through intravenous lines, or in the form of suppositories or transdermal patches. Illegal narcotics can be purchased from street dealers and are snorted, smoked, or injected by drug abusers.

Every individual has a different body chemistry and brain environment. Thus, nobody can predict the short and long term effects of narcotics on a person. Abusing these pain medications can lead to serious health problems, and in some cases, even death. Many people do not realize that legally available prescription medications can be as dangerous as street drugs. Here is a narcotics list categorized as legal and illegal substances:

Some of the legal narcotics are:

  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Meperidine
  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Tramadol

Common narcotics that are illegal include:

  • Heroin
  • Opium

Is someone taking larger than prescribed doses of opiates? Are there withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not available? Is there drug-seeking behavior? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, seek immediate professional help and drug addiction treatment methods.

Are Narcotic Drugs Addictive?

It does not take long to develop a physical and psychological dependence on narcotic drugs. People suffering from intense, chronic pain are at a high risk of abusing these medications. Some individuals begin using recreational narcotics, such as heroin and crystal meth, to deal with emotional problems and life stressors. Ultimately, they develop a tolerance to the drug, needing bigger and bigger doses to achieve the desired effects.

Tolerance to opioids causes individuals to consume larger quantities or use the drugs more frequently. This is what makes narcotics so addictive and dangerous. As the tolerance builds, a drug addict keeps increasing the dose to get the same high. This is why narcotics overdose is so common and often fatal.

Narcotics Effects: Serious Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

When someone initially takes a narcotic medication, it produces a strong sense of calm and well-being. These drugs reduce stress, anxiety, and tension. They trigger the brain’s reward system and produce intense euphoria.

Illegal narcotics are much more potent and quick acting than prescription pills. The effect of these drugs is short-lived, lasting only 15 to 20 minutes. As the effect subsides, the addict feels anxious, aggressive, and paranoid and seeks more of the drug to eliminate these distressful feelings. The short duration of action is the primary reason that narcotics are so highly addictive.

There are a number of narcotics side effects seen in people who regularly use these drugs, including:

  • Depressed breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Sedation
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  •  Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness

Long term effects of narcotics include hallucinations, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, excessive sweating, and permanent brain damage. These symptoms are, of course, in addition to the dangers of tolerance, dependence, addiction, overdose, and death from the excessive use of narcotics.

Classes of Narcotics

What are natural, semi-synthetic, and synthetic narcotics? The word narcotic literally means “to make numb” in Greek. These psychoactive substances are derivatives of raw opium and have the ability to induce drowsiness, sleep, and stupor.

Opiates are naturally derived from the poppy plant. The two main extracts from the plant, morphine and codeine, are narcotic pain medications. Morphine is available under the brand names MS Contin, Roxanol, and Armyo ER. It is prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. It is a Schedule II controlled substance due to its high addiction potential and risk of fatal overdose. Codeine is prescribed as a pain reliever and is present in cough medications.

Opioids can be synthetic or semi-synthetic. Semi-synthetic opioids are derived from opium and codeine and include oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, and buprenorphine. Synthetic opioids are entirely manmade in laboratories and include tramadol, methadone, and fentanyl. Opioid addiction has a number of long- and short-term side effects.

Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid manufactured from morphine for sale on the streets. It is a Schedule I drug which is illegal and has no medical use. It is sold as a black, brown, or white substance which drug abusers snort, smoke, or inject. When it is cut with other substances, heroin can be deadly. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is much more powerful than heroin and is commonly used to cut heroin, making it significantly stronger and increasing the chances of a fatal overdose.

List of Narcotics Commonly Abused

Syringe and medicationOpium: This extract of the poppy plant is one of the most potent painkillers known to mankind. Opium abuse began in the 1300s in Asia. It was a point of contention between the British Empire and China in the 1800s. The conflict got to the point where they went to war over it. Today, natural opium derivatives and semi-synthetic and synthetic opioids are available legally and illegally.

Morphine: This is the most common opium extract. It was created at the beginning of the 19th century by German chemist Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Serturner. It is a painkiller prescribed for moderate to severe acute and chronic pain. Morphine is highly addictive and is associated with symptoms such as breathing problems, dry mouth, dizziness, nervousness, and agitation. It can also cause side effects such as weight loss, low libido, headache, and sweating.

Heroin: This drug was first created in 1874 as a painkiller. Incidentally, this derivative of the poppy seed turned out to be more addictive than morphine. As a result, heroin is the most abused opioid on the streets. Drug abusers smoke, snort, or inject it for its euphoric effect. It is associated with side effects such as sleepiness, dry mouth, and respiratory problems. Heroin overdose can result in death.

Codeine: This narcotic is a natural opium derivative that is prescribed for pain, anxiety, and sedation. It is also present in cough medicines. It is a highly addictive substance.

Hydrocodone: This Schedule II controlled substance is a semi-synthetic opioid that is used for pain control and cough suppression. Some of the well-known brand names of hydrocodone include Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet, Zydone, Atuss, and Anexsia. It is available in tablet, capsule, liquid, and syrup form.

Oxycodone: This semi-synthetic opioid is a Schedule II controlled substance prescribed for pain relief in capsule, tablet, or liquid form. Brand names of oxycodone include Roxicet, Roxicodone, OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, and Combunox.

Hydromorphone: This morphine derivative is more potent but less addictive than its predecessor. It is used as a pain treatment and cough suppressant and is available as Dilaudid and Exalgo on the market.

Fentanyl: This synthetic opioid is prescribed to ease severe pain in cancer patients. This powerful narcotic is even more potent than morphine. It is available as a transdermal patch. Brand names include Duragesic, Fentora, Onsolis, and Abstral.

Methadone: This synthetic opioid is used to relieve withdrawal symptoms during opiate addiction treatment. It is available as Dolophine and Methadose.

Meperidine: This anesthetic drug is used for pain relief, mostly during labor, and is available on the market as Demerol.

Narcotics Addiction: Drug Rehab for Painkillers

Many different substances are abused by people who have succumbed to drugs addiction. Narcotics are some of the most commonly abused drugs due to their highly addictive nature.

In most cases, opiate addiction requires residential addiction treatment or inpatient rehab. The first step is detoxification under strict medical supervision. During this stage of substance abuse treatment, the recovering addict is given supplemental medications, such as Suboxone, methadone, and Revia, to relieve unpleasant and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Healthcare providers reduce the dose of narcotics gradually to make the process easier. Addicts are monitored for symptoms such as restlessness, drowsiness, anxiety, confusion, sweating, loss of appetite, and nausea.

Following detox, the addict remains at the rehab facility for psychological counseling and behavioral therapy. This treatment helps recovering addicts deal with underlying issues that drove them to addiction in the first place. Recovering addicts learn new ways of dealing with everyday stressors and triggering situations without resorting to drug use. These new behaviors help avoid relapse once the rehabilitation program has been completed. Family therapy and support groups help build a strong support system for life after rehab.

Counseling also helps create an effective relapse prevention plan. The addict is taught to avoid risky situations as well as recognize triggers and deal with them. Finally, drug addicts learn how to be honest with themselves, acknowledge the problem, and ask for help. There is nothing to be ashamed of if a relapse does occur. Narcotic addiction is a chronic disease and it may take more than one attempt at rehab to beat it.

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