Month: October 2017

Opioid Addiction and the Brain

Opioid Addiction and the Brain

Opioid Addiction and the Brain

Opioids are drugs such as morphine, OxyContin, percocet, Vicodin, and Demerol among others that are pain medication legally prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Cocaine, methamphetamines, ecstasy, LSD, GHB, Ketamine, heroin, club drugs, or steroids are also opioids but illegal. Opioid drugs work by inhibiting the intensity of pain-signal perception through attaching to opioid protein receptors in the brain, gastrointestinal tract, spinal cord and other organs in the body.

Despite sparse evidence for their effectiveness when used long-term, frequent use of opioids has physically changed the brain to the point where it needs more of them to function normally, and users often become physically dependent, which in some cases can lead to addiction. This is because, in addition to alleviating chronic pain, opioids also activate reward regions in the brain, causing the euphoria very similar to heroin that increases the risk of addiction and overdose even in those who follow their prescription to a tee.

Case and point: a drug such as OxyContin is commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, but according to the Controlled Substances Act, OxyContin is classified as a Schedule II drug because it produces extreme positive feelings of euphoria, sedation, relaxation, reduced anxiety and rewarding sensations in the user, which has a high potential for misuse or overdose when used recreationally. In fact, a significantly slowed respiratory rate can quickly turn life-threatening, especially in overdose circumstances.

While physical dependence is predictable in most cases, not everyone who takes opioids becomes addicted to the euphoria they produce, even those on high doses for long periods of time. In fact, some users develop a condition known as opioid –induced hyperalgesia (OIH) whereby patients become increasingly sensitive to pain as a result of treatment with opioids.

Any addiction forms as a result of repeated stimulation of the brain’s reward system. The unusual levels of opioid stimulation exceed what the brain is equipped to handle at any given time and as a result, alters the brain and produce persistent cravings for opioids.

The brain construes the abundance of euphoric-releasing opioids as a positive familiarity necessary for the body’s survival. And as would be expected in the path of addiction, the development of tolerance and physical dependence occurs, and as tolerance increases, the body’s ability to maintain this stability is outdone, and the body becomes increasingly reliant on the drugs.

The physiological adaptations to chronic exposure to a drug are what leads to dependence and are not really part of addiction. Addiction, on the other hand, involves various changes in the altered brain biology and is distinguished by a very obsessive drug seeking, the inability to control drug use, and a compulsive drug use that prompt the destructive behaviors of addiction.

Misuse of prescription opioids is a risk factor for transitioning to heroin use and other life-threatening drugs. Building a new life which is not connected to drug addiction is a challenging task only a good counselor or therapist can guide anyone through.

Addiction; A Brain Disease

Addiction; A Brain Disease

Imagine telling a person that they have a relapsing brain disease because they are an alcoholic or a drug addict? In fact, how does one know that they have an addiction in the first place because there is really nothing wrong about having fun and feeling enjoyment anyway, right? Well, there are a series of conditions you can use to determine the severity of addictive behaviors that involve chemical dependency such as:

  • How much priority you give to either drugs or alcohol consumption
  • Does taking drugs make you feel better, more in control or does not taking them make you feel worse?
  • How often do you take drugs and how long can you stay without them?
  • What are your initial emotional and physical response, do you feel anxious or panicked without them?
  • Has doing drugs or consuming alcohol disrupted your life and your relationships and have you lost interest in things you once liked to do?

All of these signs point to a much bigger problem – addiction. It takes center stage over your better judgment and negatively impacts the quality and health of your life by controlling your impulses, pleasures, anxieties, fears, or your preferences.

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disorder characterized by taking a drug more often than the prescription calls for or an obsessive drug seeking and use. Scientific research shows that all drugs of abuse have some unique mechanisms of addiction that are tied to changes in brain structure and function. Drugs change the process of communication between nerve cells in the brain, ultimately altering a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

For instance, a drug like fentanyl is typically used to treat patients with chronic pain or to manage pain after a surgical procedure. However, people can now get street fentanyl, produced in surreptitious laboratories and are often mixed with heroin or cocaine, then sold in powder form or spiked on blotter paper to either be swallowed, snorted, or injected. High doses of potent opioids such as fentanyl can mimic the physical effects similar to those of heroin that may lead to respiratory arrest, unconsciousness, coma, or death.

Another extremely toxic and dreadful drug that produces an initial rush of euphoria and a massive boost of energy is methamphetamine. The long-term health effects of this drug are neither glamorous nor beneficial, because, in addition to the adverse damage to a user’s physical appearance, meth releases a flood of dopamine nearly four times more than cocaine that not only destroys the body’s dopamine receptors and the ability to experience pleasure, but it also impairs motor coordination similar to those suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Heavy use of meth also leads to behavioral changes and psychotic propensities including paranoia, aggression, hallucinations, and delusion, while others become socially isolated as their addiction deteriorates. As meth use increases, an addict’s body becomes more susceptible to diseases that lead to death. Therefore, understanding addiction as a brain disease may help us all grasp the plight of those struggling with dependency.

The Opioid Epidemic and Its Effects on Americans Life Expectancy

The Opioid Epidemic and Its Effects on Americans Life Expectancy

Drug-related deaths caused by opioid overdose are rising faster than ever particularly for Americans under the age of 50. Suffice it to say that while any addiction lowers any life expectancy significantly, continued use and abuse of prescription medication that acts on the nervous system to relieve pain can lead to physical dependency and severe withdrawal symptoms.

OxyContin, Vicodin, Codeine, Methadone, Roxanol, Demarol, Percocet, Ritalin, you name them and probably someone you know has used and abused them knowingly or unknowingly. Opiate addiction is a fast-growing issue, and the addiction can develop in a matter of one to two weeks of regular use but this does not stop the over prescription of opioid painkillers being sold in pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices to unsuspecting Americans who as research would show, 91 people, die every day from prescription opioid and overdoses.

Prescription opioids are used to manage moderate to severe pain associated with surgery or injury such as back pain or osteoarthritis or health conditions such as cancer. Despite serious risks or evidence in their long-term effectiveness in alleviating pain, there has been an unrestrained increase in the acceptance and use of prescription opioids.

Drug-related overdoses have killed more American people than vehicular accidents or guns. This because the body becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced or stopped and to avoid feeling sick, people will either up the dosage and some reported cases, combining them with drugs such as heroin or even alcohol to get a quicker fix.

Because opioid receptors regulate pain, which makes them powerful painkillers, they are debilitatingly addictive, and in addition to the serious risks of addiction, abuse, and overdose, whether taken as prescribed, opioid dependency has a number of physical side effects and withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Increased sensitivity to pain tolerance
  • Symptoms of withdrawal when the medication is stopped
  • Dry mouth, severe nausea, and vomiting
  • Chills, shivers, itching and profuse sweating
  • Confusion and depression
  • Sleepiness and dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Lower sex drive, energy, and strength
  • Hallucinations
  • Dilated pupils
  • Body tremors
  • Feelings of hostility or paranoia
  • Dangerously high body temperatures and irregular heartbeat
  • Suicidal thoughts

Opioids are vital, and when used appropriately they can improve the quality of life, particularly for cancer patients and those with suffering from debilitating pain, but it is a losing battle when weighed against the risks of overdose and addiction. Even though withdrawals aren’t necessarily fatal, there are cases of deaths during the withdrawal phase that occurs either from severe dehydration that leads to electrolyte disturbance or when the throes of withdrawal destabilize the addict’s body, leaving it susceptible to various health complication.

There is a lot being done to raise awareness of the American opiate dilemma because not many know that it is an epidemic on the rise and those people in the bondage of opiate and drug addiction can also seek treatment, specifically detox as well as opiate replacement therapy.

Does Your Child Suffer From Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Does Your Child Suffer From Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) is a term used to describe a range of conditions that occur to a person whose mother consumed alcohol during pregnancy. People that suffer from this may have physical problems or suffer from impaired vision and hearing. Also, they tend to have difficulty in learning and communicating.

In a nutshell, the effects are usually physical and mental problems. There are various types of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum disorders, yet, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is considered the most severe.

Causes of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

When a baby is a womb, it is still developing its organs, regardless of the trimester. That includes organs such as the brain and the liver. That said, when the mother consumes the alcohol, it passes through the placenta to the baby.

Due to the baby’s undeveloped liver, the alcohol is not well processed by the baby. Hence, the ability to cause physical damage to the baby’s organs. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is also known to cause miscarriage.

The alcohol inhibits the proper circulation of oxygen and nutrition that the baby requires.

Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

As previously mentioned, the effects are usually physical and mental problems. However, they also include social and behavioral problems. That said, the severity of the symptom varies. Let us take a look at some of them.

Physical Symptoms

There a few distinctive features that tend to stand out, and one needs to look out for. They include:

  • Small eye openings
  • Thin upper lip
  • The head is smaller than usual head
  • They are shorter than normal in terms of height
  • The ridge between the nose and upper lip (The Philtrum) is smooth
  • Vision and hearing impairment
  • Heart defects and problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Slow physical growth
  • Abnormal bone growth

Social And Behavioral Problems

  • Poor time management
  • Problems making new friends or maintaining friendships
  • Poor task management
  • Difficulty setting goals and keeping them

Mental Problems

  • Brain size is smaller than usual
  • Growth of brain is slow
  • Very hyperactive
  • Problems maintaining attention
  • Difficulty in learning, especially with Math
  • Problems in speech, as well as learning any language
  • Problems with coordination
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble remembering anything (Memory problems)

Prevention of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

You should not drink at all when pregnant. It is advisable that you steer clear of any form of an alcoholic beverage if you are pregnant, or working towards pregnancy. Most women often realize that they are pregnant three months later.

Staying completely away from alcohol is the best prevention of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This includes all types of wines and other alcoholic beverages.