Narcotics, such as oxycodone and fentanyl, are the most commonly prescribed class of medication in the United States. Also known as opioids, narcotics are used to relieve pain and are often prescribed for chronic pain, injuries, post-surgery relief, and advanced stages of cancer. Their high rate of use is not surprising given the fact that more than 50 million people suffer from chronic pain.
But clinical evidence points to that fact that narcotics are most effective for treating short-term pain, not as a long-term treatment for chronic pain. Yet, for years, doctors dispensed these narcotics freely, believing they were helping their patients.
We now know that while these medications are effective at relieving pain, they also can cause changes in our brain structure that make some people addicted and dependent on these drugs. People misuse them, taking larger doses for longer periods of time than prescribed or offering them to people for whom they were not prescribed. In 2014, around 2.5 million Americans adults either abused or were addicted to prescription opioids.
What happens to the brain on narcotics?
Opioids target our pleasure-producing hormone, called dopamine. Dopamine, sometimes called “the happy hormone” not only regulates pleasurable feelings but is also present in areas of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, and motivation.
Narcotics flood our brain with dopamine, which produces a euphoric effect, not surprisingly, or there would be no desire to replicate the feeling. But over time, the brain adjusts to this large amount of dopamine and starts reducing the production of it. This reduction results in people seeking to do a larger amount of drugs more often to replicate their initial euphoric feeling.
Over time, chronic narcotic use has the opposite effect of what the users are seeking. Chronic users start to feel numb, lifeless, depressed, and a limited ability to experience pleasure or joy at all. To counter these feelings, users up their drug intake even more, and a dangerous cycle ensues.
What happens to the body on narcotics?
It’s ironic that narcotics are prescribed for injuries and post-surgical pain to help people feel more comfortable during their healing process, yet research shows that narcotic use leads to poor healing and repair. A recent study found that patients with chronic wounds who were not given narcotics healed faster than those who received them.
And it’s not only narcotics that can interfere with healing, maintenance, and repair. Other medications prescribed to benefit your health may slow down the healing process as well including antidepressants, tranquilizers, blood pressure medicines, and psychiatric medication.
Doctors often prescribe these medications without counseling their patients about the side effects, and without taking steps to prevent the subsequent damage to their recovery. Even worse, if you do become dependent on pain medications and try to stop on your own, either slowly or cold turkey, you may experience anxiety, insomnia, exhaustion, and listlessness.
How to treat chronic narcotic use
To effectively and safely treat long-term narcotics use, you need to first balance your hormones while you’re still using narcotics. Here at The Private Practice, Jerry W. Morris, DO, can help you on your journey to stop chronic narcotic use by using proven medical methods, which includes providing safe alternatives to help you manage your pain. Or Dr. Morris can advise your doctor, if you prefer to remain under your own provider’s care.