The effects of opiates on individuals who suffer from addiction are significant and dangerous and can include an overdose-related fatality. Most people are aware that using opiates can cause social isolation, addiction, incarceration, health problems, and a host of other devastating conditions. Overdose fatalities in the United States have skyrocketed in the past decade, primarily due to the opiate addiction epidemic sweeping the nation. In addition to these tragic and generally well-known effects of opiates on users, doctors have identified another physical and mental consequences of using illicit or prescription opiates addictively: amnesia.
The Effects of Opiates
Opiates are a class of drugs that includes both synthetic and natural substances, both illegal and regularly prescribed drugs. Any chemical substance derived from the opium-producing poppy plant is considered an opiate. Some of these drugs are regularly used by doctors to treat pain in patients, while others are illegally synthesized in clandestine labs and sold on the street by traffickers and dealers. Common examples of opiates include:
These drugs are extremely addictive, often causing users- including patients who are legally prescribed painkiller opiate medications- to develop a severe physical dependence on them very rapidly. Withdrawal from opiates is painful, and many people who end up hooked experience a vast range of negative consequences as the result of their compulsive and addictive need for opiate substances. The short-term effects of opiates on users are generally euphoria, slowed body function, pain relief, and sedation, but over time, as addiction progresses, the consequences of opiate use become severely damaging. The negative or long-term effects of opiates on users, both legal patients, and people who obtain these drugs on the street, can include:
- Addiction and physical dependence, with painful and difficult withdrawal symptoms
- Respiratory depression and slowed breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Liver damage
- Brain damage
- Collapse of veins or abscesses (in intravenous users)
- Infection of the lining of the heart
- Stroke or heart attack
- Overdose fatality
- Reduced immune system function
- Mood swings or disturbances
- Contraction of HIV or hepatitis C due to high-risk behaviors like needle-sharing
Clearly, the effects of opiates on users who develop a dependence on these substances can be tragic, and often result in death from organ damage or overdose in users from every demographic. However, in addition to the devastating consequences of the opiate epidemic in the United States (in which overdose fatalities have quadrupled since 1999), doctors have found another serious consequence of opiate use: amnesia.
Amnesia in Opiate Users
In Massachusetts, one of the documented effects of opiates on patients is sudden-onset amnesia. Doctors in the state noticed that a batch of patients who were admitted to the hospital for troubling displays of amnesic symptoms also had something else in common: a history of opiate abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report in January that detailed these cases of amnesia. The report discusses the fourteen cases in Massachusetts in which patients suddenly developed anterograde amnesia with no plausible explanation for these symptoms. Anterograde amnesia refers to a type of memory loss that causes patients to be unable to form new memories. This condition usually causes patients to have significant short-term memory loss. In these cases in Massachusetts, doctors found that the majority of the patients who were experiencing this memory loss either tested positive for opiates upon being admitted to the hospital, or had a history of opiate abuse. Doctors reported that in many patients, this is caused by a drug overdose in which oxygen can’t reach the brain, causing damage in areas of the brain responsible for memory formation. MRI scans of these patients showed a lack of blood flow to certain areas of the brain, or in other words, stroke symptoms. Doctors and the CDC believe that in these patients, who present with no other causes for amnesia, opiate use may have caused brain damage that accounts for memory loss. This evidence supports the theory that one of the effects of opiates on users is amnesia as the result of brain damage from substance use.
Struggling With Opiate Addiction?
This evidence that opiates can cause amnesia only adds to the growing list of tragic consequences for people who struggle with opiate addiction. Even in individuals who don’t experience opiate-induced amnesia, the loss of social support, financial trouble, emotional turmoil, legal and financial consequences, and physical issues that are all the known effects of opiates can be devastating. For these individuals, inpatient treatment is recognized as the most effective way to combat addiction. At Wellness Retreat Recovery, we use tried-and-true, evidence-based methods of treatment for a small caseload of patients in order to provide individual treatment for people who suffer from addiction. Our methods of care are so effective we offer patients a treatment guarantee as assurance that completion of our program will allow them to beat addiction and live sober. If you struggle with opiate addiction and need help in order to avoid the consequences of this disease and live a full, healthy life, call us today at 888-738-0692.