Narcotic abuse


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What is narcotic abuse?

Narcotic abuse is when you continue to use narcotics even though they are hurting you or others. Narcotics are medicines used to decrease or take away severe pain. Narcotics may also be called opioids. You may have the following ongoing or repeated problems:

  • Trouble doing your job, attending school, or doing necessary things at home, such as care for your children
  • Driving a vehicle or operating machinery while under the influence of narcotics
  • Legal problems, such as being arrested while under the influence of narcotics
  • Ongoing problems with your friends, family, or others that are caused or made worse by using narcotics

How common is narcotic abuse?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of narcotic abuse?

Signs and symptoms of opioid misuse include:

  • Analgesia (feeling no pain)
  • Sedation
  • Euphoria (feeling high)
  • Respiratory depression (shallow or slow breathing)
  • Small pupils
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Itching or flushed skin
  • Constipation
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion or poor judgment

If a person uses opioids for a long time, they often can develop physical dependence and tolerance. Usually, opioid abusers will then take more of the drug, to continue to get high. If a person stops using opioids after they become physically dependent on the drug, they will experience drug withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms of drug withdrawal from opioids include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Craving for the drug
  • Rapid breathing
  • Yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Salivation
  • Goosebumps
  • Nasal stuffiness
  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite

The symptoms of opioid drug withdrawal aren’t medically dangerous. But they can be agonizing and intolerable, contributing to continued drug abuse. In general, how severe opioid drug withdrawal symptoms are, and how long they last, depends on how long the person has been abusing opioids and how much they have been taking.

There are medicines that can be taken in various forms and used to prevent withdrawal symptoms after a person stops using, a process called detoxification (detox). Methadone is widely used to ease the symptoms of opiate withdrawal and is also sometimes used long-term (known as methadone maintenance) to prevent relapse. Buprenorphine (Subutex) is an alternative to methadone for acute detoxification from opiates. It is sometimes combined with naloxone (a combination called Suboxone) for acute treatment of opiate withdrawal. Other medication options to treat acute opiate withdrawal include the blood pressure medicine clonidine. “Rapid detox” using naltrexone (a medicine that blocks opiate receptors) is sometimes done under general anesthesia in specialized treatment centers, although that approach has not been shown to have better outcomes than more traditional detox methods.

After drug withdrawal is complete, the person is no longer physically dependent on the drug. But psychological dependence can continue. Some people with drug addiction may relapse in response to stress or other powerful triggers.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes narcotic abuse?

Narcotic drugs produce their effect by stimulating opioid receptors in the central nervous system and surrounding tissues.

The abuse of narcotics occurs as a result of the euphoria and sedation that narcotics produce within the central nervous system. Abusers of intravenously injected heroin describe the effects as a “rush” or orgasmic feeling followed by elation, relaxation, and then sedation or sleep.

Narcotics used for short-term medical conditions rarely require weaning since stopping the medication after a brief period rarely produces adverse effects. If circumstances allow, the dose for people using narcotics over an extended period of time for medical purposes is slowly lowered over a few weeks to prevent withdrawal symptoms. The goal is to wean individuals off narcotics so that they are pain-free or able to use a less potent nonnarcotic analgesic.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for narcotic abuse?

There are many risk factors for narcotic abuse, such as:

  • Antisocial and experimental attitudes (i.e., rebellious nature) during adolescence
  • Environmental factors
  • Family problems
  • Gang membership
  • Inner-city culture
  • Poverty
  • Wealth or disposable income
  • Family history of substance abuse and drug addiction
  • Low self-esteem

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is narcotic abuse diagnosed?

The initial diagnosis of narcotic overdose in the emergency department is made based on obtaining a history and considering the signs and symptoms that the patient is experiencing. Almost all unconscious people receive a drug called naloxone (Narcan), which is known as a narcotic antagonist because it blocks and reverses the effects of narcotics. After the initial resuscitation, opioids are easy to detect in a routine urine test. Information from friends and family or indicators such as pill bottles or drug paraphernalia may provide important clues to the emergency doctors about the person’s drug use and abuse.

Information from friends and family or indicators such as pill bottles or drug paraphernalia may provide important clues to the emergency doctors about the person’s drug use and abuse.

How is narcotic abuse treated?

  • Overdose: An unconscious person suspected of overdosing on narcotics is given naloxone, a narcotic antagonist. When given intravenously, it is effective in one to two minutes in reversing the coma and respiratory depression caused by a narcotic.
  • Withdrawal: Treating people who are addicted to narcotics is difficult. The most common long-term treatment of the narcotic withdrawal syndrome is substituting methadone for the illicit drug, followed by a slow process of then weaning the abuser off the methadone. Buprenorphine (Buprenex) is another medicine that can be used in the process of detoxification, with the concept being to replace one opioid (for example, heroin) with another and then taper the second opioid slowly.
  • The drug clonidine (Catapres) has been shown to relieve some of the symptoms of withdrawal, especially salivation, runny nose, sweating, abdominal cramping, and muscle aches. Clonidine, when used in combination with naltrexone (ReVia), a long-acting narcotic antagonist, produces a more rapid detoxification.
  • Buprenorphine is also used in the treatment of withdrawal symptoms

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage narcotic abuse?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: November 2, 2017 | Last Modified: November 6, 2017

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