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An opiate is any drug that is derived from the opium poppy. They are a class of depressant that slows down the nervous system. They are often used to relieve pain or anxiety, but are also very addictive. They can also create a sense of euphoria and sedation. Large doses can result in coma and even death.

Examples of opiates include:

  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Opium
  • Methadone
  • Pethidine

Naturally, the brain helps to cope with pain and emotions by producing hormones called endorphins. Opiates provide an unnatural source of endorphins, which creates a feeling of euphoria in the user. However, prolonged opiate use can result in the brain halting production of natural endorphins. One effect of this is that the body can no longer stop pain. This leads to a physical dependence on opiates as an external source of endorphins.

Prolonged opiate dependence can result in severe withdrawal effects should the user stop. Opiate withdrawal syndrome can take the form of a physical illness and can potentially be deadly if not treated by medical staff. Some of the symptoms of opiate withdrawal can include:

  • Craving the drug
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Sweating
  • Feeling cold
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Shakes or trembling
  • Insomnia

For drug rehab treatment, as with other depressants, it is important to perform a full drug detox. Because of the severe effects of withdrawal, is essential that the drug detox is carried out in a controlled environment surrounded by medical professionals. In some cases, patients will be put on replacement therapy, where a substitute drug is prescribed, such as methadone. This enables the patient to gradually reduce how much of the drug is being taken. Once the body is clean of the drug, the treatment team can then focus on the psychological causes of addiction, which often include anxiety or depression. Counselling, group therapies and the 12 step programme can help the patient cope with life without the drug.

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