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What Are the Different Types of Opioids?

Various types of opioids can help treat multiple conditions, but they may come with dangerous risks.



What Are Opioid Drugs?

Opioids are a group of drugs that occur naturally and synthetically, coming in prescriptions and illicit drugs like heroin. They are known to cause a relaxing feeling, making their effects sought out. A medical practitioner authorizes prescription opioids to reduce severe to moderate pain. Examples include oxycodone (OxyContin), morphine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), and methadone.

Synthetic opioids are more potent than other opioids and are typically used for treating severe and chronic pain. Fentanyl is the most common type of synthetic opioid, and it is often made and sold illegally. In 2019, more than 36,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids.1

How Do Opioids Work?

Opioids work in the body through the opioid mechanism of action. Regardless of their production, opioids work in specific ways throughout the body and brain. The different types of opioids mainly affect the following areas:

  • The central nervous system, i.e., the brain and spinal cord
  • The digestive tract
  • The peripheral nervous system, i.e., nerves outside of the spinal cord and brain
  • The peripheral tissues like the joints

The above areas also dictate what opioids will do. For instance, when present in the spinal cord, opioids block neurons from transmitting pain messages to the brain, eliminating or reducing pain. Opioid drugs slow breathing in the brain stem by directly acting on the respiratory center. Opioids in the digestive tract cause nausea, constipation, and vomiting.

Opioid Receptors

Additionally, the opioid mechanism of action works similarly for every area outlined above. The brain and body have molecules attached to cells called opioid receptors. The opioid receptors regulate pain, pleasure, and breathing in the body. 

When opioids are taken, they target these opioid receptors and release a chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine then elicits feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and peacefulness; hence, used to relieve pain.

The Different Types of Opioids

Opioids types fall into the following categories:

Natural Opioids

The naturally occurring opioids come directly from the opium poppy tree or the milk from its seed pods. The Mediterranean region was the early growing place of the opium poppy tree in the early 5,000 BC. Today, it is cultivated in various countries globally. However, it is illegal to grow the opium poppy tree in the U.S.

A mature opium poppy tree has a seed capsule producing milky latex sap from which natural opiates occur. These opiates undergo harvesting and processing before being made into drugs. The most commonly abused natural-occurring opioid medications include morphine, opium, and codeine.

Semi-Synthetic Opioids

Manufacturers produce semi-synthetic opioids using chemicals produced by the opium poppy plants as a base. In the early 20th century, doctors created opiates as safer alternatives for natural or pure opiates for medicinal purposes. The most commonly abused semi-synthetic opioids include heroin, oxycodone, ethylmorphine, oxymorphone, buprenorphine, and hydrocodone.

Fully Synthetic Opioids

Fully synthetic opioids are produced in laboratories with similar chemical structures as natural-occurring opiates. Despite being artificial, fully synthetic opioids have identical qualities to natural opioid drugs. In 2016, more than 11.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription opioids.2

These drugs are narcotic analgesic drugs, and doctors prescribe them to relieve severe to mild pain or illicit drugs. The most commonly abused fully synthetic opioids include meperidine, methadone, and fentanyl. 

Symptoms and Side Effects of Opioid Addiction

Addiction to opioids is a chronic, long-lasting disease that may cause significant social, economic, and health problems. Opioid addiction is characterized as a strong urge to continue using the drug despite any negative consequences it may bring. In addition, a common effect is losing interest in the activities that were once enjoyed.

Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

The following includes common symptoms of opioid addiction:

  • Shallow or slow breathing rate
  • Physical agitation
  • Poor decision making
  • Abandoning responsibilities
  • Uncontrollable mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Lowered motivation
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent flu-like symptoms
  • Decreased libido
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Uncontrollable cravings

Side Effects of Opioids

Even when prescribed by a doctor, people can still develop side effects from opioids. These side effects worsen when misused or combined with other drugs. Side effects of opioids either manifest for a shorter or longer period.  

Short-Term Side Effects

Short-term side effects include:

  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Financial problems
  • Unconsciousness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Constipation
  • Violent mood swings
  • Coma
  • Nausea
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Mental fog
  • Itching

Long-Term Side Effects

Long-term side effects include:

  • Chronic constipation and gastrointestinal system disruption
  • Respiratory issues and irregular breathing
  • Cardiovascular system issues like atrial fibrillation
  • Reproductive system shutdowns
  • Susceptibility to bone fractures
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Addiction
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Increased risks of heart attacks
  • Depression
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Hormonal problems
  • Weak bones
  • Increased pain

Opioid Tolerance, Addiction, and Withdrawal

types of opioids

Opioid tolerance can lead to addiction, with both resulting in withdrawal once consumption is ceased.

Opioid Tolerance

People can recognize opioid tolerance once their dosage does not cause the effects it once did. As a result, they use higher dosages or consume the substance more frequently. Tolerance also has its mechanisms and may develop in various ways.

When people take opioids for an extended period, enzymes in opiate receptors, body systems, and metabolism of the drug in the body change and stop responding. Sometimes, people develop learned tolerance, where the bodily functions get used to opioids, and you need increased dosages to relieve pain.

Opioid Addiction

In contrast, opioid addiction is a chronic disease defined as an uncontrollable use of opioid drugs. When opioids are consumed, they release dopamine, which causes feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Then, the brain becomes acclimated to the result of opioids and demands repetition to achieve the same effects.

Within no time, the body becomes tolerant to the drug and requires more dosages to achieve the initial feeling. When people continue increasing the dosage, it becomes a cycle, and they may find themselves unable to function normally without the drug—this is classified as an addiction.

Opioid Withdrawal

Opioid withdrawal happens if the body is dependent on opioids and the substance is suddenly reduced or ceased. During the withdrawal process, the body continues to work in high gear as if it is still trying to function with opioids, causing withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms and signs may range between mild and severe depending on the severity of the addiction, frequency and duration of use, the person’s age, etc.3

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Muscle aches
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Increased tearing
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Inability to sleep
  • Yawning often
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Skin goosebumps
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure

Contact Anew Treatment Center Today!

At Anew Treatment Center, we work with a team of medical professionals who help individuals battling opioid addiction, tolerance, and more. There is no single opioid treatment, so we evaluate and tailor treatment options specifically for each person’s needs. Any type of opioid is dangerous and requires prompt medical attention; reach out today for more inquiries.

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Our team is ready to discuss your treatment options with you. Your call is confidential with no obligation is required.