Long Term Effects of OxyContin on the Brain
Most drugs of abuse ultimately have an impact on the brain. The levels of the different neurotransmitters (the brain’s chemical messengers) are carefully balanced, so the brain can apply a reward chemical when a reward is in order and a painkiller when one is required. Drugs of abuse tend to subvert these normal processes, often releasing an excessive amount of the brain’s reward chemical. Finding out about the specific risks for one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs, OxyContin, helps you understand how addiction develops and the long-term risks of the drug.
What is OxyContin?
The simplest way to understand OxyContin is as an opioid drug like heroin or opium. It is derived from the same source, and has the same basic effects as these illicit substances. Opioids are widely used in medicine because they are among the most efficient pain relievers. Many people come into contact with drugs such as Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin through legitimate means. The main defining feature of OxyContin is that it has a time-release formula, the effects lasting for about 12 hours. Percocet releases all of the substance at once and lasts only about five hours.
What are the Effects of OxyContin?
OxyContin works through its interaction with the opiate receptors in the brain. By binding to these receptors, the drug reduces feelings of pain and triggers the release of dopamine, the most important neurotransmitter in the brain’s reward system. This creates a mixture of euphoria and pain relief, bringing about a relaxed and contented mood in the user. It also depresses the central nervous system, which is responsible for many critical processes within the body, including heart rate, digestion, pain messages and breathing. Although the time-release formula makes it more difficult to achieve the euphoric high most users are looking for, many chew the drug or even inject it for a bigger rush. They will also take more than is suggested by their doctor to increase the effect.
The Long-Term Effects of OxyContin on the Brain
Addiction is the most evident effect of long-term OxyContin abuse on the brain. The brain is initially overwhelmed when the drug signals the extended release of dopamine, unable to continue its normal functioning because of the intense chemical injection. To account for this, as the drug is taken more regularly, the brain adjusts its natural processes so it isn’t overwhelmed anymore. By reducing the number of opiate receptors and producing less dopamine naturally, the brain effectively dampens the effect OxyContin has. This means that the user has to take more of the drug to achieve the same effect, and that without the drug, he or she will have a deficit in some neurotransmitters.
This effect creates addiction, because the brain has essentially rewired itself to account for the continued presence of the particular substance. Without it, the individual experiences a wide range of unpleasant side effects, known as withdrawal. The longer the individual takes the drug and the more that is consumed, the more the brain adapts and the individual becomes addicted. Although using OxyContin more than prescribed commonly leads to addiction, it can also develop from the suggested course of medication.
Many of the long-term effects of the drug come to the forefront during this withdrawal period. Withdrawal usually creates the opposite effect of the drug, so if a woman goes without OxyContin for the first time after months of abuse, she will experience severe pain, depression and flu-like symptoms such as loss of appetite, runny nose and sneezing. Irritability and mood swings are also common. Because of these effects, the cravings for another dose of the drug can be intense.
One of the main risks of any opioid drug is respiratory depression (or slowed breathing). This is because the drugs depress the central nervous system, which is responsible for breathing. The risk of this is greater in long-term users, those who take more of the drug than prescribed, and anybody who combines it with alcohol.
Finally, there is a risk of severe psychological disturbances in people who abuse OxyContin. In long-term users, hallucinations, delusions, and delirium have all been reported, in addition to mood swings and panic attacks. This doesn’t occur in all cases, but is often worse during withdrawal, when many users feel confused or disoriented. Memory issues or even amnesia can develop in long-term abusers.
Need for Psychological Support
Addiction is the major long-term effect of OxyContin use because it drives the individual to keep abusing the drug and thereby makes all of the other potential consequences more likely. Being able to recognize the signs of addiction is extremely useful, but the best way to minimize your risk is to take the drug as advised by your doctor. If addiction does occur, psychological support can help you overcome your issues and therefore reduce the risk of other ill-effects.