By Eve Pearce
According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 12 million people in the US used opiate drugs for purposes other than pain relief.
Abuse of prescription drugs such as morphine, oxycodone and codeine is a far bigger problem than use of heroin and many people are turning to opiates as a way to help them deal with stress. Prescription opiates are able to do this, as although they take longer to reach the brain than injected heroin, once there they exert similar effects. In the central nervous system these drugs bind to opioid receptors which not only aids pain relief but triggers feelings of pleasure, calm and well-being as well. However, they are not the answer for stress relief, as their use is associated with a number of adverse consequences. Only by addressing the root of the problem and developing appropriate strategies can stress be safely and successfully managed.
Problems associated with opiate use
Although someone may start taking an opiate drug casually to help with stress relief, with repeated use dependency can develop and addiction can set in when someone loses control of their use, which can interfere with everything from self-care and relationships to holding down a job. Besides addiction, the long-term effects of vicodin use and of other opiate drugs include increased risk of liver damage and over dose owing to the tolerance that develops, with users taking increasingly larger doses to exert the same effects. Studies in animals also indicate that far from helping with stress, opiates leave you more susceptible to stress. Why this occurs is still unknown, but it has been suggested that these drugs may stimulate genes related to anxiety that mean the nervous system is more sensitive to the effects of stress. Drug taking to ease stress may therefore be futile and helps at least in part to explain why even ex-users of heroin, morphine and other opiates are more likely to suffer from anxiety and related problems.
If you feel you have developed a dependency to these medications it is advisable that you don’t stop abruptly. Instead seek professional help to allow the symptoms of withdrawal to be managed and for you to receive the necessary support to allow you to successfully quit. This is particularly important if you have used a number of different drugs or are also relying heavily on alcohol, as unsupported withdrawal in these instances can be life-threatening.
Managing stress naturally
If you are reading this and were contemplating the use of opiates to help you through stressful days, you’ll now appreciate that this is inadvisable. However, what alternatives can you use to help you manage your stress?
Regular exercise is associated with reductions in anxiety and feelings of stress. Physical activity induces a natural high through the production of endorphins and you may well find that you can carry this optimism forward to face whatever it is creating stress in your life. Exercising also helps you to remove your focus from whatever is troubling you, providing respite from negative feelings. If you have a hectic schedule and don’t think you have time to fit activity into your day, just 30 minutes of exercise can be beneficial and it doesn’t all have to be undertaken at once.
When feeling stressed your sleeping patterns can be disrupted, but this in itself can reinforce stress, as it heightens anxiety and can lead to changes in hormone levels which independently increase anxiety. Getting back into a regular routine of when you go to bed and when you wake, preparing yourself for sleep by winding down and creating an environment that encourages sleep can all help.
Identify what triggers stress in your life can assist you to develop strategies to help you deal with these contributing factors. If you have developed other problems as a result of your stress such as anger or difficulties in your relationship, these too can be explored and plans for how to approach these issues developed. Although you might be able to carry out some basic groundwork around these areas yourself, seeking more specialist help will provide further guidance and helpful techniques that you can use to better manage your stress.
About the author:
Eve Pearce spent a decade working as a nutritionist before motherhood made her change her outlook. Now she enjoys working from home as a writer, while still discussing the topics and issues that made her earlier career. When not writing, she likes to take long walks with her dogs, though sometimes it feels like they are taking her for a walk.