You may have heard the term “narcotics,” but not known what it meant, beyond something to do with drugs. So what is a narcotic drug? Narcotics is a term used for a group of opioids/opiates, or more generally, painkillers. There are many types of narcotic drugs, some that occur naturally and others that are manmade. The naturally occurring ones, specifically morphine and codeine, come from gummy paste extracted from the seed pod of a poppy plant, called opium. Others are created by changing the chemical structure of existing opioids. Others are manmade are made from chemicals, but act similarly to opium. Most opioids/opiates are prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain in patients, though there are some that are illegally made, such as heroin.
Familiar narcotic drug names include:
Narcotics are considered depressants, which means they work by slowing down the central nervous system and neural activity. Most people take narcotics when they are prescribed them by a doctor, though others may take them recreationally or use illegal ones like heroin. Narcotics are highly addictive, even when taken under a doctor’s orders. If a person begins to abuse them, they’re putting themselves at risk for developing a narcotic drug addiction.
Whether taking them for pain or to get high, people experience the following symptoms when taking narcotics:
- Decreased sense of pain
- Decreased respiration
- Stomach upset, including nausea, vomiting and constipation
How Do Narcotics Work?
All types of narcotics work by targeting specific opioid receptors, called the mu, delta and kappa receptors. These are found in the brain, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract. When someone takes a narcotic, it affects the limbic system, the brainstem and the spinal cord. Opioids decrease the feeling of pain in the spinal cord before it reaches the brain. The brainstem controls things like breathing, so when opioids hit that, breathing slows down. When narcotics hit the limbic system, they can make someone feel pleasure, euphoria and relaxation.
While initially people who take these drugs feel the full effects, over time they will develop a tolerance of narcotics. This means the effects of the drugs diminish so the user has to take more to feel the same effects. This is often the stage where people start to abuse narcotic drugs. They may need to take the drugs to feel anything at all or to reduce withdrawal symptoms that may occur when they don’t. This can lead to narcotic drug addiction, which is when the brain needs the drug to function and the compulsive-seeking behavior of addiction sets in.
There are specific symptoms of narcotic drug addiction. These include:
- Doctor shopping — obtaining multiple prescriptions from different doctors to obtain more narcotics
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not taking narcotics
- An increased reliance on a narcotic in order to get through everyday life
- Switching from one narcotic to another, such as going from prescription medication to heroin
- Aggressive behavior
- Episodes of psychosis
- Abuse of other depressants, including alcohol
- Permanent mental impairments
- Compulsively seeking out the drug (i.e., addiction), often at the expense of everything else
When a person starts abusing narcotics or becomes addicted it can take over their life. They’ll find it next to impossible to quit on their own; in fact, it’s dangerous for them to so, as some of the withdrawal symptoms of narcotics can be quite dangerous. A person will need to seek treatment for narcotics.