What Are Opiates? - Definition, Examples & Effects

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  • 0:01 What Are Opiates?
  • 0:50 Examples of Opiates
  • 1:45 Effects of Opiates
  • 2:51 Opiate Addiction
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Derek Hughes

Derek has a Masters of Science degree in Teaching, Learning & Curriculum.

Opiates are a very common type of drug used to treat and manage pain. This lesson will define opiates, provide some examples, and discuss the effects of taking opiates.

What Are Opiates?

There's a very good chance you already know what an opiate is - after all, it's a very common type of drug in America. Opiates are powerful drugs derived from the poppy plant and used to relieve pain. You may have heard the term narcotics, which is another name for opiates, though narcotics is a broader term that includes other pain relievers.

Additionally, the term 'opiates' is often used interchangeably with 'opioids', which comprise a class of drugs with a chemical makeup similar to opium. Regardless of the terminology, opiates are often used to treat and relieve pain and are highly addictive. This lesson will list several examples of opiates, the effects that taking them can have on you, and the effects of opiate addiction.

Examples of Opiates

Even if you've never heard the term 'opiates,' you've probably heard of the different drugs that are classified as opiates. There are natural opiates such as opium, morphine, and codeine. There are also man-made opiates (referred to as opioids in some instances), which include demerol, oxycodone, vicodin, fentanyl, and methadone. The list goes on, but these are some of the most common opiates.

All of the drugs we've discussed so far are prescribed and used in medical situations to treat and relieve pain. But there's another well-known opiate that has no medicinal applications and is used exclusively for recreational purposes: heroin. This opiate is derived from morphine and gives users a euphoric feeling. It's addictive and particularly dangerous, as street heroin can contain deadly additives.

Effects of Opiates

The most common effect of medicinal opiates is pain relief. That's why doctors typically prescribe these drugs for people recovering from injuries, surgery, and other painful situations. However, there are also a number of side effects that come with taking opiates, including drowsiness, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, and slowed breathing, as well as a feeling of well-being. These side effects often do not become a problem if the drugs are used as prescribed in the correct doses.

However, people can build up a tolerance to opiates if taken in larger doses for extended periods of time, making it important to follow prescription instructions carefully. When tolerance buildup occurs, the drug has less of an effect at the prescribed dose, which might lead people to take more than prescribed. Those who take high doses for lengthy periods of time run the risk of developing an opiate addiction - they experience adverse side effects when they don't take the drug. Additionally, people can become dependent to the feeling of well-being the drugs produce, leading to addiction.

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