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Effects of Opium Abuse on the Immune System

Effects of Opium Abuse on the Immune SystemPoppy plants provide the source material for several narcotics, including morphine, heroin and painkillers like Valium and OxyContin. Opiates are quite addictive, even when taken as prescribed. The drugs act on the central nervous system — the body’s network for sending and receiving information — by triggering neurotransmitters throughout the body. This neural network also connects with the immune system, which protects against bacteria, toxins and viruses that cause sickness. This overlap manifests in a diminished immune system as opiate abuse continues.

How Opium Affects the Body

Opiates impact a user’s immune response system in the following ways:

  • Opioid receptors attach to immune cells meant to defend the host
  • Limiting the nervous system’s ability to fight sickness
  • Decreasing the immune responses to disease agents
  • Triggering immunosuppressive functions like sleepiness and temperature change
  • Secreting steroids that decrease the number of immune cells and limit their activity

Chronic opiate abuse can also permanently damage the central nervous system, which will also have lasting effects on the immune system.

The Immune System and Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Opiate abuse also impacts the immune system when an addict ceases or decreases use. Users going through detox initially experience a heightened sense of discomfort caused by the following process:

  • The body produces natural painkilling endorphins
  • Opium imitates the effects of these endorphins
  • Body interprets the opiates as an excess of endorphins
  • Production of natural endorphins is decreased
  • Absence of opium and normal endorphin levels limit a defense against pain

During the early days of recovery, recovering addicts experience extreme sensitivity to pain. Furthermore, withdrawals affect the immune system in the following ways:

  • Stress-like effects on the immune system caused by the opiate withdrawals
  • Stimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis that helps regulate immunity
  • Multi-day spike in hormone steroids that compromise immune defense
  • Overall suppression of the immune system during the initial withdrawals

There is also an indirect risk that stems from injecting opiates with a needle. Sharing needles can result in contracting HIV/AIDS, a disease that decimates the immune system. According to a 2012 study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, drug injection introduced the HIV virus to 17% of the 1.2 million Americans currently battling the disease.

Opium Addiction Treatment

Professional rehab is the most effective way to treat opium addiction. It utilizes several advanced techniques, including the following examples:

  • Tapered detox that weans opiates out of a user’s system
  • Medical supervision to address sickness
  • Opiate replacement therapy during recovery
  • Concurrent treatment for any mental health issues
  • Behavioral therapies to improve cognitive and emotional responses
  • Individual counseling to determine opium use triggers
  • Group therapy and ongoing aftercare support

Rehab centers also provide therapies that strengthen the central nervous and immune systems, as well as any other damage opiates may have caused.

Opium Abuse Help

Call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline to speak with an addiction counselor about warning signs, treatment options and aftercare. Health insurance companies often cover rehab, and we can check your policy for benefits. Opium abuse is a serious issue that requires immediate attention, so please call now.