Substance abuse and addiction affect millions of American families daily. Coping with addiction is very difficult and requires a definitive strategy to overcome. The first step to recovery is understanding. The more educated an individual and their family can be on the subject of addiction the more capable they are of handling the situation. Education on prescription drug abuse continues to grow as the country increasingly develops addictions to these drugs. Prescription drug abuse has quickly become the most commonly abused drug; as well as the number one gateway drug. More specifically, prescription pain killers have become the most dangerous drug in America. Prescription pain killers are very powerful and highly addictive. They have grown in popularity over the last decade and continue to pose a problem for society. Vicodin is a powerful prescription pain killer that when used properly can help those with chronic pain, but when abused can be a deadly drug.


Vicodin is a prescription drug that is used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain. It is considered a narcotic pain reliever. Legally it is classified as a schedule ll controlled substance. Referencing pregnancy risk it is considered a category C, which means that risk cannot be ruled out. Vicodin is classified as an analgesic and an opioid. As an opiate the drug can be very dangerous. It can become addictive and individuals may feel as though they may not be able to function without it. Do to the high potential for emotional and physical dependence; it is paramount to be aware of warning signs of addiction.

Side Effects of Vicodin

Common side effects of Vicodin are constipation, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, lightheadedness, and heart beat irregularities. These side effects do not normally require treatment; there are possibilities of serious problems. Other side effects from using or abusing the drug can be blurred vision, hallucinations, extreme confusion and even permanent deafness. Pregnant women using the drug can birth a child who is dependent on the drug. There are extensive emotional and social problems that accompany Vicodin abuse. Vicodin is an opiate, which means it shares very similar qualities to other opiates; both natural and synthetic.

Prescription Drug Use Today

Today opioids are abused regularly. There are approximately 2 million Americans addicted to prescription opiates in the United States alone, according to the World health Organization. Drug and alcohol problems that have been diagnosed by U.S. doctors have increased by 70% between 2001 and 2009. This is hypothesized to be from the increase in prescription drug medication available. Besides prescription opiates, heroin is the most commonly abused illegal opiate. 52 million people have been estimated of abusing prescription medication at least once in their lifetime. About 1 in 20 high school students reported abusing OxyContin. Total number of U.S. opiate prescription depended rose from 76 million to 210 million from 1991 to 2010. 50% of all major crimes in the Nation have been linked to opiate abuse. Reports have indicated that nearly two-thirds of people in opiate abuse treatment have been sexually abused as children. Young adults have the largest number of opiate abuse.

What are opiates?

Opiates are analgesic narcotics, which directly depresses the central nervous system. There are two different categories of opiates, natural and synthetic. Natural opiates are made by refining the milky substance from the Asian opium poppy seed, while synthetic opiates are made in chemical laboratories with similar chemical structure to natural opiates. Natural and chemical opiates are called opioids. Refining opium yields morphine. Refining it more creates heroin.

Opium has a significant effect on the brain and body. The chemical effect on the brain creates the need, urge to reuse the drug. Synaptic cleft is the gap between neurons where electrical signals jump. The gap between the two is so great that messages cannot be sent electrically; instead it crosses by means of chemical ‘messengers’ called neurotransmitters. Dopamine is one type of neurotransmitter, responsible for the feeling of pleasure. A neuron produces dopamine, packed into containers called vesicles. When the electrical impulse arrives at the neuron’s terminal, the vesicle moves to the neural membrane and releases the dopamine in the synaptic cleft. Dopamine then moves across gap to the receptors of the next neuron. Eventually the dopamine will leave this new neuron and go back to the first neuron, in what is called uptake pumps. This is the normal function of neurotransmitters, neurons, and dopamine. It is important that the dopamine does not stay on the cleft.

How Opiates Disturb this Natural Occurrence

When a person takes opiates they enter into the brain at the reward pathway. The opiate binds to opiate receptors on another neuron; there are opiate receptors in the brain because of the natural opiates the body produces. This intake of opiates creates a dramatic increase in the amount of dopamine in the synaptic clefts; in the reward pathway. It is still not known for sure how opiates create more dopamine in the brain. One theory states that when opiates enter the brain and binds to receptors, the neurons release less GABA. GABA is responsible for inhibiting dopamine; ergo less GABA equals more dopamine. This increase in dopamine is responsible for the intense pleasure the opiate user feels. Like other drug abuse, prolonged opiate abuse creates a tolerance to the drug. This requires higher volumes of use to achieve wanted effects. Over a long period dopamine receptors decrease, so when an individual stops or quits they no longer have that increased feeling of pleasure. Quitting heroin creates less dopamine and fewer receptors for dopamine to bind to create a moodier, depressed, anxious, and irritable person. Extreme effects of not using are called opiate withdrawal, which can be life threatening.

The Major Problem With Prescription Opiates

The major problem with prescription opiates is that they present a terribly perfect road for heroin abuse and addiction. Heroin is a very strong opiate, as previously stated, that is undeniably addicting. When individuals develop addictions to prescription pain killers they often find themselves in need of excessive amounts of that medication. New laws and regulations are being created to reduce the amount of prescriptions being prescribed and limited pills availability. This leaves a gap in their need for prescription pain killers and getting the pills. Prescription opiate addicts will then look for an alternative source for their opiate addictions and heroin is ready to fill that gap. There is a surplus of cheap, readily available, and easy to obtain heroin on the streets. Thus is born the heroin problem in the United States.