Pupil Dilation & Drug Use - What Drugs Cause It?

There are many different signs of drug abuse, some more common than others. Pupil dilation is one of the most common signs of drug abuse. 

This article will discuss the various drugs that cause pupil dilation and what to look out for if you’re worried that your loved one is abusing or addicted to drugs.

What are pupils?

Pupils are black circles found at the center of each eye. Usually, they constrict (become smaller) or dilate (become more prominent) when the light levels in your surroundings vary. The pupils’ primary function is to direct light to the optic nerve at the back of your eyes (retina), thus allowing you to see.

Eye muscles located in the iris are responsible for pupil dilation. They manipulate pupils and make them adjust depending on the amount of light.

Pupils measure 2-4 millimeters when constricted and about 4-8 millimeters when dilated. Therefore, your pupil size can vary depending on the circumstances.

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What is pupil dilation, and why does it occur?

Pupil dilation after drug abuse occurs when the drugs activate your body’s flight or fight adrenaline response by engaging adrenergic receptors in the brain and serotonin. This results in a chemical reaction that leads to muscle relaxation (mydriasis), making the pupils expand to allow more light in.

Drugs that can cause pupil dilation

Several drugs can alter pupil size since most drug interactions in the body affect neurotransmitters which are your body’s chemical messengers.

Most drugs contain chemicals. Therefore, they cause chemical reactions in your body, affecting neurotransmitters. Since neurotransmitters determine your pupil size, they may dilate after drug use.

There are specific drugs that can cause eye dilation. Most of them are psychotropic substances and stimulants.  

Some common drugs that cause pupils to dilate are:

·       LSD

·       Cocaine

·       Ecstasy

·       Mescaline

·       Amphetamines

·       MDMA

·       Psilocybin

·       SSRI antidepressants

Xanax, a benzodiazepine drug, can also make pupils dilate since it affects the activity of neurotransmitter GABA that relaxes the muscles. Additionally, the stimulant medication used in ADHD treatment, i.e., Adderall and Ritalin, can also cause pupil dilation.

Other drugs, specifically opioids, can cause pinpoint pupils. Pinpoint pupils refer to pupils constricting and failing to respond to light. Sometimes, pinpoint pupils are an overdose symptom. If you notice a heroin user has pinpoint pupils, it would be best to call 911 immediately.

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Marijuana, alcohol, and cocaine cause bloodshot eyes when they expand the blood vessels around the pupils.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has more information on the drugs mentioned above, including the effects of LSD. 

How is pupil dilation determined?

When there is suspicion of drug abuse, there is a unique tool that officers or medical practitioners can use to determine pupil dilation and the most likely cause.

First responders use the Drug Recognition Card to determine whether or not an individual is sober. The International Association of Chiefs of Police invented the chart to quickly determine the pupil size difference between sober people and those high on drugs

The Drug Recognition Card can also help first responders determine which drug is responsible for the dilation. It has a list of various drugs and a pupil dilation scale which helps officers gauge the extent of pupil dilation.

Other possible causes of pupil dilation

Besides light and drug use, pupils can dilate for the following reasons:

·       Pupils can dilate if you focus on objects far away from you.

·       If you get a concussion, one of your pupils may dilate. One of them will appear more prominent.

·       Emotions. How you feel can make your pupils dilate. Most times, pupil dilation is a sign of endorphin release. If you’re happy, your pupils will appear more prominent.

·       Anisocoria. Anisocoria refers to a medical condition where one pupil is bigger than the other.

·       Iritis. Iritis is an eye condition caused by inflammation of the iris.

·       Prescription medication. Some prescription medicines can cause pupil dilation. They include antihistamines, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, anticholinergics, decongestants, mydriatics, benzodiazepines, dopamine precursors, and stimulants.

Are there long-term effects of pupil dilation?

If your pupils dilate due to drug abuse, you may wonder whether they would remain that way for good.

The pupils often go back to their original size when the drug side effects fade. However, there are a few instances when the pupils become dilated during the withdrawal period. This is common in individuals who abuse opioids.

Currently, there aren’t enough studies to conclude whether or not drug use can result in permanent pupil dilation.

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How to deal with pupil dilation

When your pupils dilate due to drug use or for any other reason, it can be uncomfortable since the pupils let in more light. Everything may appear overwhelmingly bright, and you may be sensitive to most if not all sources of light.

You may need to wear protective eye gear to shield yourself from light. This way, you will be more comfortable walking around and doing day-to-day tasks. Photochromic lenses and sunglasses will come in handy. Sunglasses protect your eyes from the sun’s rays, while photochromic lenses automatically adjust your light  levels.

If you’re worried about pupil dilation, you can contact an eye specialist who will examine you and advise you on eye health.

Other signs of drug use

Although pupil dilation can be a sign of drug abuse, you cannot conclude that individuals have abused drugs by simply looking at their pupil size.

You may need to look out for other symptoms of drug abuse. The most common ones include; restlessness, unexplained mood changes, loss of appetite, increased heart rate, tremors, high blood pressure, heavy sweating, and change in sleep patterns. The individual’s performance at work or school may also be affected.

If you notice your loved one has any symptoms of drug abuse, it may be time to seek professional help.

Seek professional help

At More Than Rehab, we acknowledge that abusing alcohol or drugs can have many side effects. Drug abuse affects your life and that of your loved ones. You are also likely to develop a substance use disorder.

To start your healing journey, contact us today. Other than addiction, we deal with co-occurring disorders like depression, self-harm, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. We will walk with you every step of the way and help you turn your life

Digestive Health Issues From Drug Use

Drug use can have both short-term and long-term effects on your digestive health. And while some of these effects can resolve on their own or through treatment, some linger on for years. In some cases, drug-induced complications on the digestive system could cause severe health complications and even death.

You probably know that drugs affect judgment, decision-making, moods, feelings, memory, and even learning. However, drugs use can also cause or worsen digestive problems. Some of these effects happen after prolonged drug use, while others happen just after a single use.

The effects of drug abuse on the digestive system

Many common drugs, including prescription drugs that treat digestive problems, diabetes, and depression, can affect gut health. The gut system is home to about 100 trillion bacteria and other organisms like fungi and viruses. All these make up the microbiome or microbiota. A healthy gut contains good bacteria and healthy immune cells that ward off infections.

It also communicates with the brain through hormones and nerves, maintaining intestinal health. A proper balance of good bacteria can result in many health benefits. Drug use affects the balance of bacteria in the gut microbiota, predisposing people to gastrointestinal tract infections and other health issues.

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Additionally, drugs damage the mucous membrane lining that runs through the mouth, stomach, small intestines, large intestines, and esophagus. The mucous membrane helps with peristalsis, which is the process of breaking down food. Damage to the lining exposes the GI tract to damage and more severe health issues. Here are some common digestive health concerns from drug use.

Intestine constipation

Opiates like heroin, Vicodin, morphine, and OxyContin cause constipation. Under normal circumstances, adults have bowel movements ranging from three times a day to three times a week. But after opiate intake, they may have infrequent bowel movements or find it hard to pass bowel movements.

It’s important to note that the severity of constipation depends on factors like dosage and duration of use. Long-term use may cause bowel damage and produce a narcotic bowel syndrome where bowel functions slow down. And unlike other opiates, side effects like nausea, constipation doesn’t resolve over time with continued use. The reason is that the GI system doesn’t seem to adapt to the presence of opioids like other body parts.

But the main reason opiates cause constipation is that opiates heavily impact the GI neurons. Muscles around the intestine push stool through the body. Opioid intake slows or stops the squeezing movements of these muscles because of how it affects the messages sent to the nerves in the spine and intestines. Besides, opioids can also cause gastroparesis, a condition where food stays in the GI tract for much longer. So, the intestine ends up absorbing more water causing the formation of hard and dry stools.

Opiate-related constipation affects opioid receptions across the body and brain functionality. So, taking supplements or fiber-rich foods won’t solve the problem.

Cancers

Tobacco use can cause many cancers, including throat, esophagus, mouth, stomach, bladder, rectum, liver, kidney, and cervix. That’s because tobacco products have many chemicals that destroy DNA. There isn’t a safe level of tobacco use.

Ulcers and perforations in the stomach

Drugs like cocaine reduce appetite and cause bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Continual use may cause these uncomfortable symptoms to develop into more severe GI issues like stomach ulcers, abdominal bleeding, perforation of the intestines, bowel tissue decay or rupture, perforation of the small blood vessels in the abdomen, and reduced blood flow to the gastrointestinal system.

Cocaine misuse can cause gangrene and mesenteric ischemia, which leads to small and large bowel perforation and intraperitoneal hemorrhage. Clinical presentation of mesenteric ischemia includes abdominal pain and possibly vomiting, nausea, and cocaine diarrhea. High concentrations of cocaine may cause blood clots which block the blood supply, predisposing one to ulceration due to prolonged exposure to acid.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

People who drink often tend to experience irritable bowel syndrome, an intestinal condition that doesn’t appear to cause actual physical damage to the intestines. It is characterized by persistent pain, discomfort, and regular episodes of constipation and diarrhea. IBS patients also experience a range of issues regarding the types of activities they can indulge in or food they can eat.

However, drug-induced GI disorders can mimic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Knowing this can prevent unnecessary investigations and treatment.

Esophagus and stomach irritation

Some people have a hard time swallowing prescription and OTC drugs in capsule or tablet form. When capsules or tablets stick in the esophagus, they may release chemicals that irritate the esophagus lining. The irritation may result in bleeding, ulcers, strictures, and perforation. The risk goes higher in people with conditions like achalasia, scleroderma, strictures, and stroke.

Other drugs may also cause stomach lining irritation. These drugs weaken the ability of the lining to resist acid produced in the stomach. In some cases, the irritation may cause inflammation of the stomach lining, bloody vomits, ulcers, severe indigestion and heartburn, perforation, severe stomach cramps, and burning in the back or stomach.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS)

CHS is a condition characterized by repeated and severe bouts of vomiting and nausea. THC, which is the psychoactive part of cannabis, binds digestive track molecules, impacting the things like the time it takes the stomach to empty. Other CHS symptoms include belly pain, dehydration, and decreased food intake.

Drugs that can affect the gastrointestinal system

These drugs include:

Drug abuse can affect many different organs in your body, including the gastrointestinal tract. If you are experiencing any of these digestive health issues, it’s best to seek medical help. Your doctor will run some tests and provide the best possible care. But be sure to inform them about your drug use problem, as that will help with the diagnosis and treatment. In some cases, your doctor may recommend detox and rehabilitation to help address the root cause of the GI problems.

If you or someone close to you has digestive health issues from drug use, we can help. We provide holistic drug use treatment to help you get off of drugs. This, in turn, will prevent the GI issues from escalating, allowing your immune system to bounce back. Contact us today for additional information.