Laudanum Addiction: What is Laudanum?
In Victorian-era Europe and North America, laudanum was lauded as a cure-all remedy and creative aid by artists and civilians alike. As a liquid composed mostly of alcohol, laudanum was mostly taken orally, buccally, and sublingually to soothe physical and mental ailments. However, as a form of the highly addictive drug opium, laudanum is far from a healthy elixir. Today, pure opium is not used in most medical practices and laudanum has been replaced by safer and more sophisticated opiate medications.
Even though laudanum is no longer widely prescribed, anyone who tries this drug may develop a laudanum addiction. If you or someone you love can’t stop using laudanum, help is available. We Level Up Treatment Center offers effective drug and alcohol treatment at centers across the United States.
By definition, laudanum is a tincture, which is a solution of a dissolved drug and alcohol. Laudanum, or tincture of opium as it is called in the medical community, is composed of 10 percent opium powder by weight and varying amounts of alcohol. Opium tinctures like laudanum usually contain 25 percent ethanol (alcohol) on average, with some variants containing 60–90 percent alcohol. Its component makes it very easy for people to develop laudanum addiction
Laudanum is a highly concentrated mixture of several types of addictive substances, including:
Today, laudanum uses are few as modern-day advances in medicine have yielded safer and more effective medications. However, in some cases that the drug is prescribed, laudanum can alleviate symptoms of:
- Acute or persistent diarrhea: If medicine like Imodium is not effective in treating severe diarrhea, some doctors may resort to laudanum.
- Neonatal abstinence syndrome: Laudanum may soothe symptoms of acute opiate withdrawal in newborns whose mothers were dependent on opioids during pregnancy.
- Moderate to severe pain: Like oxycodone and hydrocodone, laudanum is an opioid that can relieve physical pain.
Laudanum Addiction: Laudanum History
Although the origins of opium, the active ingredient in laudanum, date back to the ancient Sumerian culture, laudanum was first created in the sixteenth century by the alchemist Paracelsus. A standardized form of the drug was created in the seventeenth century and sold in Europe and North America as a cure-all medicine. Laudanum use skyrocketed during the 1800s when it was readily available in stores, grocers, and even pubs to people of every social standing.
According to laudanum history, the drug was used to soothe all manner of physical and mental ailments, from headaches to melancholy and “women’s troubles,” or menstrual and menopausal discomfort. Laudanum was also hailed as improving creativity, likely due to the euphoric effects of its opium content. As a result, many famous artists and poets dabbled in laudanum use during the Victorian era, including writers Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
However, even when it was used in small doses as a creative aid, laudanum was still highly addictive. Coleridge admitted to composing the famous poem, “Kubla Khan,” after waking from an opium-induced state. The writer later became addicted to opium. He wrote letters to trusted friends about the physical and mental laudanum effects, now recognized as withdrawal symptoms, that he was experiencing. Like Coleridge, many people suffered from physical dependence on laudanum during the 1800s, but sadly, the dangers of this drug were not fully realized because the concept of addiction was not understood in this era.
Laudanum Addiction Effects
Because of its opiate components, laudanum affects the body in many of the same ways that opioids do. Laudanum effects can include:
- Euphoria: Opiates like laudanum bind to the brain’s opioid receptors and release a rush of dopamine in the brain.
- Constipation: Given that laudanum helps quell diarrhea, a high dose of this drug could lead to constipation.
- Respiratory depression: This is due to the high percentage of alcohol in laudanum.
- Opioid use disorder: One of the most dangerous laudanum effects is that it can spur opiate addiction or an opioid use disorder. Addressing a laudanum use disorder may require someone to seek professional treatment.
- Physical dependence: Because it contains several opioids, including opium, morphine and codeine, laudanum is highly addictive. Continuous use of laudanum over time can make someone physically dependent on the drug (laudanum addiction), meaning they experience withdrawal symptoms when not using it.
- Alcohol use disorder: Depending on how much alcohol is in the opium tincture, a person can develop an alcohol use disorder from laudanum.
Other side effects of laudanum may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular breathing
- Dysphoria, or sadness
- Itchy skin (common with morphine)
- Pinpoint pupils, or miosis
Laudanum is highly addictive because it contains several habit-forming drugs: opium, morphine, codeine, and alcohol. Historically, laudanum addiction was a common but unrecognized disease of the nineteenth century. People frequently used the drug to soothe everything from headaches to depression, but unfortunately, physical dependence and addiction were not understood at this time. As a result, laudanum addiction went largely untreated. “Laudanum was responsible for more suicides by overdose than any other poison throughout the 1800s,” according to the Museum of Health Care.
Laudanum Addiction Poisoning
As laudanum can be highly addictive and dangerous in substantial doses, health care professionals provide it in minimal quantities. However, when laudanum is used often, a patient requires larger amounts to experience its effects. Consistent laudanum use can lead to laudanum poisoning or overdosing. When ingested in significant amounts, laudanum poisoning can occur. This may lead to severe and potentially lethal symptoms.
Symptoms of Laudanum Addiction Poisoning
There are several symptoms of laudanum poisoning:
- Respiratory depression: as laudanum contains high alcohol levels, ingestion of significant quantities of the drug may lead to respiratory distress. Or, it may depress the functions of the respiratory system.
- Constipation: high amounts of laudanum may lead users to suffer from constipation.
- Constriction of the pupils: opiates like laudanum can cause pupillary constriction, otherwise known as miosis. This can occur even in the absence of light. An easy way to evaluate a laudanum overdose is to look at the pupils of the user.
- Euphoria: the main active ingredient of laudanum is morphine. This drug contributes to the enhanced feeling of well-being among users. This is the feeling of joy or invulnerability, which is most often caused by the stimulation of opioid receptors in the brain.
- Dysphoria: while laudanum can make users feel elated, it can also disrupt the brain’s chemical balance. Those experiencing a laudanum overdose may feel profound sadness or depression.
Treatment for Laudanum Addiction & Poisoning
There are various treatments for laudanum addiction and poisoning:
Laudanum Poisoning Treatment
Immediate overdose treatment for laudanum poisoning is crucial. The aim during treatment is to remove the excess amount of the drug in the system. Health care professionals may implement the following treatments for laudanum overdose:
- Administration of emetics
- Gastric lavage application
- Intravenous fluid administration
- Administration of activated charcoal
- Intravenous application of flumazenil, a benzodiazepine antidote
- In extreme cases, dialysis may be necessary to remove laudanum. Further nursing care, including the close monitoring of vital overdose signs, is typically part of laudanum poisoning treatment.
Treatment Options for Opioid Abuse & Addiction
- Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT): There are three medications approved to treat opioid use disorder: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. Buprenorphine and methadone can help you manage withdrawal symptoms throughout the detoxification process. Naltrexone is less commonly used, but it blocks your opioid receptors, making it impossible to get high. Medication-assisted therapy is most effective when combined with other forms of treatment.
- Inpatient Programs: Inpatient programs are the most intensive and effective treatment options for opioid addiction. These programs guide you through medically supervised detoxification, then behavioral therapy and other services (possibly including MAT), will be added to your treatment. They typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, however they may be longer if necessary.
- Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs): PHPs are also known as intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). They are the next most intensive type of treatment for opioid addiction. They provide similar services to inpatient programs such as detoxification, behavioral therapy medical services, and custom treatments such as MAT. The difference is that in a PHP, the patient returns home to sleep. Some programs will include transportation and meals, but this varies by program. Partial hospitalization programs are helpful for both new patients and patients who have completed inpatient treatment and still need intensive recovery therapy.
- Outpatient Programs: Outpatient programs work best for people who have a high level of motivation to recover. They create treatment programs that work around your schedule. These programs can either be an effective treatment option for new patients or a part of an aftercare program for people who complete inpatient or partial hospitalization programs.
Reclaim Your Life From Laudanum Addiction
Laudanum Addiction is a chronic disease that can cause major health, social, and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up California can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from opiate addiction with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.