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What Drugs Cause Dilated Pupils?

What Drugs Cause Dilated Pupils?

What drugs cause dilated pupils? The answer might shock you. Learn about this famous sign of drug use in our blog. The Edge treats drug addiction.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Sobriety

Addiction Recovery

April 4, 2023

Drug addiction has always been a major problem in the United States; unfortunately, it is still worsening. The prevalence of drug addiction in the USA is mostly due to several factors, including drug availability, poverty, mental health conditions, and social isolation.

One of the most well-known signs of being under the influence of drugs is dilated pupils.

By the Numbers:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were around 92,000 drug overdose deaths among Americans in 2020, up from about 70,000 in 2017.  

Why Does Pupil Dilation Occur?

Pupil dilation is a physiological response of the eye in which the black circular opening in the center of the iris (the pupil) enlarges. This can occur for various reasons, including changes in lighting conditions, emotional arousal, cognitive processing, and certain medical conditions or medications.

The muscles that control the size of the pupil are part of the iris, the colored part of the eye. The iris has two types of muscles: the sphincter muscle and the dilator muscle. The sphincter muscle encircles the pupil and constricts it, making it smaller. The dilator muscle radiates outward from the center of the iris and opens the pupil, making it larger. The balance between these two muscles determines the size of the pupil.

In response to changes in lighting conditions, the pupil will dilate or constrict to allow the appropriate amount of light to enter the eye. For example, in low-light conditions, the pupil dilates to let in more light, while in bright-light conditions, the pupil constricts to reduce the amount of light entering the eye.

Emotional arousals, such as fear or excitement, can also cause pupil dilation. This is because the autonomic nervous system regulates involuntary body functions and is activated in response to emotional stimuli. In addition, the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the "fight or flight" response, causes the pupils to dilate, allowing more light into the eye and improving visual acuity in preparation for potential danger.

Cognitive processing can also cause pupil dilation. When we are engaged in a cognitively demanding task, such as solving a difficult math problem, the brain requires more oxygen and glucose. The body responds by increasing blood flow to the brain, which causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. The pupils also dilate to increase the amount of light entering the eye, which can improve visual acuity and help us focus on the task at hand.

Certain medical conditions or medications can also cause pupil dilation. For example, drugs that block the action of the sphincter muscle, such as some antidepressants and antipsychotics, can cause the pupils to dilate. Other medical conditions, such as a brain injury or a tumor, can also affect the size of the pupils.

Thus, pupil dilation occurs due to the balance between the sphincter and dilator muscles in the iris and can be influenced by changes in lighting conditions, emotional arousal, cognitive processing, and certain medical conditions or medications.

What Drugs Cause Pupil Dilation?

Drug abuse can cause pupil dilation due to its effects on the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body's "fight or flight" response, which is activated in response to stress, danger, or excitement. When activated, the sympathetic nervous system causes the pupils to dilate, which allows more light to enter the eyes and improves visual acuity.

Several drugs can affect the sympathetic nervous system and cause pupil dilation, including:

Stimulants

Stimulant drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines increase the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, causing the pupils to dilate.

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline also affect the sympathetic nervous system and can cause pupil dilation.

Opioids

Opioid drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone can affect the sympathetic nervous system and cause pupil constriction (pupil constriction is the opposite of pupil dilation), but in some cases, they can cause pupil dilation.

Cannabis

Cannabis can also cause pupil dilation, although the mechanism behind this effect is not fully understood.

Benzodiazepines

Drugs in the benzodiazepine class can cause pupil dilation as well.

Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic drugs such as "bath salts" cause pupils to dilate.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications

Many OTC medications can cause dilated pupils, such as antihistamines.

Along with the effects on the sympathetic nervous system, some drugs can also affect the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls pupil constriction. For example, some opioids can cause pupil constriction by inhibiting the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which normally causes the pupils to constrict.

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What Are the Drugs Associated With Pupil Dilation?

Several drugs are associated with pupil dilation. These drugs can affect the muscles in the iris that control the size of the pupil, either by stimulating the dilator muscle or by blocking the sphincter muscle.

Some common examples of drugs that can cause pupil dilation are:

Atropine

Atropine is a medication commonly used to dilate the pupil for diagnostic purposes, such as during an eye exam. It works by blocking the action of the sphincter muscle in the iris, allowing the dilator muscle to take over and widen the pupil. Atropine is also used in some medical procedures, such as surgery, to reduce the amount of saliva and mucus produced by the body.

Anticholinergics

Anticholinergic drugs are a class of medications that block the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating many bodily functions. Some anticholinergic drugs, such as scopolamine and tropicamide, dilate the pupil for diagnostic purposes or during medical procedures. They work by blocking the action of the sphincter muscle in the iris.

Sympathomimetics

Sympathomimetic drugs mimic the action of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "fight or flight" response in the body. These drugs can cause pupil dilation as a side effect, as the sympathetic nervous system normally causes the pupils to dilate in response to stress or danger. Examples of sympathomimetic drugs that can cause pupil dilation are amphetamines, cocaine, and some decongestants.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are a class of antidepressant drugs commonly used to treat depression and anxiety. Some SSRIs, such as fluoxetine and sertraline, have been associated with pupil dilation as a side effect.

Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers are a class of drugs commonly used to treat high blood pressure, heart failure, and other cardiovascular conditions. Beta-blockers, such as timolol, can cause pupil dilation as a side effect.

What Are the Other Effects of Drugs on the Body Apart From Pupil Dilation?

Drugs can have a variety of effects on the body beyond pupil dilation. The specific effects depend on the type of drug, the dose, and the individual's response to the medication. Here are some examples:

Central Nervous System (CNS) Effects

Many drugs can affect the CNS, which includes the brain and spinal cord. Some drugs, such as opioids and benzodiazepines, can cause sedation and drowsiness, while others, such as amphetamines and cocaine, can cause increased alertness and energy. CNS effects can also include changes in mood, perception, and behavior.

Cardiovascular Effects

Drugs can affect the cardiovascular system, which includes the heart and blood vessels. Some drugs, such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers, can lower blood pressure and heart rate, while others, such as stimulants, can increase heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, long-term use of certain drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, can lead to heart damage and other cardiovascular complications.

Respiratory Effects

Some drugs, such as opioids and sedatives, can cause respiratory depression, which can be life-threatening. Other drugs, such as nicotine and cocaine, can cause respiratory stimulation and increase the risk of lung damage.

Gastrointestinal Effects

Drugs can affect the gastrointestinal system, which includes the stomach and intestines. Some drugs, such as opioids and anticholinergics, can cause constipation, while others, such as alcohol and certain antibiotics, can cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms.

Endocrine Effects

Drugs can affect the endocrine system, which includes the glands and hormones that regulate many bodily functions. Some drugs, such as steroids and thyroid hormones, can affect metabolism and energy levels. In contrast, others, such as antipsychotics and antidepressants, can affect hormone levels and lead to weight gain and other side effects.

Immune System Effects

Drugs can affect the immune system, which includes the cells and organs that protect the body from infection and disease. Some drugs, such as immunosuppressants, can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of infection, while others, such as antibiotics, can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in the body and lead to antibiotic resistance.

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Are There Other Symptoms of Drug Abuse Aside From Dilated Pupils?

Dilated pupils are not the only sign of drug abuse. If you're concerned about a loved one, here are some other symptoms of drug use to be aware of:

  • A loss of interest in other activities

  • Sudden money issues

  • Slurred speech

  • Isolation

  • Paranoia and other mood disorders

  • A sudden change in appearances such as weight loss, weight gain, or poor hygiene

  • Forgetfulness

It's always best to talk with experts if you suspect a loved one has a drug issue. Reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today.

I Think My Loved One May Have a Drug Problem. What Do I Do?

Drug and alcohol addiction is a family disease as it affects everyone around the person who is addicted. It's frightening to see the swift changes addiction causes in loved ones. Here are some simple steps to take if you think a loved one is addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Step 1: Fill Your Own Cup

This is a common saying in addiction recovery. Filling your own cup means making sure you're taking care of yourself. Remember, you can't do much good for your loved one if you're tired, depressed, and overwhelmed, all of which are common emotions to experience during this tough time. There are multiple resources available for you; make sure you explore them.

Step 2: Time for a Talk

Eventually, you're going to have to confront your loved one. As tempting as it can be, don't go to them in a spirit of anger. Instead, show them concern over their behavior, that you're worried about what they're doing to themselves and you want to help them. Also, your loved one will likely be in deep denial over their condition, so don't expect the first talk to work. Keep at it.

Step 3: Keep This in Mind

Your loved one's substance abuse is NOT your fault. No matter what your loved one might say, it's not your fault they're using drugs and/or refusing to get help. It's their choice, and you may have to prepare yourself for them refusing to get help. It's their choice, and if they choose to keep on the destructive path they're on, it's not your fault.

Remember, it's very easy for concern to turn into enabling. If you have to, cut them off from resources like money or even you.

Step 4: Intervention

Gather friends and family of your loved one and get together. Let them know the situation, and find a time you can gently confront your loved one. This is essentially step one all over again, only with a group. Again, remember it isn't your fault if the intervention is unsuccessful.

Step 5: Find Help

If you need help anytime during this very difficult process, reach out to us at The Edge Treatment Center. We're happy to listen and provide advice about how to help your loved one find help for their addiction.

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What Are the Reasons for Rising Drug Abuse?

The reasons for rising drug abuse are complex and multifaceted and can vary depending on factors such as geography, demographics, and social and economic conditions. Here are some of the main reasons that contribute to rising drug abuse:

Social and Economic Factors

Social and economic factors such as poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and social inequality can contribute to drug abuse. When people lack access to resources and opportunities, they may turn to drugs to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is a powerful force that can influence individuals to engage in drug abuse. Young people, in particular, may feel pressure from their peers to experiment with drugs to fit in or be accepted.

Prescription Drug Abuse

The over-prescription and misuse of prescription drugs have contributed significantly to the rising drug abuse. The availability of prescription drugs has made it easier for people to access and misuse opioids, sedatives, and stimulants.

Trauma

Trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, can contribute to drug abuse to cope with the pain and emotional distress associated with trauma. Similarly, people who have experienced significant stress, such as military combat, may turn to drugs to cope with the stress and trauma.

Marketing and Advertising

Pharmaceutical companies often market and advertise prescription drugs in a way that suggests they are safe and effective, which can contribute to their misuse and abuse. Similarly, the media often depicts drug use glamorously or excitingly, making it more appealing to young people.

How to Avoid Pupil Dilation Caused By Drug Abuse

The only way to altogether avoid pupil dilation caused by drug abuse is to abstain from using drugs altogether. However, if you are struggling with drug abuse and want to quit, resources are available to help you.

Seek Professional Help

The best way to quit drug abuse is to seek professional help for addiction. You can speak to a healthcare professional, such as a doctor, therapist, or counselor, who can help you come up with a plan to quit using drugs. They can also provide you with resources and support to help you along the way.

Use Alternative Therapies

Some alternative therapies, such as meditation, yoga, and acupuncture, can help reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for drug abuse. In addition, using these therapies can help reduce the desire to use drugs and avoid the associated pupil dilation.

Avoid Triggers

Identify the triggers that lead you to use drugs and try to avoid them as much as possible. For example, if you use drugs around certain people or in certain places, try to avoid those situations.

Stay Active

Exercise and physical activity can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can help reduce the desire to use drugs. By staying active, you can help avoid pupil dilation caused by drug abuse.

Seek Support From Loved Ones

It is important to have a support system when you are trying to quit drug abuse. Reach out to friends and family members who can provide you with emotional support and help keep you accountable.

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Treatment of Pupil Dilation

The treatment of pupil dilation caused due to drugs depends on the specific drug involved and the individual's response to the medication. In some cases, pupil dilation may be a desirable side effect, such as when a medication is used to dilate the pupil for diagnostic purposes or during medical procedures.

However, if pupil dilation is causing discomfort or interfering with daily activities, there are several options for managing this side effect:

  • Discontinuing the medication: If pupil dilation is a known side effect causing significant discomfort or impairment, the prescribing physician may consider discontinuing the medication or switching to an alternative treatment.

  • Adjusting the dosage: In some cases, adjusting the dosage of the medication may help reduce pupil dilation severity. This approach should only be taken under the guidance of a medical professional.

  • Using eye drops: Some eye drops, such as pilocarpine, can be used to constrict the pupil and counteract the effects of medications that cause pupil dilation. However, these eye drops should be used under the guidance of an eye doctor, as they can cause side effects such as eye irritation and blurred vision.

  • Avoiding driving or operating heavy machinery: Pupil dilation can impair visual acuity and depth perception, making it dangerous to drive or operate heavy machinery. If you experience significant pupil dilation as a side effect of medication, it is important to avoid these activities until the effect has worn off.

The Edge Treatment Center Offers Expert Treatment for Substance Abuse & Drug Addiction

At The Edge Treatment Center, we specialize in assisting people battling drug abuse. Our team of skilled professionals is committed to providing thorough and individualized care to help our patients overcome their addictions and attain long-term recovery. We offer many behavioral therapies in addition to medication to help our patients address the underlying psychological and emotional problems that contribute to their addiction.

Want to learn more about how we can help you leave dilated pupils and even worse side effects of drug use? Reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today.

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