Opium Abuse during the Civil War Era: 1/2

Author Jocelyn Green returns with another installment in her series of posts on Civil War Medicine. Jocelyn was here last week discussing amputees and prosthetics. You can Part I and Part II by following the links.

As an added bonus, Jocelyn has graciously offered to give away a personalized copy of her latest novel, Widow of Gettysburg, to one commentor. To enter, leave a comment on any of her posts over the next three weeks WITH your e-mail address. Must live in the USA. Winner drawn midnight, Saturday, May 11th, 2013 and announced here at Redwood’s on May 12th, 2013.

Jocelyn has also graciously said she’ll send you a signed bookplate if you have any of her novels and would like one. Again, MUST have your e-mail. 

Good Luck!

As you can image by the title of my novel, Widow of Gettysburg, writing it required extensive research into the condition of wounded soldiers and their treatment. I soon discovered that opium was considered a wonder drug by battlefield surgeons. It was sprinkled on wounds to help slow blood loss, and taken orally to relieve pain and induce sleep. Opium and morphine were the most popular painkillers—but they were also used in the treatment of cholera and sometimes dysentery.

The most significant incidence of opium abuse in the United States occurred during the Civil War, when an estimated 400,000 soldiers became addicted to the drug. Two of my characters in Widow of Gettysburg struggle with it. The following signs and symptoms helped guide those storylines.
Opium Abuse Side Effects
These side-effects depend on factors such as the dose, how the drug is taken, and the individual’s metabolism. In addition, these side-effects depend on the duration of time in which the drug has been taken. Opium abuse brings about side-effects such as:

  • Drowsiness
  • Sedation
  • Depressed or slowed breathing
  • Glazed or red eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Small pupils
  • Nausea
  • Sleeping disorders
  • A runny nose
  • Sinus irritation
  • Excessive energy
  • Rapid speed
  • Mania
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation and other gastrointestinal problems
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Restlessness and tension


In most cases, side-effects are experienced at the early stages of abuse and decrease as time goes by.

Depression was one of the most serious side effects of long-term users, and could lead to suicide.

In severe cases, the individual may have a weak pulse, lower blood pressure, reduced heart rate, difficulty or labored breathing, and changes in the color of lips and fingertips. Seizures, convulsions, hallucinations, confusion and psychomotor retardation also take place.


***********************************************************************
 A former military wife, Jocelyn Green authored, along with contributing writers, the award-winning Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives and Faith Deployed . . . Again. Jocelyn also co-authored Stories of Faith and Couragefrom the Home Front, which inspired her first novel: Wedded to War. She loves Mexican food, Broadway musicals, Toblerone chocolate bars, the color red, and reading on her patio. Jocelyn lives with her husband Rob and two small children in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s