Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Why Are Opioids So Addictive

Opiate Effects And Abuse

Why Are Opioids So Addictive?

Opiates produce euphoric and tranquil effects when taken in amounts that are larger than prescribed. The pleasant, care-free feelings a person experiences when taking these drugs are often what leads to destructive patterns of abuse.

Opiate addiction is often characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior. For example, in an attempt to obtain more of the drug, a person may visit multiple doctors in order to get new prescriptions, otherwise known as doctor shopping.

The pathological urges to use these drugs can also drive people to borrow, buy, or steal the drugs from friends and family. As an act of desperation, some individuals may resort to seeking out Heroin, an illegal Opioid that is commonly purchased on the streets. Despite the well-known dangers of Heroin, it is often easier and cheaper to obtain than Opioid pills.

In a 2014 survey, 94 percent of respondents said they chose to use Heroin over prescription Painkillers because it was cheaper and easier to get.

How Can An Opioid Overdose Be Treated

If you suspect someone has overdosed, the most important step to take is to call 911 so he or she can receive immediate medical attention. Once medical personnel arrive, they will administer naloxone. Naloxone is a medicine that can treat an opioid overdose when given right away. It works by rapidly binding to opioid receptors and blocking the effects of opioid drugs. Naloxone is available as an injectable solution and nasal sprays .

Some states have passed laws that allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a personal prescription. Friends, family, and others in the community can use the nasal spray versions of naloxone to save someone who is overdosing.

Read more in our Naloxone DrugFacts.

What Effect Do Opiates Have On The Body

Opiates can be found in several widely-used drugs including: heroin, morphine, codeine and hydrocodone. Opiates create artificial endorphins in the brain -which produce in the early stages of use warm, good feelings in the user. But over time, opiates trick the brain into stopping the production of these endorphins naturally. At this point, the only way an opiate addict can experience positive feelings is by using the drug in question. This process is the reason why opiates are so addictive.

When the body stops producing its own endorphins, a person feels sick and depressed whenever they are not taking the opiate. For these individuals, taking the opiate, say heroin, no longer is about the positive feelings that were felt the first few times they took the drug. Now, the opiate use has become about avoided negative feeling and symptoms. When this switch occurs the person has become addicted to opiates.

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What Makes Opioids Addictive

Opioids are dangerous in that anyone can become addicted to them. There is research that shows that with as little as three days of treatment, a person can be on the road to chronic overuse. It just takes a little of an opioid to cause a person to lose so much.

Opioids bind to opioid receptors in the brain and on cells throughout the body. These cells are responsible for feeling pleasure and pain. When opioids attach to these receptors, they block pain signals being sent from the brain.

The body then produces an enormous amount of dopamine that is sent throughout the body. This dopamine production reinforces the act of taking the drug. This makes a person want to repeat the experience of taking the drug, making it addictive.

In the short term, opioids make people feel happy and relaxed. When overused, they can lead to confusion, euphoria, drowsiness, slowed breathing, and nausea. Misuse of opioids can lead to hypoxia, which could produce long-term or short-term effects. Researchers are studying whether the effects of addiction to opioids on the brain can be reversed. Prescription opioids and heroin share many similarities chemically and can produce the same high. Opioid addiction is a chronic disease. It causes an uncontrollable compulsive desire to get the drug. People who are addicted to opioids will strive to get the drug regardless of the negative consequences.

Is It Dangerous To Quit Heroin Cold Turkey

Opioid Addiction: Side Effects, Withdrawal and Getting Clean

It can be very dangerous to stop using heroin cold turkey. That is because the withdrawal symptoms people experience can be extremely hard to manage. Once a person stops using heroin, their tolerance for the drug changes almost immediately. As they continue to abstain, they require less of the drug in order to get high.

The problem is that a lot of people do not realize this is happening. If they end up relapsing, they will typically go back to taking the same amount they used before they quit. This can result in an overdose, which can be fatal unless they get medical help right away.

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Randal Lea Ma Ladac Ii Qcs


Randal Lea, our Chief Community Recovery Officer is a licensed addictions counselor with 30 years of clinical and administrative experience.

Randal received masters degrees in counseling from Trevecca Nazarene University and in psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is a frequent presenter on a variety of topics such as assessment, sexual behavior in children, ethics, dreamwork and trauma. He is a certified practitioner of DreamTending and a qualified clinical supervisor.

Prior to his current role as Chief Community Recovery Officer, Randal served eight years as Assistant Commissioner with the Tennessee Department of Childrens Services. In 2008, he was recognized by the Praed Foundation as a national Systems Champion for implementing a statewide childrens assessment for DCS. He also received the Friend of Children Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 from Tennessee Voices for Children after seven years on their board. Randal was also recognized in both 2000 and in 2015 as Professional of the Year by the Middle Tennessee chapter of the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors .

Misuse And Abuse Of Opioids Is A National Epidemic

Opioid is a term used to describe a variety of medications that work by interrupting pain signals to the brain and producing a pleasurable effect. Hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine and codeine are all examples of opioids.

Medications such as these provide almost immediate relief from pain symptomsbut they are so powerful and effective, the brain often responds by wanting more. This can lead to tolerancemeaning you need more of the drug to produce the same effect because the dosage you originally received is no longer enough to make you feel better. In some people, it can even lead to the desire for stronger drugs that produce good-feeling effects even faster.

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Injecting Snorting & Smoking Increase Addiction Risk

Heroin is an opioid, and most opioids affect the brain in the same way. So why do many people say heroin is more addictive? Most people smoke, snort or shoot heroin. These methods of administration have more immediate effects on the brain than swallowing a drug, according to the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah.

Many prescription drugs have formulas that make pills difficult to crush and snort or to melt and inject. When a person swallows a pill, the medication goes through the stomach and liver, where its slowly absorbed into the bloodstream. The brain gradually feels the drug over time.

But when a person smokes, injects or snorts a drug, it can reach the brain in seconds. The brain is more likely to become addicted to a drug when the full dose of the drug enters the brain all at once. Heroin is rarely swallowed in a pill, so its more likely to cause addiction because its almost always used in high-risk ways.

How The Opioid Epidemic Started

Why are opioids so addictive?

Many trace the issue back to the late 1990s. As pharmaceutical companies were looking for new Painkillers, they began to push Synthetic and semi-Synthetic Opioids to doctors. The companies would say that the drugs were either less addictive or nonaddictive in comparison to Morphine, and that they had no dangerous side effects. Doctors began pushing these drugs, as they saw no repercussions to patients taking them. This growth in the prescription Opioid business directly pushed the distribution of Opioids to elevated levels that remain to this day, contributing to the epidemic we are now dealing with.


Deaths across the US have grown steadily over time. There have been 115 a day, on average, since 2014.


80% of people suffering from an addiction to Heroin started with a prescription for an Opioid Painkiller.



The costs of prescription Opioid misuse in the US comes out to $78.5 billion a year.

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Can Opioids Be Taken Responsibly

Opioids are an effective painkiller and should be used appropriately, and to do so, the patient needs to take a level or responsibility for their medical care. If you are going to have a medical procedure, you should have a conversation with your physician about pain control.

Ask questions like:

  • You are prescribing me this many tablets. Do I really need these?
  • What is your strategy for pain control?
  • What options do I have other than an opioid to help control my pain?

Prevention Of Opioid Overdose

Beyond approaches to reducing drug use in general in the community, there are specific measures to prevent opioid overdose. These include:

  • increasing the availability of opioid dependence treatment, including for those dependent on prescription opioids
  • reducing and preventing irrational or inappropriate opioid prescribing
  • monitoring opioid prescribing and dispensing and
  • limiting inappropriate over-the-counter sales of opioids.

The gap between recommendations and practice is significant. Only half of countries provide access to effective treatment options for opioid dependence and less than 10% of people worldwide in need of such treatment are receiving it.

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Signs Of An Opioid Overdose

Every year, thousands of deaths in the United States are attributed to opioid overdose. If you fear that someone has overdosed on opioids, call 9-1-1 right away. Signs that someone may have overdosed include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slow and erratic pulse or no pulse
  • Irregular breathing or no breathing
  • Face is very pale and/or clammy
  • Pupils are constricted
  • Body is limp

Why Are Pain Pills So Addictive

Why Is Opioid Addiction Happening to So Many of Us ...

If you have a problem with prescription-based pain pills, you should know that you are not alone. And this is substantiated by multiple studies that have examined addiction involving pain pills in the U.S. In a 2017 study published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse , the most recent and relevant data available, researchers revealed that an estimated 2 million Americans misused prescription pain relievers.

While we are on the topic, it is important to note that opioids were the ones that many admitted to misusing or abusing the most. It is also the prescription pain reliever that has led and continues to lead many people down the path of addiction.

Another study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, published in 2019, revealed that opioids were responsible for over 50,000 overdose-related deaths. It further went on to note that opioid addiction alone is costing the country some $79 billion annually in terms of the following:

  • Healthcare costs
  • Court costs

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Can I Take Prescription Opioids If I’m Pregnant

If a woman uses prescription opioids when she’s pregnant, the baby could develop dependence and have withdrawal symptoms after birth. This is called neonatal abstinence syndrome, which can be treated with medicines. Use during pregnancy can also lead to miscarriage and low birth weight. Read more in the Substance Use in Women Research Report.

It can be difficult for a person with an opioid addiction to quit, but pregnant women who seek treatment have better outcomes than those who quit abruptly. Methadone and buprenorphine are the standard of care to treat opioid-dependent pregnant women. Methadone or buprenorphine maintenance combined with prenatal care and a comprehensive drug treatment program can improve many of the adverse outcomes associated with untreated opioid addiction. If a woman is unable to quit before becoming pregnant, treatment with methadone or buprenorphine during pregnancy improves the chances of having a healthier baby at birth.

In general, it is important to closely monitor women who are trying to quit drug use during pregnancy and to provide treatment as needed.

How Addictive Are Opioids

It takes a couple of weeks to become physically dependent on an opioid, but that varies by individual. If you take an opioid for a day or two, it should not be a problem and, generally, you will not become addicted. However, some studies show even the first dose of an opioid can have physiological effects.

For some time in this country we believed patients werent at risk of addiction. No one knows for sure the percentage of those who are at risk. What we do know now through an annual survey of drug use in the U.S., when people were asked if they had used heroin, researchers found that 50 percent of those who had also had a longtime history of opioid use and 50 percent of those went on to have problematic heroin use.

We also know that the duration of opioid use can lead to physical dependence. If youre taking an opioid regularly for a period of time theres a chance that youll become physically dependent, and thats a risk factor for continued opioid use.

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Common Signs Of Opioid Addiction

When a person is abusing or addicted to opiates, they often prioritize obtaining their drug of choice and getting high above all other things. As a result, opiate abuse and addiction have a number of visible signs. If you suspect a friend or family member may be using opiates, you should begin to see changes in multiple aspects of their life.

  • Financial Signs of Opioid Abuse

    Over time, people abusing any substance will begin to face financial hardships. Perhaps when opioid use begins, the person has a valid prescription, so the cost is low. However, as a persons tolerance and addiction build, they will need more of the drug to meet their demand.

    A person buying opioids could end up spending tremendous amounts of money. They may display significant financial signs of abuse like:

  • Falling behind on bills
  • Becoming incarcerated
  • Losing their license to drive
  • Of the opioid users surveyed, 16% had experienced a legal issue because of their opioid use.

  • Social Signs of Opioid Abuse

    The effects of opioid abuse could have a major impact on a persons social functioning. As the drug becomes their main motivator, positive aspects of life will be pushed to the background, which leads to a host of social changes like:

  • Spending less time with established friends and family
  • Spending more time with a new group of friends
  • Isolating and staying away from others
  • Being more irritable, secretive or confrontational with others
  • Canceling plans or frequently being late
  • Why Are Some People More Susceptible To Opioid Addiction

    Science Says: Why Are Opioids so Addictive?

    Nobody is quite sure why one person becomes addicted to opioids and not another. Typically, opioids produce pain relief, which is good after surgery. However, for some people opioids create a pleasurable effect. For example, caffeine is a reinforcing drug people like the effects.

    That is true for about 80 percent of the adult population in U.S. But, some people avoid it because it makes them jittery or anxious. Early in the process of opioid use, people may take it because of the pleasurable effect, and some people actually dont like the effect of an opioid and may go on to avoid them. If you take an opioid and your pain is gone, and you find yourself saying, I feel really good, it may be a warning sign that you are vulnerable to misusing these medications.

    Over time that good effect diminishes for people who like how an opioid makes them feel, and many people take more opioids because they hope to get that good feeling, and they also dont want to go through withdrawal.

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    Outlook For Opioid Addiction

    Recovery from opioid addiction is a lifelong process. Relapse is a common and expected part of the disorder: four out of five opioid users report relapsing after starting their recovery. Experts agree that seeking professional treatment that matches a persons situation and staying in that treatment for the appropriate amount of time can significantly increase periods of sustained recovery. People who do not seek professional treatment or who do not finish treatment are at a much higher risk of future relapse. Thankfully, among the opioid rehab patients surveyed, 87% report finishing their first treatment program completely.

    An Overview Of The Science

    As the video explains, opioids attach to the bodys natural opioid receptors. These receptors are all a part of our bodys pain management system. They help us survive when we have been injured. But, prescribed opioids produce a much higher spike in dopamine than natural activities such as exercise, a hug, or seeing an old friend.

    Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that is associated with pleasure.

    As a person continues to take the prescribed medication, their body begins to build up a tolerance. To feel normal, they need to take more and more of the opioids. As our next video from National Geographic explains, the withdrawal symptoms are not just unpleasantthey are unbearable. Though this next video is a bit longer, it is well worth the view if you want to understand the power of addiction.

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    What Should You Do If You Or Someone You Know Is Addicted

    If you or a loved one is ready to seek help for an addiction, the first step is to find a physician or other health professional who can help. Ask your physician for a referral to a medical professional in addiction medicine. Or search the American Society of Addiction Medicineâs website for addiction specialists in your area. The American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry also has a Patient Referral Program.

    Another resource is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration toll-free help line to find drug treatment near you: 1-800-662-HELP . Or you can visit SAHMSAâs Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator. Thereâs also a State Agencies webpage that helps you find state agencies that might have special programs for you or a loved one.

    If you or a loved one is ready to seek assistance for an addiction, the first step is to find a physician or other health professional who can help.

    If you are supporting a friend or loved one in overcoming addiction, the National Institute on Drug Abuse offers the following advice: Assure your friend or loved one that addiction can be managed successfully, but acknowledge that it may take several attempts at treatment to find the best approach. If your friend or loved one refuses to seek help, a confrontational âinterventionâ is not recommended. These encounters can escalate into violence or backfire in other ways. Try to convince the person to consult with a physician.

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