Are Opiates Addictive?

Opiates are highly addictive drugs, making opiate addiction (opioid addiction) a very real possibility for people who use these drugs. When a person takes an opiate, the drug enters the brain through the bloodstream, creating a flood of artificial endorphins and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of reward, pleasure and satisfaction. These neurotransmitters create a rush of euphoria. This high is so unlike any naturally-occurring rush of dopamine or endorphins that the only way a person can experience it again is by using the drug again.

After repeated use, however, the brain will stop creating dopamine and endorphins naturally, limiting a person’s ability to experience these feelings again to only when they use opiates. Because of the strong and desirable feelings that flood the brain, and because they can no longer feel pleasure naturally, they may crave an opiate high. People choose to abuse opiates in order to lessen their pain and continue experiencing these euphoric feelings on demand. This is one of the main reasons opiates are highly addictive and why opiate addiction (opioid addiction) is such a concern.

There are several steps in developing opiate addiction (opioid addiction). These include:

  • Tolerance: when a person has to use increasingly larger doses of opiates to experience the same high.
  • Physical dependence: when the body will enter withdrawal if the person stops taking the drug.
  • Psychological dependence: cravings for opiates set in, which are the hallmark of opiate addiction (opioid addiction).

Many people who experience opiate addiction (opioid addiction) become addicted to opioids unintentionally. Some people begin using opioids with a legitimate prescription in response to a painful accident or surgery. By the time they no longer need the drugs for their pain, however, opiates have taken hold in the brain and have caused a physical dependence starting an opiate addiction (opioid addiction).

Some people may fake continued pain symptoms to get refills of their prescription, or “doctor shop,” and visit different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions at once. Prescription painkillers are also available illicitly on the black market or dark web, but can be expensive.

Many people who start their opiate addiction using prescription opiates end up misusing heroin, as it is cheaper to use and easier to get a hold of. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 80 percent of people who currently use heroin previously misused prescription opioids.

Long-term opioid use changes the way nerve cells work in the brain. This happens even to people who take opioids for a long time to treat pain, as prescribed by their doctor. The nerve cells grow used to the presence of opioids, so when they are taken away suddenly, the brain has a volatile reaction. This results in unpleasant feelings and reactions, known as withdrawal symptoms.

One of the hallmarks of opiate addiction (opioid addiction) is a person abuses opiates even though it has admitted negative effects on their life. They have strong urges (called cravings) to take opiates and they no longer feel satisfied by naturally pleasurable rewards (e.g., chocolate, sex, television or a walk on the beach).

With stigma still surrounds opioid addiction, many people avoid going to treatment and end up endangering themselves. At The Recovery Village®, we believe that there is no shame in opioid addiction or any addiction. Addiction is a disease. And, as with any disease, it requires medical care and attention. With the right course of action, detoxification, treatment plans and supervision from the best staff, you can put opiate addiction (opioid addiction) in the past and lead a happy and successful life. There is no better time to seek treatment than now.

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