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While no one sets out to become an opioid addict, opioids addictions are likely to occur after several repeat usages of opioid drugs such as heroin, morphine, codeine or the many other prescriptions painkillers used every day.
It doesn’t matter if you are taking the drugs for legitimately prescribed purposes and as prescribed, or if you are abusing them or taking them illegally. Opioids are the powerful narcotics that have the ability to change brain functions and cause a variety of physiological influences that promote continued use and reinforce behaviors of addiction.
The Difference between Dependence and Addiction
Many people who are prescribed opioids to relieve pain do not become addicted to them, although they may develop a dependency where sudden reduction or discontinued use results in unpleasant and painful withdrawals. In these cases, it is recommended to taper off the drug gradually to reduce dependency and avoid the harshest impacts of withdrawals.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” These individuals are dependent too, and subject to withdrawals, however, they usually continue using opioids to avoid the withdrawals and have multiple episodes of relapse after trying to quit.
How do Opioids Work?
When opioids enter the brain, they attach to opioid receptors and trigger a chemical response of increased dopamine in the brain’s reward center. This reward response occurs with anything that causes intense pleasure or is meant to be reinforcing to survival such as eating, drinking, sleep, sex, or caring for babies.
However, opioids have a powerful influence on dopamine increases in excess of normal productions and as the brain adapts to these artificial increases, it diminishes its normal responses to prevent overstimulation. This is what causes tolerance and the need to use more opioids to achieve desired pain relief effects or the “high” that abuser’s look for.
Over time, these brain adaptations and the consequential neurological responses become the reason the brain only feels a sense of “normalcy” when the drugs are present and result in negative aspects of withdrawals when they are not.
How Can You Get an Opioids Addiction?
Some users may be more susceptible to developing an addiction based on biological, social, or environment factors than others. Beyond the scope of physical dependence, opioids addiction becomes much more complex. The user may have co-existing mental health or substance abuse disorders, use opioids to avoid unwanted emotional symptoms, or use them to cope with environmental or daily life stressors. These and other contributing factors, along with the elevated dopamine influences, reinforce addictive behaviors and perpetuate abuse.
Depending on the duration and patterns of opioid abuse, those who abuse them in high amounts, frequently, or through alternative routes of administration increase their risk of developing a psychological addiction where preoccupation and compulsive drug seeking behaviors become the “norm.”