Why Are Opioids So Addictive?
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Many types of drugs can cause dependence or addiction. While your body can become dependent upon a substance and experience unpleasant withdrawals when you stop taking it, most people can overcome a dependency. Addiction is based on changes in the reward system of your brain in addition to the physical dependence on a drug and is therefore much more difficult to become clean and sober. Certain drugs are much more addictive than others. Why are opioids so addictive?

What Is Different About Opioids From Other Drugs?

Drugs that are addictive create a change in the neural pathways of the brain. The reward center, in particular, is impacted as it responds to pleasurable sensations like the euphoria caused by some drugs and seeks more of those sensations more and more often. This demand overrules the normal demand for even basic functions like eating or sleeping, creating powerful, compulsive urges or cravings for the addictive substance that becomes increasingly difficult to ignore.

Drugs that are opioid-based follow this same pattern but more quickly than other drugs due to the intensity of the reaction within the body. Opioids attach themselves to mu-opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, blocking even serious pain and sending powerfully pleasurable feelings to the brain. Because of the specific process and intensity of the drug, the changes in the brain occur much more quickly, meaning that opioids can become addictive almost immediately and are more addictive than other types of drugs. Your brain builds a tolerance for opioid drugs very quickly, needing more drugs more frequently to maintain the same level of pain relief or even just to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Common Types of Opioid Drugs

Three main types of opioid drugs are commonly used or abused – prescription pain medications, heroin, and synthetic opioids.

  • Prescription pain medications are the most commonly used opioids, including oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and methadone. 
  • Heroin is a natural source of opium that is derived from the opium poppy plant and is an illegal substance. 
  • Synthetic drugs include fentanyl, which is cheaper to produce and is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. A newer, even more powerful drug known that is becoming more popular is ISO, short for Isotonitazene, and it is 20 to 100 times stronger than fentanyl.

All illicit opioid drugs can be dangerous because they can be unknowingly mixed with other drugs. Still, the newer synthetic opioids are extremely dangerous because they are cheaper to manufacture than heroin and are so powerful that they are more likely to cause an overdose.

Why Is the Risk for Overdose So High With Opioids?

When using illicit opioids or misusing prescription opioids without the supervision of a doctor, the danger of overdose is always present. In addition to being very effective at blocking pain, opioids can also affect the part of the brain that regulates respiratory rate, causing respiratory depression. This can easily reach the point where breathing stops, causing death.

For the more powerful opioids, some people can overdose the very first time they use the drug. The more serious the opioid, the higher the risk, which is why drugs like fentanyl and ISO are incredibly dangerous. Another risk for overdose is having an opioid relapse after you have stopped using opioids, as the reaction in the body can be stronger after withdrawal. This is why medical supervision with detox and treatment is so important.

What Do They Mean by ‘the Opioid Crisis?’

The Opioid Crisis began in the 1990s when pharmaceutical companies pressured doctors to prescribe opioid-based prescription pain medications with claims that they were not addictive and safe to use, but they were not. Between 1999 and 2019, nearly 500,000 people died after becoming addicted to opioid drugs through pain medications, creating an epidemic.

Addiction to opioids commonly begins with prescription medications, but because of the addictive nature, the brain craves more and more opioids, which often leads to heroin or fentanyl use. Due to the availability of synthetic opioids, those numbers continue to rise each year, despite many concerted efforts to educate people about the crisis and curb the epidemic.

The Benefits of Seeking Treatment for Opioids as Soon as Possible

Seeking treatment for addiction as soon as possible is always wise to minimize side effects. In the case of opioid addiction, early treatment can actually save your life. The sooner you seek treatment, the lower doses of opioids your brain will crave, and the lesser your withdrawal symptoms will be. The shorter you use opioid drugs, the better you will have at managing a successful recovery

Why are opioids so addictive? Opioid drugs cause you to build up a tolerance faster due to the powerful nerve-blocking receptors that affect the reward pathway in the brain. Opioids are also incredibly dangerous, which has led to an epidemic known as the Opioid Crisis. Seeking treatment as soon as possible for an opioid addiction gives you the best chances for a successful outcome and could even save your life. The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women treats opioid and other addictions at our detox and residential treatment facility for women in Costa Mesa, California. We use evidence-based therapies to create an individualized treatment plan for you. Our staff are compassionate and non-judgmental and are here to help you heal from your addiction. Do you have a prescription drug or opioid addiction? Call us today at (714) 581-3974.