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The Transition House Blog

Why are opioids addictive?

Posted by Jennifer Dellasanta on Nov 9, 2018 2:13:08 PM

Why are opioids addictive

Opioid addiction - also known as opioid use disorder - affects 2 million people. Opioid drugs were responsible for 33,000 deaths in the US in 2016 and over half of drug overdoses involved opioids. So, what makes opioids so addictive?

How opioid drugs affect the brain


Opioid drugs so are addictive because of the way they interact with the brain and nervous system. The body has what’s called the endogenous opioid system. This system is the body’s internal pain-regulating mechanism. It produces naturally occurring opioids which moderate the body’s ability to feel pain.

Opioid drugs act on the endogenous opioid system in the same way that naturally occurring opioids produced by the body do. Opioid substances bind to receptors in the brain like puzzle pieces. When this happens, a chemical reaction occurs which in turn, produces feelings of pleasure and pain relief.

Opioids change brain chemistry which can lead to dependence and drug tolerance.

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Opioid dependence and drug tolerance


When taking opioid drugs or medications, there is a risk of opioid dependence. Opioid dependence occurs when a person experiences withdrawal symptoms after they stop using opioids. Opioid withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sweating and abdominal pain.

Someone who uses opioid substances will also develop a tolerance to them. This means that more and higher doses are needed to produce the same effects. This can be dangerous since opioid drugs, when taken in high doses, can cause respiratory depression. Opioid overdose occurs when breathing slows or stops, resulting in unconsciousness or death.

Risk factors for opioid addiction


Addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is caused by a combination of biological, environmental and developmental factors. There are certain risk factors that can increase your chances of developing addiction. Genetic risk factors for addiction include a family history of addiction and a co-occurring mental health disorder. Non-genetic risk factors for addiction include poverty and adverse childhood experiences like trauma or abuse.

You should tell your doctor if you have a family or personal history of substance abuse, or if you have other risk factors that could contribute to opioid addiction.

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Opioid addiction treatment


Medication assisted treatment (MAT) is the preferred method for treating opioid addiction. MAT is a combination of specific addiction medications, such as Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) or Vivitrol, and behavioral therapy. Addiction treatment facilities and drug rehab centers that provide MAT can help you overcome opioid addiction and choose recovery.

Opioids are addictive and can be dangerous in high doses. However, addiction is treatable. People from all walks of life can choose recovery and achieve sobriety with the right treatment and support. If you’re ready to choose recovery, contact one of our counseling centers in Central Florida and in Tennessee. We provide medication assisted treatment with Suboxone and Vivitrol at our counseling centers in Kissimmee, Longwood, St. Cloud and Chattanooga.

Find the help you need to choose recovery, today.


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Topics: Substance Abuse, addiction, medication assisted treatment

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The Transition House is a behavioral health organization serving the public in Florida and Tennessee.

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