What Makes Opioids So Addictive?

Unless you live in a very quiet bubble, you already know that there’s an opioid addiction epidemic in the United States. Every day, 78 Americans die due to opioid overdose, and more than half of those deaths are due to an overdose of prescribed pain relievers. The numbers are staggering, and beg the question: Why are opioids so addictive? 

What are opioids? 

Before discussing the causes of addiction, it may be helpful to talk about what, exactly, opioids are. You probably think of pain medications, but opioids are actually an entire class of drugs, some of which occur naturally and some are man-made.

All of the substances that fall under the umbrella term opioid attach to a unique group of receptors in the body’s central nervous system. Unsurprisingly, those receptors are called opioid receptors.

The human brain produces a type of opioid, called endorphins. Some opioids are derived from plants, specifically the poppy plant, and are called opiates. Man-made, or synthetic opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, hydromorphone, and meperidine; heroin is a semi-synthetic example. 

What is considered addiction? 

According to the National Institutes of Health, “opioid addiction is a long-lasting (chronic) disease that can cause major health, social, and economic problems.” 

When you’re addicted to opioids, you experience an overwhelming, compulsive desire to use the drugs, even if you don’t need them for pain control anymore. You may even begin to care more about getting and taking opioids than other important activities, people, and obligations. 

Why are opioids addictive?

There are two reasons that opioids are especially dangerous. The way that they work, by binding to your opioid receptors, they change your brain chemistry, which is why they are so addictive, even when they are prescribed by a healthcare professional and taken as directed.

The second reason opioids are particularly dangerous is that you build up a tolerance to them, which means it takes more and more over time in order for you to get the effect to which you’ve become addicted. Tolerance puts you at risk of death due to overdose. 

In addition to facing a higher risk of death, you may become physically dependent on opioids. If you don’t take them, you experience withdrawal symptoms which can be severe. 

Who is most likely to become addicted? 

Anyone, regardless of race or socioeconomic status or any other demographic factor, can become addicted to opioids. They are powerful and dangerous and nondiscriminating. However, some groups do seem to have a greater risk, including: 

How can opioid addiction be treated? 

There are many different treatment options for opioid addiction, and the one that works best for you depends on many factors that are unique to you. The team at Apex Medical Center is experienced in treating opioid addiction, and is dedicated to helping you find the treatment path that is most likely to be successful for you.

If you are struggling with opioid addiction, you have options, and our staff can help you identify them. We have three locations, and you may book an appointment online or by phone at the location most convenient for you. 

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