Opioid addiction is a serious problem in the United States. Every day, people die from opioid overdoses. Learning about opioids and their effects on the body and mind is essential to understand and address this problem. This article will discuss opioids, including their history, how they work, and possible dangers. It will also explore ways to help those struggling with opioid addiction.
The Logical Basis of Opioid Addiction
The brain controls all the human body’s primary activities and biological functions. The remarkable degree of coordination is attributed to various neurochemicals (also known as neurotransmitters) that are released within the brain to influence the activity of receptors in order to elicit a response like control of muscle activity or higher mental functions like processing of memory.
Opiate receptors in the brain are associated with controlling pain perception(1), which is controlled by endogenous pain neurotransmitters like endorphins. However, suppose an individual consumes exogenous (or oral) opiates in the form of drugs for a considerable period of time. In that case, the internal production of opiates reduces significantly, leading to the degeneration or destruction of nerve cells responsible for producing endorphins (or endogenous opiates). This process initiates physical dependence on exogenous opiates since the human brain has no internal source to stop the sensation of pain and discomfort. With continued intake, the receptors require even higher doses of exogenous opiates to control pain perception, thereby leading to opioid addiction.
Opioid addiction or psychological dependence on opioids is mainly associated with the reward system of the brain. Positive things like your favorite food, sex, and fun-related activities increase dopamine release in the brain, creating a state of well-being and euphoria. The brain’s reward system influences your lifestyle and habits to perform activities repeatedly that release dopamine and induce a sense of pleasure and well-being. The same behavior promotes opioid addiction and psychological dependence. It is noteworthy that opioid addiction has been classified as a disease primarily because long-term intake leads to changes in the brain circuitry that leads to cravings even after the primary treatment.
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Who is at risk of developing opioid addiction or dependence?
The patterns of opiate addiction are variable in different individuals and depend mainly on the duration of use and indications. Many opiate users want to know a safe window during which opiates can be consumed without developing dependence. The answer to this question is complex and depends on various factors. Likewise, many people start with prescription opiates to manage pain and gradually develop dependence. According to research and statistics presented by Mark Chaffin(3), certain risk factors increase the risk of opioid dependence in users; these are:
- History of certain psychiatric conditions like bipolar disorder, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder
- Inherent genetic factors
- Stressful lifestyle (long working hours, poor social interactions)
- Nature of drug in use (short-acting opiates cause addiction more readily than longer-acting ones)
Signs of Opioid Use Disorder
Opiate dependence or addiction is harmful for several reasons. It affects your general physical health (by interfering with your natural sleep pattern and gut motility). It increases the risk of sedation, respiratory depression, and sudden death due to accidental over-dosage. Opiate dependence or addiction is a vicious cycle involving acquiring more and more opiates and ingesting higher doses to maintain euphoria. The process slowly and gradually compromises your productivity and personal and social life. As discussed, opiates are prescribed to manage pain symptoms in various situations like post-surgical pain, inoperable cancers, chronic inflammation or infection involving renal stones, degenerative joint conditions, or other similar situations. Here are a few signs that may help diagnose if you develop opiate dependence.
- Are you experiencing an increased desire/ need to consume a higher dose of opioids over time?
- Have you ever experienced opioid withdrawal symptoms with a delay in dose administration?
- Are you using a higher dose than what was initially prescribed to you?
- Are you experiencing any harmful or undesirable effects with opioids?
- Are you experiencing changes in your daily routine or personal/ professional and social life because of opioid intake?
- Do you often think about ways of getting more opioids?
- Have you made prior attempts to quitting opioid intake? Have you encountered difficulty in reducing your overall dose?
- If the answer to most of the listed questions is a YES, you may be addicted to opioids.
Opioid Addiction Help
Reasoning and making decisions regarding your health and your family’s overall wellness is essential. The first and fundamental step is acceptance (accepting that you have a problem and need treatment). A second most crucial step is getting optimal support from your loved ones, family members, or friends. A strong support group helps in maintaining compliance and preventing relapse. A third and most important step is getting professional help in the form of an expert team of healthcare providers who can manage withdrawal symptoms and promote rapid opiate detox treatment. Additionally, it is also recommended to choose a center that can address the causes of your addiction and take measures to prevent relapse. Lastly, in order to prevent relapse, join support groups and involve yourself in positive and healthy activities.
Seek treatment or medical help for psychological stressors or depressive symptoms and avoid the triggers (any positive memory associated with the experience of opiate use, like certain friends, environment, and circumstances that caused or promoted opiate addiction/ dependence in the first place).
- Wise, R. A. (1988). The neurobiology of craving: implications for the understanding and treatment of addiction. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97(2), 118.
- Edlund, M. J., Steffick, D., Hudson, T., Harris, K. M., & Sullivan, M. (2007). Risk factors for clinically recognized opioid abuse and dependence among veterans using opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. Pain, 129(3), 355-362.
- Chaffin, M., Kelleher, K., & Hollenberg, J. (1996). The onset of physical abuse and neglect: Psychiatric, substance abuse, and social risk factors from prospective community data. Child abuse & neglect, 20(3), 191-203.