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Why Are Opiates and Opioids So Addictive?


Published: August 12, 2022

The opioid epidemic has become a national crisis, with nearly 187 Americans dying from opioid overdoses every day. What started as a way to manage pain has become a dangerous addiction for many. According to the CDC, nearly 75% of all overdose deaths in 2020 involved opioids. So, what makes opiates and opioids so addictive?

Roughly three million Americans have had or currently suffer from opioid use disorder (OUD). Opioids and opiates work by triggering the release of endorphins in your brain. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that block pain signals from your brain. They also produce feelings of pleasure, happiness, and euphoria. These pleasurable sensations are what make opiates and opioids so addictive. People who abuse these drugs will often build up a tolerance. This means they need an increasingly larger dose to get the same effect. As their tolerance builds, they also become more at risk for overdose.

The Difference Between Opiates and Opioids

Opiates and opioids are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference between the two. Opiates are drugs that are derived from opium, which is a substance found in the poppy plant. Morphine, codeine, and heroin are examples of opiates.

Opioids, on the other hand, are synthetic or semi-synthetic drugs created in a laboratory. Oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl are all examples of opioids. While opiates and opioids both work by binding to the same receptors in your brain, opioids are much more potent. This may make them more likely to be abused.

The Signs of Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)

Opioid use disorder is a serious condition that may be difficult to overcome without help. If you or a loved one is struggling with OUD, finding professional help is essential. Determining whether you are struggling with an opioid use disorder may be difficult. However, there are some warning signs to look out for:

  • Taking drugs in larger doses or for a longer period than intended
  • Unsuccessfully trying to quit or cut back
  • Spending a lot of time acquiring, using, or recovering from drug use
  • Cravings or strong urge to use drugs
  • Failing to meet work, school, or home obligations
  • Continuing to use drugs despite relationship or social problems
  • Giving up important activities in favor of using drugs
  • Using drugs in situations that may be physically dangerous
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

Those struggling with opioid use disorder may also display changes in their behavior or appearance. For instance, you may notice they are more withdrawn, anxious, or depressed. If you recognize two or more of these signs of addiction within 12 months, you may be dealing with an opioid use disorder. Therefore, starting a treatment program as soon as possible is essential for those struggling with OUD.

The Dangers of Opiates and Opioids

Opiates and opioids are powerful drugs that come with considerable risks. Those who abuse these drugs may be at risk for several health complications. By understanding the risks associated with opioid abuse, you may be better prepared to avoid these dangers and get the help you need.

Some of the risks associated with opiate and opioid abuse include:

  • Overdose: Opioids and opiates may slow your breathing and heart rate. This may lead to a fatal overdose.
  • Infections: Injecting opiates or opioids may increase your risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne infections.
  • Organ damage: Opiate and opioid abuse may lead to organ damage, including liver and kidney damage.
  • Pregnancy complications: Drug use during pregnancy may lead to neonatal abstinence syndrome. This condition may cause a range of complications for both the mother and child.

In addition to the risks above, opiate and opioid abuse may lead to mental health disorders and social problems. For example, drug abuse may cause depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders to develop. Those addicted to drugs may also struggle to maintain healthy relationships.

Overcome Opioid Addiction at Rockland Treatment Center

If you or a loved one is struggling with opiate or opioid addiction, seek help. Rockland Treatment Center offers a variety of evidence-based treatments and therapies for opioid addiction. Our experienced and compassionate staff is dedicated to helping our patients overcome their addiction for a better, healthier future. Contact us today and learn how we can help you or a loved one get on the road to recovery.

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