Why are opioids addictive? Opioids are highly addictive because they flood the brain with endorphins and dopamine, which produce feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and euphoria. The “high” is so powerful and unlike any natural rush of endorphins and dopamine that the only way a person can experience those feelings again is by using opioids. There are several other genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that all contribute to the likelihood of developing an opioid addiction.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs that include synthetic opioids, prescription painkillers, and heroin.1 These drugs are all chemically related and interact with the same opioid receptors in the brain and body. Their effects result in feelings of euphoria, which encourages opioid abuse, dependence, and addiction. The terms “opiates” and “opioids” are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. An opiate is a drug that is naturally derived from the opiate poppy plant and an opioid is a broader term that refers to natural or synthetic substances that bind to the body’s opioid receptors. Opioids are classified as controlled substances by the DEA and their current scheduling is as follows:
When they are used responsibly as prescribed by a doctor, prescription opioid drugs provide effective relief from moderate to severe pain. However, when opioid drugs are abused, they can cause the following short-term side effects:
Long-term opioid abuse may also result in:
Causes of Opioid Addiction
If a person is addicted to opioids, he or she may feel like they are impossible to live without. An addicted person may also experience irresistible cravings for opioids and succumb to uncontrollable, compulsive opioid use. There is no single cause of opioid addiction, rather, the factors that contribute to opioid addiction often include a person’s genetics, environment, and lifestyle factors. Researchers believe that many of the genes involved in the body’s reward and pleasure center also play a role in addictive behaviors and opioid addiction. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the genes that are responsible for making opioid receptors may vary, which lead to differences in the opioid receptors’ structure and function. In turn, this also influences how the body responds to opioid drugs.3 There are also several environmental and lifestyle factors that may cause opioid addiction. They include:
A history of substance abuse
Personality traits like impulsivity and sensation-seeking
Associating with people who abuse opioids
Generally, a combination of all the factors listed above determines a person’s likelihood of developing an opioid addiction.
Opioid Addiction Risk Factors
Any opioid use, even short-term, can lead to tolerance, dependence, addiction, and overdose. Therefore, anyone who takes opioid drugs is at risk of becoming addicted to them. Although it is impossible to determine who will become addicted and who will not, here are some of the most common risk factors for opioid addiction:
Personal or family history of substance abuse
History of criminal activity and/or legal problems
History of severe depression and/or anxiety
Previous drug or alcohol rehabilitation
Association with drug users or high-risk environments
Mental disorders/psychiatric problems
Heavy tobacco use
Stressful life circumstances4
Opioid Addiction Statistics
Opioid addiction is common in America and it doesn’t discriminate based on gender, social class, profession, race, age, or any other social standing or class. Here are some recent opioid addiction statistics that illustrate the growing opioid abuse problem in the U.S.
More than 130 people die every day from opioid-related drug overdoses.5
The estimated total economic burden of prescription opioid abuse in the U.S. is $78.5 billion a year.5
47,600 people died from opioid overdoses in 2017.6
886,000 people used heroin in 2017.6
81,000 people used heroin for the first time in 2017.6
15,482 deaths were attributed to heroin overdoses in 2017.6
11.4 million people misused prescription opioids in 2017.6
2 million people misused prescription opioids for the first time in 2017.6
2.1 million people had an opioid use disorder in 2017.6
28,466 deaths were caused by synthetic opioid overdoses other than methadone in 2017.6
An estimated 23 percent of people who use heroin will develop opioid addiction.7
In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids was 6 times higher than in 1999.8
Opioid Addiction: Treatment and Prevention
Opioid addiction can’t always be prevented, but there are several measures that individuals can take to protect themselves from the risks of prescription drug abuse and opioid addiction. A few strategies include:
Closely following the directions or instructions provided by the pharmacist when taking prescription opioid drugs.
Being aware of potentially dangerous drug and alcohol combinations and interactions.
Talking to a doctor before changing prescription doses.
Not taking anyone else’s prescription opioids or sharing yours.
Storing prescription opioid drugs safely.9
If you or a loved one is addicted to opioid drugs, there is a way out and you can recover with the right support. Evidence-based treatment methods in detox, rehab, and aftercare can help ensure a full recovery from addiction while also initiating positive behavioral changes, attitudes, and healthy social interactions with sober peers. Admitting you’re addicted and you need help is difficult, but it’s the first step to reclaiming your life. Call (512) 605-2955 to speak with a Nova admissions representative today to find out how we can help you take hold of a fresh start and begin your new life in recovery. References: