How Opioids Cause Addiction
How Opioids Cause Addiction
We all have heard that opioids can be addictive, but what actually causes opioid addiction? It turns out that the answer isn’t simple. While there is a physical addiction to the medications there are also psychological and social issues that can contribute to the problem.
The first part of addiction is the result of changes that take place in the brain. Opioids work by binding the opioid receptors in the nerve cells of the brain and other organs. They connect to these receptors like a key in a lock.
In this case the result of the connection is that the nerve sends a signal to the brain that pain is at a lower level than it really is. At the same time, opioids activate the reward system of the brain. They cause the body and mind to feel pleasure.
This sense of pleasure can cause people to keep taking the drugs repeatedly in order to feel the pleasure. But over time, the body becomes more tolerant to the drug and it takes more and more of the drug to feel pleasure – or even just normal.
This occurs because over time, the brain cells with the opioid receptors become less responsive with repeated exposure to the drug. More of the drug is needed to stimulate these receptors and the reward center of the brain.
When the opioid is taken away, the brain cells release excessive chemicals to reverse the suppression of the opioid. As a result one feels anxiety, jittery, and physical symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and muscle cramps appear.
Obviously those symptoms are very uncomfortable and the easiest way to counteract them is to reintroduce the opioid. And the body becomes more and more dependent on the drugs to avoid these negative symptoms.
This begins to lead to a craving for the drugs and a compulsive need to have them. However, it is possible to taper off and reduce many of these symptoms so that the drug can be discontinued.
For people who are not at risk of addiction, this tapering off will be sufficient. But addiction is complicated and isn’t just about the physical tolerance of the drug. There are other factors at play.
Many people who struggle with addiction have additional genetic factors at work. These are not well understood, but people with a family history of addiction are more likely to experience the biological issues associated with it.
People who are more vulnerable to stress often battle addiction at higher rates than typical peers. There are also conditions such as mental health disorders that can make addiction a greater risk. Many people seek the feelings of pleasure to counteract negative feelings and experiences.
Environmental and Experiential Factors
The environment also plays a factor in addiction. People who struggle with trauma that has occurred often find the psychological pleasure associated with opioids a relief. It provides a temporary band aid for their emotional pain.
People who are exposed to drugs throughout their lives through family members or friends also normalize drug use and can be more likely to experience addiction.