Opioids are addictive in part because they alter a person’s baseline pain threshold and create desirable dopamine feedback.
People can become addicted to the pleasurable feeling of getting high on opioids, which can create a desire to seek them out.
People that abuse opioids in both the short-term and long-term can experience changes in how their brain and body respond to both the absence and continued presence of opioids in the system.
How Opioids Work
Opioids work by attaching to mu receptors on opiate-sensitive neurons that trigger a reward response in the brain. People feel the same pleasure reward that can also be triggered by eating good food or having sex.
When opioids are used habitually, the body can respond negatively when the drug is absent – called “physical dependence.”
The brain also creates memories of these instances of euphoria and “reward”, which may cause people that have used opioids to seek out the feeling again.
Factors Impacting Addiction
The symptoms of physical dependence on opioid drugs tend to resolve when a person detoxes from the drugs. However, addiction to opioids — the psychological craving of the drug — can persist.
The root of these cravings after detoxification is not exactly known, but there are studies that show the brain creates lasting memories of good feelings associated with opioid drugs, which can produce emotional and psychological cravings.
The other factors that impact opioid addiction include genetics, environment, and lifestyle.
Genetic Factors Of Opioid Addiction
A person’s internal pain management mechanism impacts reward pathways, pain regulation, and addictive behaviors. There are genetic variations of the genes that make opioid receptors.
Some people may be more genetically predisposed to respond strongly to opioids and become addicted. These genetic variations in neuron development are still not well understood but may contribute to addiction.
Environmental And Lifestyle Factors Of Opioid Addiction
Although genetics may play a role in a person’s response to opioids, there are many environmental factors that may make it more likely that a person tries opioid drugs to begin with.
Risk factors of opioid addiction include:
- childhood abuse/neglect
- rural poverty
- easy access to opioids
- family history of substance abuse
- depression or mental illness
- chronic stress
Getting Help For Opioid Addiction
If you or a loved one has an opioid addiction, we can help. Call our treatment specialists to learn more about the right program for you.
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- Addiction Science & Clinical Practice — Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Opioid Addiction