As an addict, using to stay high, to feel ‘normal’ or to avoid withdrawals (which is inevitably the end-game) is just part of the cycle of everyday life.  And as we all know, just that looming fear of withdrawals controls our thinking and behavior as much as anything.

When we start to feel, sick or know it is coming, we pick up the phone, call our source, we get what we need…all is well.  We’ll do just about whatever we have to in order to make it happen. In these moments, nothing else really matters if we’re honest with ourselves. Sound familiar?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes that between 26.4 million and 36 million people around the globe abuse opiate drugs, which includes prescription pain relievers and the illegal drug heroin.

Affects The Brain

There are ways that opiates affects the brain in the long-term and also the short-term which are important to understand, particularly as prescriptions for opioid painkillers has risen 300 percent over a 10-year period.

When you take synthetic opioids, your reward system feels an extreme rush of something called dopamine, which is an important neurotransmitter. Dopamine signals the neurons of your body in a way that creates a very high level of pleasure or excitement often referred to as a high.

Opiates affects the brain regarding addiction

The brain is naturally inclined to learn to want to repeat actions that stimulate the reward system or provoke feelings of pleasure. It’s a constantly reinforced feedback loop.  Of course, without opiates, the actions your brain wants to repeat are things like sex or eating, or popping pills. Once you’ve taken opiates, your brain starts to want to repeat that activity, and that’s how addiction develops.

Over time the high diminishes significantly from taking opioids and may disappear altogether. Repeated use of opiates makes the receptors in the brain less sensitive to their presence. That means more is needed to achieve the desired effect, which is what physical dependence begins as.

There are individual factors that are relevant in how opiates affect the brain including brain chemistry, genetics and countless psychological factors. These factors determine how fast not only dependency kicks in, but how quickly it takes for a full-blown addiction to take root.


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