Approximately 21 to 29% of chronic pain patients who are prescribed opioids eventually misuse them, and as many as 12% of those patients will go on to develop an addiction disorder. Many of these patients also resort to purchasing drugs from the black market or using street drugs like heroin. Opioid abuse has become so pervasive that it's often referred to as an epidemic, but why do so many people get hooked on this class of drug? Read on to discover why opioids are so addictive and how addicts can break free.

Opioid Receptors

Did you know that your brain contains specific receptor molecules that interact with opioids? When opioids enter the body, they fit into these receptors and trigger a range of effects from pain relief and relaxation to suppressed breathing and slow digestion. These various effects make opioids both powerful analgesics and potentially lethal drugs.

Dopamine and Addiction

When opioid receptors are activated, the brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical associated with the brain's pleasure centers that normally stimulates cravings for biological needs like food. However, the massive amount of this neurotransmitter released in response to opioids makes the brain crave more, which causes the addict to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms without the opioid.

Building Tolerance

With repeated use of opioids, the body begins to produce less and less dopamine in response to them. The result is that it takes higher doses of the opioid to trigger the same response in the user. This increasing tolerance drives addiction by causing the patient to need more of the drug to get the same effect. Many opioid addicts eventually overdose without treatment when the amount of the drug they need to get high exceeds the safe dosage.

Overcoming Addiction

Because opioids create a strong hold on addicts, breaking free is tough but not impossible. A well-designed residential inpatient program is key to lasting recovery. Any good program begins with a supervised detox followed by an intensive treatment plan that allows patients to share their struggles and build a strong support network with fellow residents.
The best solution to the opioid epidemic is to prevent addictions from starting in the first place. If you are prescribed opioids, ask about alternatives or work with your doctor to ensure that you're using the lowest effective dose for the shortest time needed. Take care to keep any opioids in your home locked up and safely discard of leftovers through a takeback program.

Author's Bio: 

Meghan Belnap is a freelance writer who enjoys spending time with her family. She loves being in the outdoors and exploring new opportunities whenever they arise. Meghan finds happiness in researching new topics that help to expand her horizons. You can often find her buried in a good book or out looking for an adventure