Addiction To Opioids – Why Does It Happen?

An opioid dependence occurs due to the dopaminergic system in the brain, which is also responsible for controlling the concentration of dopamine. The euphoria and inhibited breathing that it produces are the primary culprits when it comes to addiction.
Opioid Addiction - Why Does It Happen?

The opioid addiction epidemic arose in the 1980s, when people began using these types of drugs intermittently. One must keep in mind that addiction involves both patients and healthcare professionals.

Sustained consumption can lead to addiction and its primary characteristic is strong urge to ingest a particular drug. People lose the ability to control the consumption of the said substance despite its harmful consequences.

An opioid addiction is a chronic disease with frequent relapses. It often leads to a significant increase in one’s chances of dying from it.

There is always a dilemma about the use of opioids when prescribing a painkiller based on them. The dilemma arises when assessing the positive effects of these drugs on pain relief compared to the negative effects – including addiction and overdose.

In addition, the risk of an opioid addiction increases greatly when used for recreational purposes and without a clinical prescription. It does not matter if the person is taking large doses or administering them in other ways than the recommended methods. The risk is increased when consuming these substances along with alcoholic beverages.

Interestingly, physicians were more careful when prescribing this type of medication, before the 1980s. However, some people published articles with little scientific evidence confirming the safety of these drugs. That is precisely what promoted the arbitrary use of them.

The development of an opioid addiction

A brain is illuminated in blue colors

Intake of opioids affects the dopaminergic system of the brain, which is responsible for controlling the concentration of dopamine. It is the substance that is involved in many processes throughout the body. Repeated stimulation changes the plasticity of the brain.

The plasticity of the brain is one of the primary characteristics of the human brain. This property is precisely what allows it to heal and restructure. It allows neurons to regenerate, both anatomically and functionally, and form new connections.

When something damages the plasticity of the brain,  your self-control decreases when it comes to the urge to get and ingest certain substances. This urge to seek out and ingest a substance is what we know as an addiction.

Characteristics of an opioid addiction

Pills and flowers

Opioids have both positive and negative effects. The positive ones are due to the euphoria and reward in the brain that they produce. The negatives are a consequence of pain relief. Not only physically, but also an emotional form caused by stressful or traumatic events.

This is why people with a mental illness get a more powerful reinforcing effect. It makes them more vulnerable. There are studies that confirm these claims.

About 90% of people with an opioid addiction have another psychiatric disorder and the most common are:

  • Depression
  • Alcoholism
  • Antisocial personality disorders
  • Anxiety disorders

The stimulation that opioids produce in the brain’s reward system is the primary reason why some people consume this drug repeatedly. And this is partly true in the early stages of an addiction.

However, the urge to consume opioids for something other than the pleasure they provide arises over a longer period of time. This increased urge is directly related to tolerance and dependence.

As we mentioned above, the risk of addiction also increases when you use them for purposes other than those for which they were prescribed. It may be at a higher dose or via a more direct route of administration than the oral.

Another way to abuse opioids is by taking them with other drugs or alcohol. This is because all of these substances can interact synergistically and this increases the risk of overdose.


An opioid dependence is closely linked to the repeated activation of the brain’s dopaminergic system, which affects the plasticity of the brain. As a result, self-control is reduced when consumed.

It is essential to educate physicians about the proper use of these drugs. In addition,  campaigns against abuse are essential to avoid such problems.

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