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Risks of Taking Opiates for Chronic Pain and When to Seek Opiate Addiction Treatment Help

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By far, opiate-based medications offer the most effective means for treating chronic pain-related conditions. While opiates don’t actually “cure” the pain, they do offer a source of much needed relief. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 116 Americans suffer from chronic pain symptoms.

Unfortunately, long-term opiate use comes with a range of negative consequences, one of which is addiction. Knowing when to seek needed opiate addiction treatment help can save a person much frustration and discomfort in the long run.

Risks Associated with Long-Term Opiate Use

Opiates used for pain treatment purposes run the gamut in terms of strength, dosage levels and intended effects. Some of the more commonly prescribed opiate medications include:

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Dilaudid
  • Percodan

In addition to their pain-relieving effects, opiates produce unintended side effects, many of which account for their potential for abuse and addiction. Overall, prescription opiates should only be used on a short-term basis. When used to treat chronic-type pain symptoms, these drugs can cause considerably more harm than good.

Increasing Tolerance Levels

taking opiates

Relying on opiates for pain relief can lead to addiction.

Opiates relieve pain symptoms by blocking incoming pain signals from reaching the brain. In order to do this, these drugs increase the production of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain, most notably dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. In effect, opiates force chemical-secreting brain cells to produce these substances in excess amounts.

With ongoing opiate use, these interactions cause brain cells to develop wear and tear, which ultimately desensitizes cells to opiate effects. Over time, a person has to keep increasing his or her dosage amount in order to experience the pain-relieving effects of the drug. These effects mark the start of a developing opiate addiction.


People who use opiates on a long-term basis eventually develop a condition known as hyperalgesia. With hyperalgesia, opiate effects actually make pain symptoms worse. According to the University of Utah Health Care, hyperalgesia is another side effect of opiates that takes shape as the body’s central nervous system becomes overly sensitive to pain in general.

Under these conditions, opiates lose their ability to relieve pain symptoms as the brain develops an increasing dependence on the drug’s effects. Without needed opiate addiction treatment, this dependence will drive continued drug use in spite of the drug’s inability to relieve pain symptoms.


Opiate addiction develops out of the ongoing effects of opiates on brain chemical processes. With long-term use, opiates turn the brain into a diseaseed chemical environment. Before long, these changes start to interfere with the brain’s reward system functions.

The brain reward system regulates learning processes and essentially defines what motivates a person’s behaviors throughout any given day. Opiate effects on dopamine secretions in particular have direct effects on reward system functions.

With each surge in dopamine levels, this system comes to define opiate use as a life-sustaining activity. These changes account for the compulsive drug-using behaviors that come with opiate addiction.

When to Seek Opiate Addiction Treatment

Opiate abuse develops into a vicious cycle of increasing tolerance levels, uncomfortable withdrawal effects and compulsive drug use, according to Semel Institute. Signs of developing opiate addiction include:

  • An inability to reduce or stop using opiates
  • A growing obsession with getting and using drugs
  • Fluctuations in mood state
  • Frequent bouts of withdrawal
  • Developing problems in major life areas, such as work, family and physical health

Opiate addiction treatment programs help the body wean off the physical effects of opiates while helping addicts replace addiction-based behaviors and thinking with the type of mindset that makes ongoing abstinence possible.

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