Prescription opioid drugs have become a standard treatment model for dealing with conditions involving pain symptoms. In spite of the dangers associated with their use, more often than not, pain treatment approaches incorporate some form of opioid-based medication treatment within their standard protocols.
While it’s well known that the recreational use of opioids carries a high risk for abuse and addiction, these same risks can still come into play when taking these drugs as prescribed. For these reasons, it’s important to understand how opioids work and know at what point opioid dependence treatment help may be necessary.
How Opioids Work
Opioid drugs produce the same effects as the chemicals that regulate the body’s own opioid system. This system manages pain and pleasure sensations throughout the central nervous system and also plays an integral role in how the brain’s reward system works.
When ingested, opioids stimulate neurotransmitter production in the brain through their interactions with certain groups of cells. According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, these cells normally produce endorphin-type chemicals on an as-needed basis, whereas opioids force cells to release unusually large amounts of chemicals. In effect, these interactions work to block pain sensations from reaching the brain, which accounts for an opioid’s pain-relieving properties.
The Opioid Dependence Cycle
The opioid dependence cycle develops out the damage these drugs cause to brain cells when used for extended periods of time. With each drug dose, cells work harder than normal causing structural damage to develop over time.
With increasing damage, cells lose their sensitivity to opioid effects. In turn, more of the drug is needed to produce the desired pain-relieving effects. These developments prompt users to increase their dosage amounts in order to gain needed relief from pain symptoms; however, doing so only increases the amount of damage done to cells. This cycle will continue for as long as a person keeps taking opioids.
The Opioid Addiction Cycle
When left untreated, a growing opioid dependence sets the stage for opioid addiction and the cycle it breeds. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioid addiction develops out of the effects these drugs have on the brain reward system.
This system regulates learning and memory functions, which play integral roles in assigning a person’s priorities, motivations and belief systems or mental outlook. In effect, ongoing opioid use interferes with brain reward system functions to the point where opioid effects take top priority in a person’s life, becoming a sole motivating factor for what he or she thinks, feels and does within any given day.
Getting needed treatment for opioid dependence greatly reduces the likelihood of a developing addiction.
When to Get Treatment Help
Once you start experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms, the brain has become physically dependent on the drug’s effects. Withdrawal symptoms result from the damage done to brain cell functions and the effects this has on the brain’s ability to regulate bodily processes.
Withdrawal symptoms commonly take the form of:
- Low energy levels
- Excess sweating
- Mood swings
Withdrawal symptoms can also become a driving force within the opioid dependence cycle as a person may attempt to self-medicate symptoms by taking more drugs.
If you or someone you know has concerns about the risks associated with opioid use and opioid dependence, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-429-5210 (Who Answers?) for more information.