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Anyone who uses opioids runs the risk of becoming addicted. Your personal history and the length of time you use opioids both play a role, but it's impossible to predict who will become addicted to and abuse these drugs. These drugs, whether legal or illegal, stolen or shared, are responsible for the vast majority of overdose deaths in the United States today.
Addiction is a disease in which something that was once pleasurable becomes something you can't live without. Drug addiction is defined by doctors as an irresistible craving for a drug, out-of-control and compulsive use of the drug, and continued use of the drug despite repeated, negative consequences. Opioids are highly addictive, owing in large part to the activation of powerful reward centers in the brain.
Opioids cause the release of endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain. Endorphins reduce your perception of pain while increasing feelings of pleasure, resulting in a brief but powerful sense of well-being. When an opioid dose wears off, you may want those good feelings back as soon as possible. This is the first step on the road to potential addiction.
Short-term vs. long-term consequences
When you take opioids on a regular basis, your body slows the production of endorphins. The same dose of opioids no longer produces such a strong flood of good feelings. This is referred to as tolerance. One reason for the prevalence of opioid addiction is that people who develop tolerance may feel compelled to increase their doses in order to continue feeling good.
Because doctors are increasingly aware of the dangers of opioids, it can be difficult to convince them to increase your dose or even renew your prescription. Some opioid users who believe they require an increase in supply turn to illegally obtained opioids or heroin at this point. Some illegally obtained drugs, such as fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, and Fentora), are laced with contaminants or much stronger opioids. Because of the potency of fentanyl, this combination has been linked to a significant number of deaths among heroin users.
If you're taking opioids and have developed a tolerance, seek help from your doctor. There are other, safer options available to help you make a change and stay healthy. Do not discontinue opioid medications without the assistance of a doctor. Quitting these drugs abruptly can result in severe side effects, including pain that is worse than it was before you began taking opioids. Your doctor can assist you in gradually and safely weaning yourself off opioids.
Risk Factors for Opioid Addiction
Opioids are most addictive when taken in ways other than those prescribed, such as crushing a pill so that it can be snorted or injected. This potentially lethal practice is exacerbated if the pill is a long- or extended-acting formulation. Rapidly delivering all of the medication to your body can result in an unintentional overdose. Taking more opioid medication than prescribed, or taking it more frequently than prescribed, increases your risk of addiction.
The amount of time you use prescribed opioids also has an impact. Researchers discovered that taking opioid medications for more than a few days increases the likelihood of long-term use, which increases the likelihood of addiction. After only five days on opioids, the likelihood that you will still be using them a year later increases.
A variety of other factors, including genetic, psychological, and environmental factors, play a role in addiction, which can occur quickly or after many years of opioid use.