Understanding the Addictive Qualities of Opiates

Opiates are one of the most effective ways to treat pain after an injury or medical procedure. They are also one of the most addictive substances available. Opiates change the chemistry of the brain and could do long-term physical and psychological damage to an addict. Anyone who is battling dependence or dealing with someone who is should understand the addictive qualities of opiates.

Opiate Receptors

One of the main addictive qualities of opiates is the ability of the drug to bind with special opiate receptors in the brain. One of these receptors is responsible for pain. The opiates bind with this receptor in the same way that endorphins and enkephalins normally would. The result is that an individual experiences relief from pain as well as a happy and euphoric feeling while taking the drug. People who have become addicted to opiates take increasing amounts of the drugs in order to replicate this sensation.

Lack of Endorphins

Another one of the addictive qualities of opiates is the fact that they start to change the chemistry of the brain over time. One of the largest changes is that the body stops producing endorphins that would normally bind with the receptors in the brain. This means that the only way to feel the euphoric sensations is to take opiates to simulate the natural effects of endorphins. This fuels addiction. Additionally, the receptors and the body start to develop a resistance to opiates. This causes a person to need to take increasingly larger amounts to get the same feeling.

Psychological or Behavioral Dependence

Some of the addictive qualities of opiates involve psychological and behavioral issues common to many other types of substance abuse. A person can start to become psychologically addicted to opiates despite the strong chemical reaction the body experiences. Psychological addiction is about continuing use of the drug despite reasonable signs that a person should stop. Behavioral dependence occurs when opiate use becomes a necessary part of everyday activities even if it stops having any beneficial effect. Professional treatment is required in order to break psychological and behavioral dependence because these could easily result in relapses if not addressed.

Related Medical Problems

Another of the addictive qualities of opiates for some individuals is how it treats other medical problems. Some people are exposed to opiates as a pain reliever after an injury. Opiates are incredibly effective at reducing serious pain. The addiction can begin because a person starts to take larger and larger amounts of opiates in order to remove all underlying symptoms. This is often done against the wishes of doctors who try to limit exposure to opiates. The relief of symptoms leads to addiction that is hard to deal with since the pain comes back once drug use stops.


One of the final reasons people stay addicted to opiates is in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms. The lack of natural endorphin production means a person often starts experiencing depression and anxiety after the opiates leave the body. Additionally, a person who has been addicted for a very long time could experience tremors, chills, hallucinations and a rapid heartbeat. Professional medical supervision is required during the first days or weeks. This keeps some individuals addicted to the drug.