Opioids is an umbrella term that covers a variety of psychoactive drugs that mimic the brain’s neurotransmitters to dull pain and induce euphoria. The term encompasses any number of pills, patches, liquids and powders that have been formulated for maximum effect. When ingested, prescription painkillers or opioids enter into the bloodstream and ultimately the brain. In the brain, opioids convert to morphine, and binds to opioid receptors in the brain, relieving pain and spreading euphoria.
In recent years, opioid abuse has increased dramatically, in what is being called the opioid epidemic. This sharp increase in the number of people struggling with opioid abuse disorders and overdoses starts with the use or abuse of prescription painkillers. Roughly 1 in patients who are prescribed prescription painkillers misuse them. Between 8 and 12 percent of patients who misuse prescription painkillers develop an opioid use disorder.
Repeated prescription painkiller abuse can result in disruption in what is called the reward pathway, the brain functions that control motivation, reward-seeking and the perception of pleasure. It is this disruption that makes opioids incredibly addicting. Tolerance begins to build quickly, and you find yourself needing higher and higher doses, taken more frequently. As legitimate prescriptions run out, some people begin seeking out off-label prescriptions, or street drugs like heroin. The spiral of addiction can take hold rapidly; if you believe you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to prescription painkillers, please reach out to our treatment professionals.