Exploring Why Opiates Make You Feel Good

If you’ve heard anything about the opiate epidemic plaguing the U.S. you might have also wondered what it is about these drugs that make people so quickly addicted and dependent on them. What about why opiates make you feel good?

These are questions that can be answered by having an understanding of how opiates work on the brain and the natural chemistry of your body.

Some of the most commonly used opiates include:

  • Heroin
  • Vicodin
  • Oxycontin
  • Dilaudid
  • Duragesic

These are brand names for frequently abused opiates, which are a group of drugs used to treat pain. Along with prescription opioids, which make up the majority of the above list, heroin which is an illicit street drug is also an opioid or opiate.

These drugs are derived from opium, which originates from the poppy plant. While the terms opiate and opioids tend to be used interchangeably in many cases, opiate actually refers to the substances that are closely related to opium, while opioids tend to refer to synthetic opiates like Oxycontin.

Exploring Why Opiates Make You Feel Good
So what is it about opiates that make you feel good?

When someone takes opioids, they get an intense rush of pleasure or euphoria, and that feeling can be addictive to many people. This is because opiates attach to certain brain receptors that are responsible for the control of reward and pleasure, and the opioid effect allows these drugs to block pain, and also create feelings of calm. Opiates also have anti-depressant effects.

When you take an opiate, it makes you feel good because its chemical structure replicates a natural neurotransmitter, activating certain nerve cells. Then your brain is flooded with dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for the regulation of pleasure. Your natural reward system is overstimulated in a way that it couldn’t be naturally, thus the euphoria.

When your brain experiences that type of high, it often learns to want to repeat the behavior that created it, thus the tendency to continue using opiates, even in the face of negative consequences.

Our brains are naturally designed to keep repeating activities that are associated with reward or pleasure, and your brain rewires itself, and that’s what pushes someone on opiates to keep abusing drugs.

It’s important to realize not just why opiates make you feel good, but how intense the artificial feel-good impact can be. Drug specialists have compared the experience of taking heroin to 1000 times more powerful than a naturally pleasurable experience. The endorphins are released at a much higher level than they could with say eating a meal or exercising.

With that being said, over time the brain’s pleasure centers stop eliciting such a strong response, and this can start happening pretty quickly. Your brain starts responding to the flood of dopamine in a way that diminishes the euphoria of using opiates, which is how tolerance develops.

It also becomes much more difficult to achieve not only the same high, but your brain’s neural function starts to change to the point where it’s difficult to derive pleasure from things in your life naturally.

That can be a scary thought, but the brain can recover and go back to its normal level of functioning over time.

Understanding why opiates make you feel good is also helpful to see how opioid users can overdose relatively easily. As tolerance builds, users tend to want to continue chasing their initial high, and they will start taking larger amounts or move to other drugs that are more potent. This is an example of why people may start taking prescription opiates and then move to heroin. Not only is it more powerful, but also cheaper.

Specific areas of the brain and nervous system that influence why opiates make you feel good include the limbic system, the brainstem, and the spinal cord. In the limbic system, there are opioid receptors so when someone takes these drugs, they get the feelings of pleasure, as well as contentment and relaxation. In the brainstem is where opioids impact your body’s automatic life-sustaining functions, including slowing breathing and reducing feelings of pain.

Finally, the spinal cord also includes opioid receptors. When you take these drugs these receptors signal for decreased feelings of pain, even with very serious injuries or high levels of pain.

Also relevant to the discussion of why opiates make you feel good is the influence of how they’re taken. The effects of opioids depend on how much you take, and also how they’re taken. For example, if you inject opioids it will create a more intense high, and it will start acting more quickly. On the other hand, if you swallow opioid pills, they make take longer to reach the brain.

Why opiates make you feel good is all about your brain’s chemistry, but it’s important to realize that the euphoric feeling of the first high is not likely to ever be replicated again, and when you take opiates you rewire your brain in a way that can take years to recover from.

Exploring Why Opiates Make You Feel Good
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