Understanding Why Opiates Make You Happy

Opiates, also called opioids, are substances that can be natural or synthesized that bind to opioid receptors. The opiate class of drugs includes illicit substances like heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, as well as legally attainable prescription painkillers. Prescription painkillers classified as opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine among others.

Prescription opioids are given for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. They’re often given to people following surgery or an accident or injury. They may also be given in instances of chronic pain or illness, such as cancer.

While there are therapeutic benefits that can come from the use of prescription painkillers, all opioids including heroin are highly addictive and can lead to physical dependence. Even when you take opioids as prescribed by a physician you can become dependent on them, which means if you were to stop taking them you would experience symptoms of withdrawal.

Deaths related to heroin overdose have risen significantly since 2007, and the same can be said for prescription opiates.

So why do opiates make you happy? What is it about opiates that people find so pleasurable they eventually become addicted and dependent on them?

The reasons why opiates make you happy has everything to do with how they affect your brain.

Understanding Why Opiates Make You Happy
When people take opiates, they often describe the feeling, especially if it’s the first time they’ve taken the drug, as something that’s more pleasurable than any other feeling. That’s because opioids impact the brain’s reward centers. Opioids attach to receptors in the brain that create something called the opioid effect. They block pain, and calm and depress the central nervous system, as well as creating a sense of calm, and of course, happiness or what can even be described as bliss.

It should also be noted that opioids’ effects are apparent very quickly. When someone first takes opioids, they pass to the brain almost instantly, so in a matter of a few minutes, a person can feel extremely high. Usually the more fast-acting a drug’s effects, the more likely it is for people to abuse that drug.

The chemical makeup of opioids replicates a natural neurotransmitter, which allows these drugs to trick the brain and activate certain nerve cells.

When you take opioids, it impacts your brain’s reward system by pouring excess amounts of dopamine into it. Dopamine is what regulates feelings of pleasure, as well as things like motivation. When this system is overstimulated, as which occurs with the use of opioids, it creates the sense of euphoria.

The feelings of taking opioids are similar to what happens when you do something your brain naturally finds pleasurable such as eating but much more amplified.

The human brain is designed in a way that encourages the repeating of activities associated with reward or pleasure. As you take opioids your brain’s reward circuit becomes somewhat rewired and you feel as if you need to continue taking opioids to recreate the feelings they gave you.

To give you an idea of how powerful opioids are, it’s estimated that they release up to 10 times more dopamine than what occurs with your natural reward system.

How Opioids Affect Your Brain with Continued Use

As you continue to use opioids, however, even after just two weeks, your brain will start to lose its natural ability to create the feel-good neurotransmitters. The longer you go on to use opioids, the more your brain’s ability to produce these neurotransmitters will decline.

As your brain continues to lose its natural abilities to produce chemicals like dopamine, you feel as if you need to take more and more opioids to recreate the initial feelings of euphoria the drugs gave you.

Over time people who are chronic users of opioids may not feel anything at all when they take them and instead may just feel their new sense of normal. This is what leads to taking more of drugs and ultimately overdosing or moving to different drugs in the hopes of achieving that same initial high. One example of this is people who start taking prescription opiates, and then move to heroin because it’s more potent and less expensive.

If you try to stop using opioids, particularly very suddenly, your natural chemical system has difficulty rebalancing. It’s been damaged by the presence of opioids, and as with anything in your body that’s damaged, it takes time for it to be able to recover and go back to a balanced state.

It’s so important for people to understand why opiates make you happy. The more you can learn about opiates and why they make you happy, the more likely you will be to avoid ever taking them. If you’ve already found yourself using opioids, there are ways you can stop with professional help, but it does require work, particularly when it comes to allowing your brain and body to recover.

Understanding Why Opiates Make You Happy
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