The United States is facing a serious and very deadly epidemic in the form of opioid addiction. Opioids, which include opiates, are prescription or illicit drugs.

Opiates include heroin and morphine. These drugs work by impacting the reward center of the brain, which is how your body naturally controls pleasure and associated feelings. When you take opiates, the result is that it replicates your body’s natural, feel-good mechanisms and amplifies them. In very high doses, opioids tend to slow some of the central functions of the body, like the respiratory system.

Slowed breathing happens when someone overdoses on opiates: their brain shuts off the necessary functions of the body and, in severe cases, the person goes into a coma or dies.

Understanding Opiates

When prescribed by a physician, opiates are designed to help provide relief from acute pain. They’re often given following a serious injury or surgery, or sometimes in the event of chronic pain or illnesses like cancer.

There’s the misconception among many people that because prescription painkillers are given to them by their doctor, they can’t be dangerous or that it’s okay to take them whenever they please. That’s likely one of the biggest factors that contributed to the rise in the misuse of these drugs, but they continue to be prescribed in large numbers.

Opiate addiction impacts people of all genders, from all backgrounds and in all locations. What’s been surprising for many people to see is what impact opiates have had on suburban areas that normally aren’t considered central areas of drug activity.

A big part of preventing deaths related to opiates is educating people on their risks and dangers, helping people understand how addictive they are and which opiates are most addictive.

Why Are Opiates So Addictive?

Understanding why they’re so addictive and which opiates are most addictive is about understanding how the brain works naturally, and how opiates impact its natural functioning.

When a person takes opiates, it triggers the same responses that happen when you do something your body and brain find pleasurable, such as eating, but in a much more pronounced way. Opiates also cause your brain to create a flood of dopamine, and these responses are what contribute to the desire to continue using drugs.

If you are a repeated user of opiates, then your brain starts to rewire itself in a way that allows it to feel normal only with drugs, and it feels abnormal when they’re not present. For example, a person who has been using opiates for a period will often feel very anxious or irritated when they’re not on them.

Opiates play such a significant role in the brain that they can also impact your self-control, so even beyond the time the drugs give you the intense euphoric rush, you can still feel the desire to take them.

Which Opiates Are Most Addictive?

When we think about which opiates are most addictive, heroin often comes to mind first. People who begin using heroin become addicted almost immediately. It’s an incredibly difficult drug to stop using.

With that said, what a lot of people don’t realize is that an addiction to heroin often begins with prescription drugs. Often people will get a prescription for an opiate-based drug for a legitimate reason, such as following an injury. They will become addicted to that drug, and then eventually turn to heroin because it tends to be cheaper and easier to get in many cases.

Codeine is also a highly addictive opiate. It’s a prescription medicine that’s used to help treat pain and coughing, but it’s less known compared to other opiates.

While these are some of the most addictive opiates that are frequently abused, it’s important to realize that all opiates are addictive, and all of them carry a very high risk of abuse and dependence.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.