Opioids work, in part, by changing the way your brain responds to pain. They bind to a chemical receptor that blocks the transmission of pain signals, which travel through the spinal cord to the brain. Opioids also target the brain's reward system by triggering the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's pleasure and reward centers.

The system can become overstimulated when opioids are taken frequently or in large doses, which can lead to drug-seeking behavior and addiction in some people. Addiction occurs when neither your mind nor your body can function without the drug and use becomes compulsive. Roughly 5 percent of people who use opioids as directed over the course of a year will become addicted.

You may be addicted if you:

  • Often think or talk about the medication and make excuses about why you need to use it.
  • Feel as if you can't control the urge to take the drug.
  • Keep using the drug without a prescription.
  • Keep using the drug, even if it's causing trouble with your health, money, work or relationships.

If you think you (or a family member) may be addicted, speak with your doctor. He or she can prescribe medicine to help ease cravings for a particular drug. Various organizations, such as Narcotics Anonymous and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, can also provide support to help an addicted person quit.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 19 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 28 Sep 2015