Opioid addiction can happen to people of every race, ethnicity, income level, and religious background.
Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing, brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. When a person who uses drugs can't stop taking a drug even if they want to, it's called addiction. The urge is too strong to control, even if you know the drug is causing harm. When people start taking drugs, they don't plan to get addicted. They like how the drug makes them feel. They believe they can control how much and how often they take the drug. However, addiction changes the brain. Those who use drugs start to need the drug just to feel normal. Addiction challenges a person’s self-control and hampers his or her ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs. It has nothing to do with a lack of willpower.
Addiction can quickly take over a person's life. Addiction can become more important than the need to eat or sleep. The urge to get and use the drug can fill every moment of a person's life. Addiction replaces all the things the person used to enjoy. A person who is addicted might do almost anything—lying, stealing or hurting people—to keep taking the drug. This could get the person arrested.
They can cause problems like mood swings, memory loss, even trouble thinking and making decisions.
Similar to other chronic, relapsing diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, drug addiction can be managed successfully. And as with other chronic diseases, it is not uncommon for a person to relapse and begin abusing drugs again. Relapse, however, does not signal treatment failure—rather, it indicates that treatment should be reinstated or adjusted or that an alternative treatment is needed to help the individual regain control and recover.
If the answer to some or all of these questions is yes, your loved one might have a substance use disorder. In the most severe cases, it is called an addiction.
If you think your loved one might be misusing opioids, you cannot fix the problem by yourself, but there are some steps you can take:
Drugs are chemicals that tap into the brain’s communication system and disrupt the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. There are at least two ways that drugs cause this disruption: by imitating the brain’s natural chemical messengers and/or by overstimulating the “reward circuit” of the brain.
Nearly all drugs, directly or indirectly, target the brain's reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that control movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. The overstimulation of this system, which normally responds to natural behaviors that are linked to survival (eating, spending time with loved ones, etc.), produces euphoric effects in response to the drugs.
This reaction sets in motion a pattern that "teaches" people to repeat the behavior of misusing drugs. As a person continues to misuse drugs, the brain adapts to the dopamine surges by producing less dopamine or reducing the number of dopamine receptors. The person must therefore keep misusing drugs to bring his or her dopamine function back to ''normal'' or use more drugs to achieve a dopamine high.
Long-term drug misuse causes changes in other brain chemical systems and circuits, as well. Brain imaging studies of individuals with a substance use disorder show changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Together, these changes can drive an individual with a substance use disorder to seek out and take drugs compulsively -- in other words, to become addicted to drugs.
No single factor can predict whether a person will become addicted to drugs. Risk for addiction is influenced by a combination of factors that include individual biology, social environment, and age or stage of development. The more risk factors an individual has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction. For example:
Repeated drug use changes the brain, including parts of the brain that give person self-control. These and other changes can be seen clearly in brain imaging studies of people with a drug addiction. These brain changes explain why quitting is so difficult, even when an addicted person feels ready.