By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO)Nine percent of Americans have misused opioids over the course of their lives. During any given year, it is 4 percent.

So, why are those drugs so addictive?

“Any substance that works on the reward pathway can be addictive,” said Dr. Roger Laroche, director of Addiction Medicine at Allina Health.

He said opioids are no more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol, but people might naturally have an addiction to one substance over another.

For example, a person with depression might not like the depressive effects of alcohol, but prefer the euphoric effects that can accompany opioids.

opioids Why Are Opioids So Addictive?

(credit: CBS)

He also pointed out that opioids are relatively easy to access, more accepted by society than other drugs, easy to carry and work right away.

“The reason that opiates are so more heralded now, and we’re knowing so much more, is because of the danger associated with it,” Laroche said.

The Centers for Disease Control issued a report on Tuesday that found opioid overdoses jumped 30 percent last year.

Opioids work in two ways: They attach themselves to pain receptors, decreasing the impulse from the site of the pain to the brain. They also cause a surge in the pleasure chemical dopamine, which activates at the center that makes us feel happy.

The body then becomes tolerant of the pain, so a person needs more opioids to fight it. At the same time, opioids affect a person’s breathing by decreasing respiration. Humans do not develop a tolerance to this effect, which is why they stop breathing during an overdose.

Dr. Laroche said some people are more prone than others to being addicted to opioids for three reasons: Genetics, personality — or “the ability we have to tolerate life on life’s terms” — and stress levels.

“It’s imperative to know, it’s just a disease, like cancer, like diabetes,” Dr. Laroche said. “It’s imperative to talk with our kids, our brothers, our co-workers and be around because it’s around.”

  1. Long term opioid use affects different functions in the brain. Opioid addiction can engage the learning and memory brain functions as well as pleasure centers. Many people experience a sense of euphoria with increased dopamine after taking an opioid. This can make opioids especially appealing to someone with decreased dopamine levels. For example, a person suffering from severe depression may not experience much pleasure. Therefore, this person may be more likely to develop an opioid addiction due to the pleasurable effects and their underlying emotional condition. Studies show that effective treatment can heal the brain’s reward system. Learn more here

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