So, what happens in an individual’s chemistry when he or she takes opioids? Well, let’s start at what happens naturally. You may not realize this, but the human body produces its own natural opioids, called endorphins. Endorphins are released when a person experiences pain, excitement, love, sex, or exercise.
These endorphins attach themselves to the opioid receptors in the brain, called the mu receptor, and act as a natural painkiller and/or brings about a feeling of pleasure or well-being. If you were to break your arm, for instance, the opioids your body produces would act effectively with the opioid receptors in your brain to mitigate the pain temporarily.
When opioids, such as Oxycodone, Vicodin, Fentanyl and Heroin, are introduced into the body, they react with the opioid receptors in a more powerful way than the natural opioids. After a while, if a person continues to use the outside opioids, they replace the natural opioids because the brain doesn’t need to react supply the receptors if they are already being satisfied.
The receptors can also build a tolerance to the opioids, resulting in the need to take stronger doses as time goes on.
When you stop using the opioids, the body does not immediately begin sending the natural opioids to the receptors. For a while, it expects the outside opioids to keep coming. It takes some time for the body to begin producing natural opioids in normal quantities. This is what causes withdrawal. The person will not begin feeling normal again until the usual quantities of natural opiates are being produced.
If you or a loved one is suffering from prescription drug dependency, addiction, Substance Use Disorder (SUD) or Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), reach out for help and find an outpatient recovery treatment program.