Opioids bind to receptors in the brain, which result in a euphoric feeling. While this is effective in relieving pain, it also stimulates the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, known as the ‘reward center of the brain.’ The euphoric feeling of the opiates and the release of dopamine fuels the desire and motivation to continue using, exacerbating a never-ending cycle.
Even if one does gather the emotional strength to break free from addiction, the withdrawal symptoms thereafter are a mountain of its own. Vomiting, headache, chills, muscle pain, insomnia, and a rapid heart rate are just a few of the withdrawal symptoms that can last for several days.
As one continues to use opiates in greater amounts, the brain produces more opioid receptors. These opioid receptors are extremely hungry for opioids, and require more opioids to maintain the euphoric feeling. This process is known as “receptor upregulation.”
If the receptors are not filled and remain empty, then pain signals are sent and the desire to use again intensifies. Simultaneously, the release of excess dopamine is a signal for the brain to naturally produce less dopamine, resulting in an imbalance of neurotransmitters within the brain. A combination of the abundant opioid receptors and released dopamine creates a perfect environment for dependence, tolerance, and cravings.