Who is Most Likely to Become Addicted to Opioids?

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Opioid addiction has increased tremendously over the last two decades, with overdose deaths more than tripling what they once were.  There are a number of contributors to the surge of the opioid epidemic, including pharmaceutical companies, medical staff, insurance companies, and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).  No one in particular is to blame, but the combination of all provide the availability of highly addictive substances.  The issue is opioid based medications are effective painkillers for those who have had extensive medical work done, and while many people may not become addicted to such substances, the probability of chemical dependence can be quite high.

Scientists have found the brain contains specific opioid receptors.  When a person experiences physical pain or stress, the body naturally releases endorphins, known as the feel good chemical.  Endorphins are like the body’s natural opiate, and they attempt to counteract pain.  Yet, when pain in too intense, the body cannot naturally produce enough endorphins to cancel pain signals.  The use of opioid medications targets the specific endorphin receptors in the brain and blocks pain signals from being received, while simultaneously reducing inflammation and pain.  These synthetic forms of medication are much stronger than the natural endorphins produced in the brain, and they can have a high potential for addiction.

Opioid based medications are becoming known as the gateway to addiction because they are the path to potential misuse and dependency.  Opioid painkillers are often prescribed after surgeries and other various medical procedures because the associated physical pain can be too overwhelming for some to handle.  The group most likely to need extensive medical intervention such as surgeries are middle-aged women between the ages of 40 and 59.  Many women in this age group make the decision to get hip or knee replacements, gastric bypass surgery, hysterectomies, and cosmetic surgery.  In general, women tend to have a lower tolerance for pain, prompting them to use more painkillers to treat symptoms post surgery.

Research shows it’s the first prescription that begins the cycle of addiction.  Pain is reduced and the opioid medication generates a sense of calmness and relaxation among the individual, which can be highly addictive.  From there, a person may begin telling their doctor they’re still in pain when they’re not, or attempting to go to other doctors to get duplicate prescriptions.  Opioid addiction has completely spiraled out of the control in recent years, and a striking number of people who need help for their addiction don’t get it.    

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