Our bodies are made to produce natural opiates. These natural opiates (endorphins) produce a sense of well being and pleasure and even help the body with pain. There are receptors in the brain that receive these endorphins to produce nature’s sense of well being and pleasure. The endorphins that are naturally produced in our bodies are of a very similar structure, and therefore have a similar function as opiates and heroin.

When outside opiates are introduced to the body, either by prescription or recreationally, the receptors in the brain are overloaded. Eventually the body produces more and more receptors to accommodate the influx of opiates. The tolerance of opiates continues to increase and more opiates are needed to produce the same euphoria.

When increased outside opiates are introduced the body decreases its ability to produce its own natural opiates.

As outside opiate use is decreased or even stopped completely, an individual is left with more receptors in the brain and throughout the body screaming for opiates and the body has lost the ability to produce its own opiates. When the receptors are cleared of opiates severe withdrawal begins. There is also Prolonged Abstinence Syndrome (PAS) after physical withdrawal that is characterized by cravings, fatigue, loss of ambition, no feelings of pleasure, insomnia and drug “dreams”. This is what sets opiate addiction apart from all other addictions. It is why methadone maintenance is important.

Opiate receptors are found throughout the body. The receptors in the colon is the reason for diarrhea, the receptors in the digestive tract cause the vomiting etc.

Methadone latches on to the body’s empty opiate receptors to alleviate symptoms and physical signs of withdrawal and PAS and allows the person to feel “normal” again.



Understanding the Science of Opiate Addiction

Cullman County Treatment Center

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