Why Do Doctors Prescribe Opiates If Opiate Addiction is Possible?

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Prescription opiate pain relievers have become a staple within the medical profession as do-all, end-all treatments for most any type of pain symptom. From mild to moderate to severe and chronic pain, the chemical makeup of opiates enables these drugs to stimulate the body’s own pain management system.

While highly effective in their own right, rates of opiate addiction continue to skyrocket leaving many to wonder why doctors still prescribe these drugs considering the inherent risks that come with using opiates.

As unexpected injuries and illnesses may well warrant the use of opiates at some point in a person’s life, understanding how opiates work can go a long way towards keeping the potential for opiate addiction in check.

How Do Prescription Pain Pills Work?

Prescription pain pills include a long list of drugs, some of which include:

Doctors Prescribe Opiates

Doctors give specific guidelines for patients to follow in order to avoid addiction.

  • OxyContin
  • Lortab
  • Percocet
  • Dilaudid
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Norco
  • Vicodin

While these drugs may differ in potency and duration of effects, they all interact with the brain’s chemical system in the same way. According to the Journal of Experimental & Clinical Psychopharmacology, the brain produces endorphin chemicals, which work to manage and relieve pain sensations. It also produces neurotransmitters, which include chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Together, these chemicals help regulate a wide array of bodily functions, including:

  • Emotions
  • Thinking
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Respiratory system
  • Body temperature
  • Nerve signal transmission rates

Opiate drugs interact with the brain cells that produce these chemicals, forcing them to secrete large amounts of endorphins and neurotransmitters. The end result works to block nerve signal transmissions from reaching the brain’s sensory centers.

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How to Know if You’re In Danger of Abusing Your Opiate Prescription–And Where to Find Help

Opiate Addiction Potential

Doctors prescribe opiates based on a number of factors, such as pain severity, cause of pain and a person’s overall physical makeup. The prescription guidelines in terms of how often a person should take the drug and for how long are intended to minimize the risk of opiate addiction. Anytime these guidelines are not followed, the likelihood of engaging in drug abuse and developing opiate addiction increase substantially.

While a full-blown opiate addiction most affects a person’s thinking and behaviors, the brain undergoes considerable change on a chemical level before these effects take hold, according to Harvard Health Publications. With excess drug use, opiates overwork the brain’s chemical-producing cells to the point where ongoing structural damage starts to develop.

After a certain degree of damage is present, the brain can no longer function normally in the absence of opiate effects. This condition drives continued drug use as users start to experience withdrawal effects, such as insomnia, depression and random aches and pains as the brain’s functional capacity wanes.

Continued damage also makes cells less responsive to the drug’s effects so users must keep increasing dosage amounts along the way. After a certain point, chemical imbalances warp the cognitive and emotion-based centers of the brain, at which point a person becomes obsessed with getting and using the drug.


In spite of the risks that come with opiate use, drug users are left to manage their drug use regardless of their ability to take precautionary measures. For these reasons, it’s essential to get needed treatment help at the first sign of drug abuse.

If you suspect you or someone you know is struggling with opiate addiction and need help finding treatment that meets your needs, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-442-6158 Who Answers? to speak with one of our addictions specialists.

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