WHAT ARE OPIATES AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
Opiates, sometimes referred to as narcotics, are a group of drugs which are used medically to relieve pain, but also have a high potential for abuse. Some opiates come from a resin taken from the seed pod of the Asian poppy plant. This group of drugs includes opium, morphine, heroin, and codeine. Other opiates are synthesized or manufactured. There are a number of synthetic opiates which are used as painkillers, such as methadone, which is often prescribed for heroin and opiate addiction. Collectively, opiates and synthetic opiates are called opioids.
Opiates resemble natural chemicals in the body that bind to sites called opiate receptors. There are 3 types of opiate receptors: Mu, delta and kappa, all of which have differing functions. Opiates act on numerous areas of the brain and nervous system, including:
Opioids target the brain's reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, cognition, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. The overstimulation of this system, which rewards our natural behaviors, produces the euphoric effects.
Long-term opiate use changes the way nerve cells work in the brain. The nerve cells become accustomed to having opiates around that when they are taken away suddenly, the individual may experience a wide range of symptoms in the brain and body. These are known as withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms and severity of opiate withdrawals is dependent on age, usage amount and length of usage. Accordingly, individuals who have a longer history of opiate abuse will experience longer, more difficult withdrawal.