How does opioid addiction develop?
No matter how an opioid was accessed – through a prescription or purchased on the black market – opioids can cause dependence or addiction.
Over the course of use, a physical tolerance can develop and a person will need to take more of a drug to feel the same effects, or to feel functional. This is called dependence.
To intensify the effects, a person may begin to use the drug more often than prescribed, or in ways other than prescribed. This misuse can lead to addiction. A person with addiction makes decisions that seem reckless and have serious consequences because addiction affects the parts of the brain responsible for decision-making and self-control.
A person who has become addicted to prescription opioids may switch to heroin or supplement with heroin because it can be readily obtained, costs less, and is easier to prepare for injection. Opioids produced on the black market can be especially dangerous and have varying and unpredictable potency.
Taking a too much of an opioid, or taking it in ways other than prescribed, increases the risks of addiction and lead to overdose and death.
What increases risks for addiction?
Many factors intensify a person’s risk for addiction. Some factors that can influence a person’s risk for addiction:
- Genetic predisposition accounts for about half of a person’s risk
- Environmental influences, such as family, friends, economic status and quality of life, experiences (such as physical or sexual abuse), stress and parental support
- Some stages of development are particularly vulnerable to decision-making that can involve risky behaviors, such as trying drugs.
- Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as traumatic events or abuse, increase a person’s risk.
Here are resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to learn more:
Resources for recognizing the signs of addiction:
Learn the science of opioid addiction
Video of Dr. Joshua Sonkiss, medical director of the Fairbanks Community Mental Health Services, talking at the Alaska Health Summit about the science of addiction. This is a private video and requires sign-in credentials to view it.