Why is opioid addiction considered a disease?

MastHead Outline
September 7, 2021

Opioid use disorder is the official diagnosis for opioid addiction and is characterized as a treatable chronic illness that can cause lifelong consequences that include disability, relapse, and overdose death. Research has shown that high doses of potent opioids can alter a person’s brain chemistry after extended exposure, defining the difference between occasional drug misuse and addiction preventing the body from functioning properly. 

Highly addictive opioids, when used outside of medicinal dosage and direction, flood the brain’s reward pathway and opioid receptors, causing a sense of euphoria. This part of the brain controls important feelings of satiety and happiness. When taken repeatedly in large amounts, the body begins to develop dependence, requiring more of the drug to feel “content” and causing uncomfortable withdrawal in the body until another dose is given. This is often when the cycle of addiction occurs, leading the brain to prioritize ingesting more opioids to maintain a balance causing many people to ignore the negative consequences of their drug use and exhibit irregular behaviors.