The Mechanism of Addiction
The two primary markers of addiction are dependence and tolerance.
Dependence occurs after a period of using OxyContin®/oxycodone (or another opiate.) The brain’s function is adapted to its presence. The drug has been inhibiting the release of various neurotransmitters, and when the drug is taken away, the neurotransmitters are rapidly produced again. The sudden chemical imbalance in the brain leads to withdrawal.
Tolerance is the user’s progressive need to have more and more of the drug in order to feel the same effect. The reason for this seems to be that when the drug abuser’s brain is constantly exposed to a drug, it begins to “fight back,” releasing more of a certain neurotransmitter, for example, to counteract the effects of the drug. A user seeking a high will continue to increase his or her dose to get past the “set point” the brain has established and get to the high.
When abusers try to quit using OxyContin®, they face a new enemy: withdrawal.
Opioid withdrawal is horrible. About six hours after the last dose, the abuser has abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety, insomnia, sweating, and runny nose and eyes. The body shakes and the legs ache terribly. The addict experiences extreme muscle cramps and spasms. The person has chills and breaks out in goose bumps all over the body. Depression sets in. The person’s thoughts race wildly and every little sound drives him crazy. Addicts in withdrawal will do anything to get more of the drug.