How Do Opioids Relieve Pain?

If you’ve been living with pain long enough, you know it can quickly take over your life. There are some days that it feels like the only thing that matters. You’re tired and sore, and your brain is foggy and painful all day long. Opioids work by slowing down the body’s response to pain signals, which reduces discomfort and makes life more livable right away. Below are ways how opioids relieve pain.

1. The Mechanism of Action

The main active ingredient in opioids is morphine, which is extracted from the seedpod of the poppy plant. It works by attaching to receptors in the brain crucial to pain perception and response to painful stimuli. The binding of morphine activates these receptors, which reduces pain response by reducing the body’s general sensitivity to pain. Activation of these receptors also creates pleasurable feelings, which is why opioids are also used recreationally.

2. Unique Effects on Different Types of Pain

Opioids don’t work well on all kinds of pain. For example, prolonged and severe pain may be more effectively dealt with by other types of medicine, such as antidepressants or anti-epileptic drugs. Opioids only reduce the pain of uncomplicated or mild to moderate pain. They are especially effective against nociceptive pain, or pain caused by tissue injury, rather than neuropathic pain caused by nerve damage. Neuropathic pain is more difficult to reduce through opioids because the damaged nerves need to heal before the mind can feel less pain.

3. Reducing Fear of Pain

People who suffer from chronic pain often say they fear having to live with it. This is because pain can change the brain’s physical structure and activate the body’s stress response. Opioids have been shown to reduce this fear, so people can participate in their everyday activities with less thought about how much their pain may be slowed down. This is also true for people who are recovering from pain after surgery.

4. Making Compounded Pain Less Unbearable

Opioids can make pain feel less intense. This is because the pain signal doesn’t have to be interpreted as it would with other medications. The brain doesn’t have to process the message; therefore, opioids only need to suppress the pain signal, not interpret it. This is especially important in people with chronic pain due to nerve damage, who are usually prescribed other pain medicines that have limited effects when used alone.

5. Relieving Fears of the Future

When people are in pain, they can’t plan or think ahead. This can make them feel helpless and hopeless. Because of this, people with chronic pain may become more depressed and anxious about the future. Studies have found that people who are given opioids tend to reduce their anxiety about the future. This is because opioids make people feel like their day-to-day tasks are not difficult for them anymore. Management of pain also becomes less of a concern because people can think about other things while experiencing pain.

6. Reducing Stress

Stress does not cause pain, but it can make the pain worse. People under a lot of stress can be more sensitive to pain and even feel more pain when there is none. When the body is in a stressful state, the brain can also respond by releasing chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol, making physical and emotional pain stronger. Opioids release chemicals called endorphins, which counteract the effects of stress and can even block pain signals from activating the central nervous system at all.

7. Reducing Fear of Death

Being in pain can make people feel helpless and hopeless. It can make them think they have no control over their lives. Studies have found that people given opioids tend to reduce their death anxiety, further evidence that opioids can relieve fears of pain. These effects on anxiety and fear may also be what people mean when they say that opioids can reduce their pain.

8. Reducing Emotional Trauma

Pain can make people feel like they’ve lost control and can also cause intense emotional and psychological trauma, such as depression and anxiety. Opioids have been shown to alleviate these symptoms of pain, which can reduce emotional trauma. Opioids may prevent depression and anxiety in the first place because if people are not in pain, they are less likely to stress about the future or get stressed at all.


Opioids have been used for thousands of years to relieve pain, and modern research continues to find new uses for them. They are a valuable option in the treatment of pain and chronic conditions and a way to reduce stress and psychological trauma associated with chronic pain. Opioids work by binding to specific receptors in the brain that influence physiological functions about pain perception.

If you need to learn more about how opioids relieve pain, we encourage you to reach out to our team of professionals. If you are currently looking for a doctor who can help treat you with opioids, feel free to contact us at 772-266-5320.

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