What is the pathophysiology of opioids relative to opioid abuse?

Updated: Jun 21, 2018
  • Author: David W Dixon, DO; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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Opioids act by binding to opioid receptors on neurons distributed throughout the nervous system and immune system. Four major types of opioid receptors have been identified: mu, kappa, delta, and the more recently identified OFQ/N.

These receptors are the binding sites for several families of endogenous peptides, including enkephalins, dynorphins, and endorphins. These endogenous peptides regulate and modulate several important functions, including the following:

  • Pain

  • Stress

  • Temperature

  • Respiration

  • Endocrine activity

  • Gastrointestinal activity

  • Mood

  • Motivation

Understanding the role of endogenous peptides allows us to understand why medications and drugs that bind to opioid receptors have such profound effects on so many organ systems and bodily functions.

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