Opioids, also known as opiates, are a type of drug that come from the opium poppy or are synthetically made by a drug company. Opioids can be illegal (heroin) or by prescription (painkillers). They are prescribed for pain management (OxyContin, Percocet) or addiction treatment (methadone, buprenorphine).
All opioids act the same way in the brain. Opioids are depressants, which mean that they slow down the central nervous system, including breathing.
Opioids attach to specific proteins, called opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord, and gut. When the drugs attach to opioid receptors, they stop the body from sending pain signals to the brain.
Opioids can cause euphoria (ecstasy), and users generally report feeling warm, drowsy, and happy. Opioids lessen stress and discomfort by creating a relaxed detachment from pain, desires, and activity. Because they are depressants, opioids also cause drowsiness, a slow heart rate, constipation, widening of blood vessels, and slowed breathing.