The Effects of Opioids on the Brain

effects of opiates on the brainIt’s commonly assumed that people who take opioids do so because they like the boost of pleasure these drugs can bring about. It’s a reasonable idea, but it’s a little simplistic. In fact, it might not even be accurate, as research suggests that opioids cause changes in brain chemistry, and it’s these changes that can bring about an addiction issue. In this theory, pleasure might not have much of a role at all.

Understanding the Link

An extensive amount of research has been done on opioids in the brain, and much of that work has been performed using mice and other laboratory animals. These little creatures don’t have the same chemistry a human being might have, but experts suggest that the lessons learned in this research can and do apply to humans. According to a summation of that research in the Journal of Neuroscience, long-term abuse of opioids can change portions of the brain that regulate responses to stress, as well as portions of the brain that deal with motivation. Some portions of the brain seem to shrink and go dark, while others have intense changes in chemistry levels and responsiveness cues. A modified brain like this is more apt to call for drugs when the addicted person:

  • Feels pain
  • Experiences emotional distress
  • Sees things the person associates with drugs
  • Has access to drugs

The changes in the brain make it hard for people to resist temptation and make good long-term choices. They’re living in the moment, to the detriment of their bodies, and they may not enjoy the drugs they take at all.

Life-Threatening Problems

The changes caused by abuse don’t reach a specific level of intensity and then stop. Instead, the changes continue and persist, and in time, people who are addicted may need to take incredibly large doses of drugs to stave off feelings of illness and deprivation. Unfortunately, large doses of opiate drugs can also work on the portions of the brain that control breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. Someone who abuses opiates may, in time, take such large doses of drugs that those systems are overwhelmed, and death can quickly follow. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the drug overdose rate blamed on opioids has risen from 4,030 deaths in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010. It’s clear that people are taking these drugs at massive doses, and they’re losing their lives in the process. This is the most severe consequence of opioids left to run rampant inside the cells of the brain.

Help Is Available

The cellular changes caused by opioids can be persistent and hard to overcome alone, but medical treatments can provide vital assistance. Replacement medications, for example, can link to the same receptors used by opioid medications, and they can help to soothe the transition between intoxication and sobriety. Therapy can also help people to understand the changes their minds have been through, and these programs can also help people to learn how to protect themselves from relapses caused by these alterations. This is the kind of help we provide at The Oaks at La Paloma, and if you’d like to find out more, please call us.