The Forrester Center
13 Aug

What Does Opioid Addiction Actually Do to the Brain?

What Does Opioid Addiction Actually Do to the Brain?

There is currently an epidemic of opioid addiction in the United States. The mechanism by which opioid drugs affect the brain makes it very easy for individuals to become dependent on them. The self-medication of mental health disorders is one significant way that people become dependent on opioids.

How Addiction Starts

Opioid use fosters dependence which can make even short term use dangerous for some individuals. When they are used to dealing with mental illness through self-medicating, opiates can provide a short-lived escape from anxiety, depression and other issues. But as the effects wear off, this may cause symptoms to flood back quickly and more intensely, which only encourages further use of opioids in a damaging spiral.

As the brain adjusts to having opioids in one’s system, it loses the ability to function properly without them. It also causes a tolerance to build so that the dosages required to maintain the same effect increases with time. As dependence grows, individuals are much more likely to develop an addiction.

Short Term Effects of Opioids

Short term use of opioids, even when prescribed properly, can cause permanent changes to one’s brain structure. When these medications are abused (not taken exactly as prescribed), the severity and chances of this damage becoming permanent increases. Even taken medicinally, the short term effects of opioid use include:

  • Memory loss
  • Acting out of character
  • Sense of euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Numbness to/absence of pain
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
Long Term Effects of Opioids

As dependence grows and becomes a full blown addiction, the effects of opioid use are compounded and permanent brain damage becomes more possible. Opioid users may begin to display symptoms of hypoxia, or oxygen deficiency in the brain. Other effects of long term opioid use include:

  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
Permanent Brain Changes

Opioid abuse has many long lasting effects on the human brain. By causing a flood of dopamine, damage can be done to the neurotransmitters responsible for detecting it and experiencing a feeling of pleasure because of it. This means opioid users effectively train their brains to be unable to produce adequate levels of these chemicals.

This damage to the limbic reward system is not the only effect, as prolonged exposure to opioids can also cause damage to the parts of the brain that govern behavior, judgement, organization and reasoning. Fortunately, accessing effective treatment as soon as possible can minimize the factors that feed the opioid addiction cycle and may even be able to reverse some of the effects on the brain.

Finding Help is Only a Phone Call Away

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction issues, give us a call at 864-582-7588 or email. At the Forrester Center for Behavioral Health, we’re here to answer all your questions and provide support, treatment and prevention resources. And because we never want finances to get in the way of your sobriety, be sure to ask about our financial assistance program.

Read more about What South Carolina is Doing with Increased Funding to Fight Opioid Crisis?

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