How Do Opioids Affect the Brain

How Do Opioids Affect the BrainIf you’re finding yourself in the throes of opioid misuse, you’re not alone. According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, there are 2 million others who are in the same boat. At ReVIDA® Recovery, we want you to understand what opioids are doing to your body and your mind – not to scare you, but to help you move forward. No matter how hopeless things may seem at times, we do recover. There is always hope for you to reclaim your life from opioid use disorder (OUD).

Let’s talk about how opioids interact with the brain and how this might be affecting your life.

How Do Opioids Affect the Brain?

Opioids work by attaching themselves to the body’s opioid receptors. These receptors are found throughout our nervous systems. In other words? They’re not just in your brain, they’re everywhere.

When you take an opioid and it binds with these receptors, it triggers endorphins that are responsible for pain relief or feelings of pleasure. This is a great thing for those who are managing extreme or chronic pain. Unfortunately, these opioid receptors are also found in the brain. Because of this, regular consumption of opioids is going to impact your brain health.

Opioid Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal

The brain naturally creates its own version of opioids. When we’re eating, having sex, sleeping, or doing other fun activities, our brain is releasing natural endorphins that make us “feel good”. By taking opioids on a regular basis, we’re teaching our brain that it doesn’t need to produce those chemicals on its own anymore. It becomes difficult to experience pleasure or pain relief in a normal way because we’re rewiring the brain and its pathways. We now become dependent on opioids, needing them to feel the things we used to be able to feel naturally.

Over time, the brain cells that have opioid receptors on them become less responsive to any kind of opioid stimulation, which is what makes us feel like we need to take more of them. This is referred to as an increased tolerance. When we try to stop taking the medication, the brain feels starved for endorphins, which creates withdrawal. This also makes us want to take more. It’s a vicious cycle that doesn’t stop until the drugs are out of your system and the brain can repair itself.

While all of this is happening, your cortisol (primary stress hormone) levels are spiking. Every time you crave opioids or feel symptoms of withdrawal, these stress hormones are released. You feel physically and emotionally stressed, which can lead to anxiety, depression, fatigue, and more. The medication may make you feel good at first, but eventually, it’s going to cause some problems for your brain (and your life).

Do Opioids Cause Mental Health Disorders?

In some cases, regular use of opioids can cause mental health disorders like depression or anxiety. This is often managed after the body detoxes from the medication. Whether mental disorders are directly caused by or are made worse by opioids is difficult to gauge. Some individuals who misuse opioids are self-medicating from a distressing mental condition. In fact, nearly half of everyone with an OUD has co-occurring depression. We do know that taking opioids for a long period can begin to alter brain chemistry and create changes in the way we think, react, or perceive the world around us.

Just like alcohol, opioids are considered a depressant. They slow down bodily functions like breathing, heart rate, and reflexes. For someone who is living with something like depression, opioids can make the depression worse. They’ll also make you tired, and if you’re already managing a mental condition, you know how hard it can be to find energy. Suffice it to say, chronic use of opioids is often harmful to mental health.

Can Opioid Use Disorder Cause Brain Damage?

We’ve discussed how the chronic use of opioids can repave the brain’s neural pathways and rewire its reward system. But can OUD cause permanent brain damage? The short answer is yes.

A recent article published by the Brain Injury Association of America links persistent opioid use to dysregulation in the frontal lobe region of the brain. The frontal lobe is responsible for cognition and function, and those who have been misusing opioids are at risk for impairment in the areas of memory, attention, spatial planning, and executive functions. Studies have also shown that this can cause difficulty in processing new information, adjusting to change, or cultivating skills that are important to the recovery process. Because of this, chronic opioid users have a tendency to spend less time gathering information and reflecting on a course of action – which impacts decision-making and reasoning.

Additionally, this same article explains that individuals may show signs of cognitive decline years after they have abstained from opioid use, which indicates that some of the cognitive impairments caused by substance use may continue long-term. This is partly why recovery isn’t “just” about abstinence – it’s also about finding balance and health within the brain again.

What Types of Treatment Are Available for Opioid Use Disorder?

If you or someone you love has formed a dependence on opioids, it does not mean you’ll have long-term brain damage or mental health disorders. It does mean that the sooner you’re able to find wellness, the less you’re at risk for these complications. At ReVIDA® Recovery, we have the mindset that anyone can reclaim their life from OUD. We have seen it time and time again. It’s difficult to do alone, and that’s why we’re here to help. Let’s talk about some of the treatment options we offer for those who are looking to achieve recovery:

Structured Outpatient Treatment

The ReVIDA® outpatient program gives individuals the options for flexibility while offering the structure needed for lasting recovery. Our evidence-based scientific treatment includes individual and group therapy, education classes, and 12-step meetings. Also, we help connect you to resources and community partners who have joined together as a part of your extended support team during treatment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Discontinuing opioid use can be very difficult – especially alone. Choosing a MAT program means choosing support. We’ll work to decrease any withdrawal symptoms and make your recovery as comfortable as possible. Our MAT program is supervised by physicians, licensed therapists, certified counselors, care coordinators, and peer recovery specialists that oversee your progress and health – every step of the way.

Buprenorphine (Suboxone®) Treatment

Our medically supervised Suboxone® program helps quiet the mind and prepare your body for the treatment of long-term opiate addiction. Suboxone® (buprenorphine) is one of the most effective and proven therapies to reduce the cravings for opioids. Unlike Methadone, this treatment can be prescribed in a doctor’s office and permits our staff to prepare you for the important work of one-on-one therapy and learning strategies for daily recovery.

Counseling and Group Therapy

Study after study shows that individual and group therapy are critical components of treatment as patients navigate the road to long-term recovery. The longer a person stays engaged in treatment, the better their chances are for long-term recovery. From the moment you begin treatment, you will discover that we offer a safe and supportive place to talk and learn the necessary skills that will support your growth and a healthy lifestyle. Our behavioral healthcare team is composed of licensed therapists, certified counselors, care coordinators, and peer recovery specialists who are ready to guide and support you along the way.

To learn more about treatment for opioid use disorder at ReVIDA® Recovery, call us today at 423-631-0432 so we can help you reclaim your life!

Frequently Asked Questions

Do opioids affect other parts of your body?

Yes – opioids bind to our opioid receptors, which are located throughout the nervous system. Your stomach, back, intestines, and brain can all be affected by opioid use.

Can opioids be taken if pregnant?

Generally, no. Opioid use during pregnancy can lead to neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a condition in which newborn babies feel signs and symptoms of withdrawal after they’ve left the womb. This can affect the way they sleep, eat, and breathe.