Alcohol and drug dependence has become a pressing issue within the U. S., affecting people of all ages, races and socioeconomic levels. Opium drugs in particular lead the pack as one of the most highly addictive substances available.
Like all addictive substances, opium exerts its most damaging effects inside the brain. In effect, any drug capable of changing how the brain functions can potentially alter a person’s daily perceptions and behaviors.
The dangers associated with opium dependence have as much to do with the drug’s physical effects as it does its psychological effects. People who use opium on a frequent basis enter into a vicious cycle of drug effects that essentially take over their ability to function in everyday life.
While opium dependence may not bring about the same breadth of consequences as a full-blown addiction, the high potential for ongoing drug abuse accounts for much of the danger surrounding opium dependence.
Opium Interactions in the Brain
Opium-type substances encompass a variety of street-based drugs and prescription pain relief medications, some of which include:
Opium dependence has its roots in the drug’s ability to interact with essential chemical processes inside the brain. While prescription pain relief medications are designed to be used for medicinal purposes, the risk of opium dependence remains. This risk increases considerably when using these drugs for recreational purposes.
Opium’s ability to relieve pain symptoms plays a part in how the brain develops a dependence on its effects. Opium works by increasing the amount of neurotransmitter chemicals available throughout the brain. These chemicals essentially interrupt any nerve signal transmissions sent to the brain, which reduces or prevents a person from feeling pain sensations.
Over time, opium’s effects take a toll on the individual brain cells that release these chemicals. This toll causes cells to deteriorate, which makes them less responsive to the drug’s effects.
Effects on Brain Function
Day-to-day brain function relies on the brain’s ability to coordinate neurotransmitter chemical processes at all times. Every time a person takes a dose of opium, the influx of excess chemicals offsets the brain’s chemical balance.
Neurotransmitters regulate essential bodily processes, some of which include:
- Cognitive function
- Body temperature
- Sleep cycles
- Emotional stasis
As brain cell structures deteriorate, they lose their ability to secrete needed neurotransmitter amounts on their own, according to the U. S. National Library of Medicine. Before long, opium dependence sets in leaving cells unable to function without the drug’s effects. These changes in brain function can occur in someone who takes an opium drug for medicinal purpose, but will most definitely develop in someone who abuses the drug.
Tolerance Level Increases
Tolerance level increases are the driving force behind an opium dependence problem. As brain cells become less responsive to opium’s effects, larger doses must be taken to produce the drug’s expected effects.
While taking larger doses offers a temporary fix to the problem, brain cells will deteriorate even faster in the process. This in turn incites users to take even larger doses at a time. In effect, opium dependence takes on a snowball effect that continues to grow for as long as a person keeps using.
The Cycle of Physical Dependency
The effects of opium on brain function, coupled with ever-increasing tolerance levels creates a perpetual cycle of opium dependence that only gets worse with time. At this point, someone taking opium to treat pain symptoms has crossed over from medicinal use to outright abuse of the drug.
One of the most noticeable signs of opium dependence comes in the form of withdrawal symptoms. As brain cell functions continue to weaken, other areas of the body will start to malfunction as the brain loses its ability to regulate bodily processes.
Withdrawal symptoms typically take the form of:
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Muddled thinking processes
It doesn’t take long for a person to realize that taking more opium will relieve these uncomfortable symptoms. While effective, doing so only sets the opium dependence cycle in motion all over again.
In effect, these symptoms reflect the state of chemical imbalance in the brain, according to New York University-Langone Medical Center. Not surprisingly, the more out of balance neurotransmitter levels get the more severe the withdrawal symptoms experienced.
Effects on the Brain Reward System
One of the biggest dangers of opium dependence has to do with its effects on the brain’s reward system. For the most part, the brain reward system regulates everything having to do with shaping a person’s belief systems and motivations.
Like every other area of the brain, this system undergoes considerable decline as chemical imbalances worsen. Dopamine, one of the neurotransmitter chemical levels affected by opium, essentially manages brain reward system functions.
Once opium dependence takes hold, repeated surges in dopamine levels all but reconfigure how this reward system works. With continued drug use, a person’s perception of opium forms the basis for his or her motivations and priorities in daily life.
Opium dependence, in and of itself, only encompasses the body’s physical dependency on the drug. Addiction takes this a step farther in terms of a person developing an actual psychological dependence on the drug.
Addiction results from the damage done to the brain’s reward system, the region that shapes a person’s belief systems. In effect, a person’s belief systems form the basis for:
- How he or she perceives people and events
- Patterns of thinking
- What he or she gives priority to
- What motivates him or her throughout any given day
Ultimately, opium dependence paves the way for the psychological dependence that is addiction to take hold.
When left untreated, opium dependence and addiction work hand-in-hand. The body’s physical dependence on opium feeds into the brain’s psychological dependence on the drug’s effects.
More than anything else, addiction’s effects pose the greatest danger to a person’s overall well-being. Over time, addiction may drive a person to:
- Lose his or her job
- Neglect or abuse those closest to him or her
- Financial difficulties
- Run-ins with the law
Ultimately, opium dependence can upend a person’s lifestyle to the point where getting and using the drug becomes his or her sole priority at the expense of loved ones, financial stability and mental well-being.