Opiates are very damaging to the brain and create a “feel good” vibe that can lead to an addiction in a short amount of time. It can be very difficult to feel normal without opiates but these symptoms are reversible and the brain can be healed.
If you or a loved one is suffering from opiate addiction and needs help, call 800-429-5210 (Who Answers?) to speak with a caring specialist that can assist you. Though it is not easy to recover, it is much easier to take their recovery in the direction they need most when the addict understands how they work and the effect they have on the brain.
How Opioids Affect the Brain
The brain has a natural system that controls the human impulses and natural endorphins that produce dopamine, a chemical that acts as a reward system by creating a pleasure sensation in the individual. When a drug is introduced to the system, it activates the dopamine pathway and creates a need for more of it.
Opiates are far more lethal and stimulate the natural endorphins far more, which makes them highly addictive.
The brain stops the production of natural endorphins and after up to a year, the chemicals begin to shrink and die off, which is very damaging to the brain. According to the NCBI, when an opiate drug goes through the blood stream to the brain, the chemicals will attach themselves to the mu opioid receptors (specialized proteins) on the surfaces of opiate-sensitive brain cells.
When opiate is prescribed therapeutically, it can relieve pain but if they are used without a prescription, it can motivate the individual to use them repeatedly for pleasure, causing an addiction.
When Opiates Stop Being Taken
It is not as simple as flicking a switch when an addict stops taking opiates and the natural chemical system needs time to recover from the damages made. The severe withdrawal symptoms can last up to seven days before it fades into a post acute withdrawal syndrome that can last years. Oftentimes, this can lead to a depression, lack of motivation, and sensitivity to bumps and bruises on the body.
Most people have enough endorphins to feel energized, motivated, and have a high tolerance for pain. However, opioid addicts have the base level of endorphins in their system and do not have these luxuries.
Many of those who suffer from opioid addiction who do not take replacement medication relapse because they cannot handle the feelings associated with post-acute withdrawal. It is important for those people to know that opioid receptors can return but it will take time and endurance to ensure that the brain recovers fully.
An example of these replacement medications is methadone. According to the NIDA, methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist medications that is long-lasting, can prevent these harsh withdrawal symptoms, and can reduce the cravings for opioid for addicts. It can block against illicit opioids and is only available with a prescription from a licensed physician.
Opioid addiction is very damaging to the brain because it lowers the amount of necessary endorphins it has. In a short amount of time, anyone can become an addict of him or she and the withdrawal symptoms can be severe but there are ways of helping him or her with treatments such as replacement medication, including methadone.
Without the medication, these people are exposed to very rough and intense withdrawal symptoms.