Opioids are powerful drugs that interact with our central nervous system to provide relief from pain. Unfortunately, opioids have a very high potential for abuse, which can lead to excessive use, addiction, and overdose. In fact, opioids are the drugs responsible for the nation’s opioid crisis, which claims an estimated 128 American lives each day. Luckily, knowing how opioids affect the brain and body can help neuroscientists and behavioral health experts better treat opioid addiction, which can help prevent overdose, save lives, and combat the current opioid epidemic.
Opioids are a group of drugs derived from the opium poppy plant. Opioids can be prescription medications, often called “painkillers,” or illicit drugs commonly referred to as “street drugs.” Regardless of whether they’re legally prescribed or illegally sold, all opioids manipulate the brain to help relieve pain.
Doctors typically prescribe opioids for chronic pain. Sometimes, doctors use opioids to relieve pain after surgery or in response to traumatic sports or accident-related injury. Doctors may also prescribe opioids to help manage cancer-related pain. Some of the most commonly prescribed opioid painkillers include:
Even though heroin is the only illicit opioid, street dealers frequently sell fentanyl illegally for recreational purposes. Though fentanyl isn’t illegal, recreational use of the substance is incredibly dangerous because even a tiny amount of fentanyl can cause an overdose, which is often fatal.
In addition to controlling pain, opioids can also make some users feel relaxed, happy, and “high.” Those immediate effects don’t last long, however, and are usually followed by adverse side effects such as:
Opioids work by attaching themselves to proteins in the body called opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, intestinal tract, and other parts of the body. There are 3 types of opioid receptors in the human body:
As opioids attach themselves to opioid receptors in the body, they can block pain messages sent from the brain to the body. By doing this, opioids diminish the perception of pain, which is how opioids seemingly relieve pain. Unfortunately, opioids also interfere with the brain’s reward system, disrupting many of the brain’s delicate processes and vital functions.
Opioids flood the brain with dopamine, a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger, that regulates movement, emotion, and pleasure. Even though the brain only needs a certain amount of dopamine to function properly, over time, the brain adjusts to the excessive amount of dopamine. When this happens, the brain is tricked into thinking that it needs opioids to function “normally.” Unfortunately, the continued presence of opioids starts to change the way the brain functions.
At first, opioids, which are depressants, slow down activity in the central nervous system, triggering:
But the longer opioids interfere with the brain, the more the brain continues to change. When used for a long time, opioids can cause:
But the brain isn’t the only part of the body opioids affect. Using opioids can also impact our:
Even though opioids can help relieve pain, they can also lead to addiction, change your brain, and cause several physical disorders and ailments. Our opioid treatment program can help you overcome opioid addiction and effectively manage pain. In addition to that, our unique approach to recovery can also help you:
You can begin again. Contact Genesis Recovery today to begin or continue your recovery journey.