How Opioids Hijack Your Brain

By The Valor Team
Friday, August 30, 2019 at 11:52 am in
illustration of human brain


The opioid epidemic has killed more people than H.I.V. at the peak of that disease. Its death toll surpasses those of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq combined.

So why do so many people start using these drugs, and why don’t they stop?

Some people are more susceptible to addiction than others. But nobody is immune. Opioids entice users by bestowing an immediate sense of tranquility, only to trap the user in a vicious cycle that essentially rewires the brain.

How does that happen?

Your body naturally produces endorphins, which are the body’s own version of opioids. These endorphins act in the reward circuits of the brain to make you feel good after you work out, hug a friend or eat your favorite foods. They also help to relieve pain and keep your body calm during times of stress or injury.

Opioids, however, create a tidal wave overload in the reward circuits of the brain. As the high wears off, the brain regains its balance – but not for everyone. That’s the opioid trap for many people: In the beginning, no serious ill effects are apparent, but the brain rewires itself little by little with each use.
The brain’s response to these chemical changes make life difficult without the drug. Soon, nothing else in life provides any satisfaction. The pleasure and reward cycles flip. The user gets less pleasure from the drug, but wants it all the more. The more the drugs are taken, the more the brain adapts to the drugs and demands more.

This compulsion takes over all logic, judgment and self-interest and the user may do things they never thought they could, like stealing from their loved ones, or worse. They may lose their job, their home, and their loved ones.

At some point they no longer take the drug to get high, but to escape feeling low or experiencing withdrawal. 

What about treatment?

Like other substance use disorders, Opioid Use Disorder is treatable. Through treatment that is tailored to individual needs, patients can learn to control their condition. Those in treatment for drug addiction, like those with diabetes or heart disease, learn behavioral changes and often take medication as part of their recovery program. Behavioral therapies can include individual and group counseling, family therapy, and a variety of holistic treatments. Medications are used to help suppress withdrawal symptoms, drug cravings, and block the effects of drugs. Many patients require other services as well. 

The ultimate goal of treatment is lasting abstinence, but the immediate goals are cessation of drug use, improvement of the patient's ability to function, and diminishing the medical and social complications of drug abuse.

If you, or someone you care about is suffering from addiction,
call us today at 330-330-8777 to get answers to all your questions.