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Opioid-Induced Mood Disorders: What Are They?

Opioid-induced mood disorder is relatively common among people who use opioids recreationally or live with opioid use disorder. It's a mental health condition that can result from chronic opioid use.

Changes in mood, thinking, and behavior characterize opioid-induced use disorder. It can be challenging to diagnose and treat, but it can be treated similarly to other mood disorders. Treatment may include medication-assisted treatment, psychotherapy, and other therapeutic options such as exercise and mindfulness meditation. Therapy can help a person in recovery cope.

What is an Opioid-Induced Mood Disorder?

Opioid-induced mood disorder is one of several substance-induced disorders. It is a mental health condition characterized by changes in mood, affect, and behavior related to the use of opioids or their aftermath. These symptoms can stick around even after a person gets sober because it can take months or years for your body to recover from addiction.

Opioids can cause changes in a person's mood, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, and irritability. While the prevalence of opioid-induced mood disorder is not well-established, studies suggest that up to approximately 41% of methadone MAT clinic patients also had a comorbid mood disorder.

Why Do People End Up with Opioid-Induced Mood Disorders?

Scientists don't yet know the specific cause of any substance-induced mood disorder. An opioid-induced mood disorder may be linked to brain reward and stress response system changes. When people use opioids more regularly at higher doses, their bodies and mind change and adapt to regular drug use. This can cause changes that lead to addiction, also known as substance use disorder. When a person gets sober, it can take months to years for their body to adjust to sobriety completely. As a result, many people in recovery may be living with an undiagnosed mood disorder.

Opioids are a class of drugs prescribed for pain management. They work by binding to receptors in the brain and spinal cord, which can lead to feelings of euphoria and pain relief. Unfortunately, prolonged use of opioids can also lead to changes in brain chemistry that can contribute to the development of mood disorders.

One of the primary mechanisms by which opioids may contribute to mood disorders is their effects on the brain's reward system. Chronic opioid use can lead to a decrease in the availability of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. This can lead to reduced motivation and anhedonia,  a loss of enjoyment in normally enjoyable activities.

In addition to their effects on the reward system, opioids can also impact the brain's stress response system. Chronic opioid use can lead to a dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which regulates the body's response to stress. This dysregulation can contribute to developing mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. However, just like substance use disorder, treatment is available, and symptoms can be managed.

Mood Disorders in Recovery

Many people struggle with mental health disorders, especially in early recovery. After all, it is common for people with mental health issues to self-medicate their symptoms. Some people discover a mood disorder after being sober for a while. In both instances, treatment can help a person cope and progress.

Mental health is just as vital as physical health for a good quality of life. There's nothing shameful or harmful about accepting help and learning how to live a better, more authentic life in recovery.

Getting Help for Opioid-Induced Mood Disorder

While opioid-induced mood disorders can be challenging to diagnose and treat, several approaches may be practical. These include medication-assisted treatment, psychotherapy, and coping skills like exercise and mindfulness meditation.

If you or somebody you love is struggling with a mood disorder, many resources exist to help you get treatment. If you went to drug treatment or live in a sober home, a staff member can most likely make a referral for you. If you go to 12-step meetings, you can ask people about their experiences. Or you can call your local mental health department to learn about other resources. You're not alone! Help is available.

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Mark Gladden
CEO / Founder
Mark Gladden is the founder of By The Sea Recovery, a sober living facility located in beautiful San Diego, California. After struggling with addiction, Mark finally found recovery and a new purpose in life, to help others who are battling the same battle he faced.
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