The Effects of Opioids on the Brain and Thinking
Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a chronic disease that can significantly impact the brain and how a user thinks. Addiction occurs when an individual becomes dependent on opioids to function, both physically and mentally. Over time, addiction can lead to changes in the brain and body that can be difficult to reverse.
Opioid Use Disorder and The Brain's Reward System
One of the most significant impacts of opioid addiction on the brain is its effect on the reward system. These drugs trigger dopamine release in the brain, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. With repeated use, the brain can become dependent on the drug to release dopamine, developing tolerance and addiction. This can make it difficult for individuals to feel pleasure or reward from other activities, leading to a loss of interest in hobbies and relationships.
Other Brain Changes and Opioids
OUD can also change the way a person thinks and behaves. There is a science behind these changes. Misuse causes changes in the brain's prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and impulse control.
Chronic opioid use can decrease the prefrontal cortex's volume, impairing decision-making and making it more difficult for the drug user to control their impulses. Many self-destructive behaviors that characterize addiction can be attributed to these changes. As a result, people with OUD exhibit behaviors that harm the individual and those around them in pursuing the drug or while high.
Opioid Use Disorder's Effects on the Body
In addition to its impact on the brain, opioid addiction can significantly affect the body.
Long-term opioid use can lead to respiratory depression, breathing issues, and even death. In addition, some people who overdose have heart trouble and lingering neurological symptoms. Chronic use can also lead to gastrointestinal issues, such as constipation, nausea, and vomiting. This can also lead to malnutrition.
When a person who is a chronic user tries to stop using or cut down, they usually have significant withdrawal symptoms. This can include bone pain, nausea and vomiting, sweats, and anxiety. This is why Medication-Assisted Treatment is considered to be the gold standard of care when it comes to to OUD. It can minimize the uncomfortable symptoms and cravings a person getting sober experiences.
Mental Health and Opioid Addiction
Addiction to opioids can also have significant social and emotional impacts. OUD can lead to social isolation as individuals become more wrapped up in chasing the high and spend more time in active addiction. You may notice a person with opioid use disorder becoming more withdrawn and spending more time alone.
A person stuck in the throes of active addiction may self-medicate painful or upsetting mental health symptoms.
The emotional toll of addiction can also be significant. People with OUD often strain family relationships and change friends when addicted. Privately, they may be wrestling with shame, guilt, and hopelessness.
Opioid use disorder (OUD) can be associated with a range of mental health issues, including:
- Depression: Individuals with OUD may experience symptoms of depression, including feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. These symptoms can be caused by changes in brain chemistry or may result from the emotional toll of addiction.
- Anxiety: OUD can also be associated with anxiety symptoms, such as panic attacks, obsessive thoughts, or excessive worry. Anxiety symptoms may be triggered by the withdrawal effects or the fear of being unable to obtain or use their drug of choice. People who use drugs with anxiety tend to have a vicious cycle of panic due to the effects on their brains.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Many individuals with OUD have a history of trauma, which can cause PTSD. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and feelings of intense anxiety/hyperarousal or avoidance. In addition, many veterans and people who have experienced sexual trauma will use substances to self-medicate uncomfortable symptoms.
- Bipolar disorder: Some individuals with OUD may also have a co-occurring diagnosis of bipolar disorder, characterized by mood shifts from extreme highs (mania) to extreme lows (depression). People who are bipolar may self-medicate or take risks that they usually wouldn't when experiencing mania.
Individuals with OUD need comprehensive treatment addressing their addiction and co-occurring mental health issues.
OUD can have significant impacts on the brain and body. Substance use disorder can also cause mental health problems and exacerbate mental health issues you may already struggle with. Getting screened for mental illness during your recovery and paying attention to any new symptoms is essential. A psychiatrist can better assess your needs or help diagnose any disorder.
Sober Housing and OUD
Many people with OUD find that they can stay sober when they have structure, solidarity, and community with other people in recovery. Many people in sober housing choose to use MAT as a tool for their OUD. Sober living can give you a home to return to at the end of the day, meetings in and out-of-house, and a healthy, vibrant, spiritual environment to reflect on your recovery and future. Learn more about our homes and how we can help by giving us a call.
CategoriesOpioids Drug and Alcohol Counseling