It is a widely held belief that those individuals struggling with opiate abuse disorders use the drug for its pleasurable effects. While this is logical, it is an oversimplification. Research has shown that opiate use can cause changes in the brain chemistry of the user, thus creating the compulsive need to use. With this in mind, it would seem that pleasure may not necessarily be the root of opiate addiction.
Understanding the Link
An extensive amount of research has been done on opioids in the brain. According to a summation of that research in the Journal of Neuroscience, long-term abuse of opioids can change portions of the brain that regulate responses to stress, as well as portions of the brain that deal with motivation. Some portions of the brain seem to shrink and go dark, while others have intense changes in chemistry levels and responsiveness cues. A modified brain like this is more apt to call for drugs when the addicted person:
- Feels pain
- Experiences emotional distress
- Sees things the person associates with drugs
- Has access to drugs
The changes in the brain make it hard for people to resist temptation and make good long-term choices. They’re living in the moment, to the detriment of their bodies, and they may not enjoy the drugs they take at all.
The changes caused by abuse don’t reach a specific level of intensity and then stop. Instead, the changes continue and persist, and in time, people who are addicted may need to take incredibly large doses of drugs to stave off feelings of illness and deprivation. Unfortunately, large doses of opiate drugs can also work on the portions of the brain that control breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. Someone who abuses opiates may, in time, take such large doses of drugs that those systems are overwhelmed, which can be fatal. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the drug overdose rate from the use of opioids has risen from 4,030 deaths in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010. It’s clear that people are taking these drugs in massive doses, and are losing their lives in the process. This is the most severe consequence of opioids left to run rampant inside the cells of the brain.
Help Is Available
The cellular changes caused by opioids can be persistent and hard to overcome alone, but medical treatments can provide vital assistance. Replacement medications, for example, can link to the same receptors used by opioid medications, and they can help to soothe the transition between intoxication and sobriety. Therapy can also help people to understand the changes their minds have been through, and these programs can also help people to learn how to protect themselves from relapses caused by these alterations.