The brain is an interesting phenomenon. Like the galaxy, humans have yet to discover much about it. But due to the ever-growing research capability of science, we have been able to understand how the brain reacts to the abuse of addictive drugs like opioids.
What’s the science behind humans’ love for substance misuse? We finally have an answer.
Many addiction studies have found a connection between brain function and substance misuse. The connection: a chronic and progressive brain disease that slowly alters the brain function. This chronic brain disease is what causes people to demonstrate a change behavior, act out in strange ways, and seek out illicit substances. Where substance misuse is concerned, opiate addiction is a tough habit to crack due to the chemical reaction it causes on the brain.
Opioid abuse in the United States is at an all-time high. According to National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 130 people in America die from opioid overdose every single day. Opioid addiction is a national crisis; one which needs to be curbed immediately. (source: drugabuse.gov)
It’s high time we understood what opioids are and what they do, how they damage the brain, and how a person can be treated for opiate addiction.
What are Opioids?
The definition of these terms ‘opioids’, ‘opium’ and ‘opiates’ are often confused. ‘Opium’ is the substance extracted from poppy plants. ‘Opiate’ is any drug derived from ‘opium’. The term ‘opioids’, refers to synthetic opiate drugs. We can divide opioid drugs into four different classes:
- Endogenous opioids: These are naturally produced in the body, such as Endorphins
- Opium Alkaloid: Drugs extracted from opium, such as morphine and codeine.
- Semi-synthetic: Synthesized opium such as oxycodone and heroin.
- Synthetic: These opiates are produced in laboratories, such as fentanyl.
You’re probably thinking, ‘if opioids are so bad, why are they on the market?’ Well, doctors prescribe opioids when a patient suffers acute pain due to serious injury, tragic accident, or surgery.
These prescription drugs that have flooded the market find their way on to the black market. Opioids are then sold illicitly with a high income potential for the dealer - despite the legal risks involved.
Unfortunately, opioids are incredibly addictive. Once a person starts using opioids, it’s often hard to stop. According to Dr. John Rosa, a person who takes a prescribed opiate for as little as three days may become addicted.
What makes it’s illicit availability worse is its administration flexibility. Depending on the type of opioid, a person may ingest it through the use of a pill, a patch, a lozenge, or with a syringe. Opioids can even come in liquid solutions, pills, or in a powdered form—some addicts inhale it through the nose.
The method of use greatly determines the duration of the drug’s effects.
How do Opioids Affect the Brain?
Opiates relieve pain. Upon intake, painkillers can instantly influence the brain’s opiate receptors, releasing pain-relief chemicals into the body’s nervous system. Endorphins, which are the body’s endogenous opioid, do a great job of naturally relieving pain when it occurs.
Endogenous opioids and opioid receptors also help alleviate stress and improve mood. Everytime you feel stress, your body produces endorphins that regulates your reaction to it. This is why opioid drugs can make a person feel calmer and more relaxed than they ever could if they meditated.
The Science Behind Opiate Addiction
When taken as prescribed, over the short term, opioids relieve severe pain. But when abused, opioids force the brain to release neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin to make you feel euphoric. These neurochemicals, produced in excess, then tamper with the pleasure pathway of the brain. In fact, the resulting sensation from excess opium exceeds the feeling of pleasure.
Okay, a lot of excesses, but just think about it. Opioids are super potent; powerful enough to multiply the release of dopamine 2 to 10 times. Your body always relishes higher levels of dopamine and serotonin levels, and will do anything to remain in such elevated state. It proceeds to tell your brain to pressure you to get more. This is how opioids enslave the mind.
What About Opiate Tolerance?
The more a person takes opiates, the more tolerance their body builds against its effects. Because of this tolerance, the brain sends signals to the body to get more opioids. This is why a person addicted to opium will always try to take more, because he or she is driven to cure the withdrawal symptoms.
But it’s never enough. Even with larger doses of opiates, an opium addict will always want more. After prolonged use, the body decides, ‘oh boy, I need to create more opium receptors for new incoming opioids’. And so the user winds up taking more and more until the point of overdose.
The Pain Behind Opiate Withdrawals
Ironically, withdrawals begin when the opium addict’s tolerance increases. The more they ingest, the less euphoric sensation they derive from the drug. The body asks for more, so they keep taking more opioids. Eventually, they reach a level where the opiates no longer give pleasurable effects. Overnight, the drug seizes control of their mind and body. They no longer need opioids for pleasure; they now need it to avoid the painful symptoms of withdrawal.
Long-Term Effects after Recovery
Even when an opiate addict manages to undergo treatment, the damage has run its course. Psychological and physical effects from opiate recovery may linger for long periods of time. After long-term use, the body will face multiple challenges of the gastrointestinal system, the respiratory system, the central nervous system, and more - basically the entire body will be effected from prolonged use. (source: nih.gov)
Many medical treatments aimed at stopping opiate addiction include counselling and group therapy. With love and support from family and friends, any opiate addict can attain long-lasting recovery. Full recovery is not impossible, but it takes time.
At AMI, we believe in challenging the status quo of healthcare. We believe the power of healing lies withing the individual. We want to empower providers to offer services that promote the body's ability to heal itself - not create practices that push addictive drugs or dangerous sugery.
Find out how Advanced Medical Integration can help train you through our proven systems to establish a multi-faceted physical medical practice . CLICK HERE or follow us on YouTube and find out how our approach is helping to bring regenerative medicine into the mainstream and lead the fight against the opioid crisis.
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