Opioid abuse reshapes the brain by triggering changes in its biochemistry as it attempts to maintain normal operations in the presence of abnormal concentrations of opiates. The longer the brain has been affected by opioid abuse, the more significant these changes will become, and the harder it will be for the brain to resume normal functionality once the abuse comes to an end.
The Effect of Opioids on the Brain
Opioids and opiates bind to receptor cells that generally govern the body’s alertness, balance, and stress levels which reshapes the brain. These cells also control vital body functions like respiration. When they are overstimulated, they can mask the effects of pain and even produce a temporary and overwhelming feeling of euphoria.
Opioid Abuse and Brain Chemistry
When opioids are taken in excessive quantities or for lengthy durations, the brain adapts to the frequent presence of these artificial chemicals in several important ways:
- The brain limits its production of natural opiate-like chemicals because it believes it already has a steady supply of them. Some studies suggest that the brain prefers artificial chemicals because of the euphoria they produce.
- The brain produces much larger quantities of the enzymes and chemicals that are typically used in conjunction with its natural opiate-like chemicals in an attempt to process the increased supply of opioids in the system.
The combined effect of these changes is significant. The lowered supply of natural opiate-like chemicals means that the abuser’s body cannot easily regulate alertness, balance, pain, or pleasure without taking additional artificial opioids. Meanwhile, the amplified presence of reactionary enzymes means it takes an increasingly large amount of opioids to achieve the same effects as before. This is what leads to opioid dependence.
Opioid Addiction, Withdrawal, and Recovery
Eventually, the brain’s chemistry will be so significantly changed that opioid abuser will no longer be able to reach a state of euphoria at all, but he or she will continue to abuse opioids to prevent themselves from experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Once an opioid abuser reaches this point, he or she has become addicted.
The symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Intense pain
- Lingering discomfort
- Inability to focus
- Muscle cramps
It can take a very long time for an opioid abuser’s brain chemistry to return to normal, even after he or she stops using opioids. Medications designed to bind to the opioid receptor cells and produce comforting effects during the recovery period have proved helpful, especially when these efforts are combined with counseling services and traditional addiction support networks.
We May Be Able to Help
You do not have to go through the painful and confusing process of recovering from opioid abuse and the subsequent brain damage alone. If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid abuse, we may be able to help you pursue compensation from the prescribing doctor or pharmacy.