How Opioids Change Your Brain

Dr. David Sherman, wellness treasure, opiods

Opioids are pain-killing medications, often given to manage chronic pain or to keep you comfortable following a surgery. Persistent misuse of opioid drugs can have long-lasting effects on your brain, actually changing the way it functions.

Due to the way opioids affect your brain, they present a high risk of dependency, especially when you use them outside of what the doctor recommends, or if you take them illegally.

The backstory of opioids

Opioids are made from the opium poppy plant. They are used in the medical industry in many different forms, including injectable fluids, pills, and skin patches that contain chemicals similar to those already produced in your brain.

The opiate chemicals bond to receptors in your brain, generating pain-relieving effects that travel through the nervous system. Opiates can be very effective at achieving relief from many types of severe pain when used as prescribed. However, when the dosage you take is higher than normal, opiates not only relieve pain, they produce a euphoric feeling in your body.

This causes your brain to be flooded with feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine that stimulate a response in your brain’s reward and pleasure center. These intense feelings of pleasure trigger the brain to seek out more of the drug to further increase the pleasurable sensations.

As a result, your brain begins focusing on feeling this pleasure over anything else, leading to an addiction cycle that quickly grows beyond your control.

Overcoming opioid tolerance

When your brain continually signals that it wants more of the pleasure-enhancing opioids, you need to take more and more of the drugs to achieve the same euphoric rush. Over time, you tolerate the opioids and eventually can only reach the same high sensations by taking higher and higher doses.

As you continue increasing your dosages, there comes a time when you have more opiates in your system than you have receptors to which they can bind. To make up for the difference, your brain actually produces more opioid receptors that need more of the drug to feel good.

The cycle continues until you must take such a high dose of opiates to appease the brain receptors that you risk a potentially fatal overdose and a host of medical complications.

How withdrawals work

When your body requires higher and higher doses, you may eventually reach a point when no amount of opioids can make you feel good. However, those who constantly use the drug must now continue taking high doses to prevent the pain of withdrawals.

Painful withdrawals result because your brain has become so dependent on the outside chemicals, it slows down the natural production of hormones and other chemicals in the nervous system. As a result, not taking the drug causes you to feel persistently drained, sick to your stomach, and generally uncomfortable in your skin.

It’s these severe withdrawals that make ending your cycle of drug use very difficult to stop, both physically and mentally.

What to expect in the long-term

With long-term use of opioids, your body loses its ability to withstand any pain. During withdrawals from opioids, you may even feel the old pain return more severely than before. Even when you take smaller doses of opioids to calm withdrawals, they will be ineffective because there isn’t enough to bind to all the new opioid receptors in the brain.

These same receptors also influence your mood and emotions. As a result of all this disruption, you not only feel pain more intensely, you also can develop a sense of hopelessness and depression. These issues can once again trigger the desire to take high doses of opioids to alleviate the physical and emotional pain you feel.

Opioids have the power to affect you for many years, even after you’ve stopped taking the medications and successfully made it past withdrawals. The changes in the brain can also be severe enough to cause long-term damage that affects how you feel, the way you think, and your ability to function as you did in the past.

The good news is that recovery from an opiate addiction is possible. With consistent medical care and compassionate counseling, like those available with Dr. David Sherman and the staff at Wellness Treasure, you can overcome the cycle of addiction and achieve long-term success.


Call Dr. Sherman today or use the online booking feature to begin your journey to breaking the cycle of opioid addiction.

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