How Opioids Change Your Brain

We know that scare tactics can make lousy conversation starters, but the fact is that the opioid problem in the United States is nothing short of a national crisis. With 130 deaths each day due to overdose and an economic burden of $78.5 billion a year, it’s worth seeing the whole, scary picture when it comes to opioid use disorders. So why are these drugs creating such a problem? The answer lies in the human brain.

Here at Gallus Detox Centers, led by Patrick J. Gallus, DO, our goal is to help bring these frightening numbers down, especially among our Scottsdale, Arizona, patients. And while we specialize in successfully detoxing our patients from opioids through an innovative IV therapy, we also believe that education is key.

To that end, here’s a look at the history of opioids and how they affect your brain.

Why now?

Opioids, which were originally derived from the poppy plant, have been used for millennia as a way to reduce pain, but addiction problems were rife even in these earliest days.

As chemists came up with morphine and codeine, which were godsends during times of battle, little was understood about their effects on the human brain. As a result, the drugs were doled out freely, especially on the battlefield, leaving soldiers to return home with battle scars and a drug addiction.

Opioids were also used recreationally throughout the 19th century, and the demand was so high that opium trade wars developed between Great Britain and China.

Realizing the danger behind opioids, Congress banned opioids in 1905, leaving medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies to find ways to synthesize the drug without addictive properties. In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies claimed that prescription painkillers weren’t addictive and encouraged doctors to prescribe them. They were wrong.

Unfortunately, this overprescribing of opioids has led to the epidemic we face today, as 8-12% of those who are prescribed painkillers develop an opioid use disorder.

What is it about opioids?

Now that we’ve established the addictive history of opioids and painkillers, let’s take a look at why they’ve taken hold of so many. Opioids are extremely good at what they’re designed to do: relieve pain. This is because opioids attach themselves to receptors on the nerve cells in your brain. When they do this, they block pain signals. But that’s not all they do — they also have a general calming and antidepressant effect.

As you continue to take opioids, you’re also rewiring your brain because the drugs are triggering your pleasure centers, flooding your brain with dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that governs emotions and feelings of pleasure, among other things. As a result, you experience a feeling of euphoria, which your brain wants more of. In other words, your reward center takes over and demands more and more of the euphoric side effects, which is what leads to a substance use disorder and addiction.

And trust us when we say that even the strongest among us aren’t immune to the demands of our own brains.

Ultimately, opioids in the form of painkillers are still one of the most effective ways to remedy pain, but only if they’re taken according to instructions. So there is a time and place for their use. The problem occurs with misuse, and 21-29% of people who are prescribed painkillers misuse them.

There is help

If you find yourself with an opioid problem, we want you to know two things: You’re not alone and we can help. We offer a solution through our detox program, which rids your body of the toxins, once and for all and helps ease you through withdrawal.

From there, we help you move forward in your life, free from the bonds of addiction. Simply give us a call to get started or use the confidential online scheduling tool.


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