In previous articles we discussed drugs that are frequently misused: Opioids, Meth, Cocaine and Benzos. Each of them has different effects, but all can quickly cause dependence and/or addiction. Opioids are depressants, pain killers and cause euphoria. Meth and cocaine are amphetamines and have the effects of increased alertness, talkativeness and activity. Benzos are used to treat insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks.
Today we will focus on how our bodies/brains become addicted to opioids.
Both prescription and illegal forms of opioids are HIGHLY addictive. For some people, all it takes is one dose to begin the downward spiral of addiction.
Many of us have the mistaken caricature of a drug user as a weak willed, skid row bum who doesn’t have the gumption to pull himself up by his boot straps, but brain science tells a different story.
Brain science research has shown that opioid addiction harms the brain in at least three ways:
First: Opioids inhibit natural pain killers in our brains that help our bodies deal with pain and also create a stronger sense of reward and pleasure. Opioids are much stronger than the naturally occurring chemicals in the brain. After being introduced to opioids, our bodies are no longer satisfied with the weaker natural pain relief.
Second: The wiring of the brain becomes used to the constant flow of opioids and creates more receptors for opioids. This new chemical “set point” is the beginning of tolerance and needing more opioids to achieve the same results. The person becomes extremely stressed and anxious until another dose of opioids can be taken.
Third: Opioids weaken the part of the brain that helps a person make good decisions and control impulses so that even if they desire to stop taking the drug, they may not be able to overcome the chemically induced desire for more.
Next time, we will discuss how tolerance and dependence develop. Sources: teens.drugabuse.gov, drugfree.gov, drugabuse.gov, https://medmark.com/does-long-term-opiate-use-change-the-brain.
Lynn Saylor is an AmeriCorps member serving in the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative through the White County United Way. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles may be found on whitecountyunitedway.org/opioids.html.
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.