How Opioids Affect Our Brain

Curious about how opioids, opium, opioid addiction, and addiction recovery all affect our brain? Learn more from Quest Recovery Center, an outpatient addiction center in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are strong painkillers and a class of drugs that include many illegal narcotics, such as heroin, synthetic opioids and prescription medications, such as fentanyl, and are also found naturally in the opium poppy plant. Unauthorized or unmanaged opioid use is illegal because opioids are known to affect the brain in a dangerous way.


About Opioid Receptors in the Brain

Our brains have opioid receptors which regulate the body's pain, reward, and addiction systems. When using opioid drugs to get high, our brain tells us that we are not in pain when we might be and euphoric when we might not be, and thus, taking opioid drugs — even just once — often leads to addiction.

We can break down how opioids affect our brains a bit more by speaking on a more chemical level. Most opioids attach to mu-opioid receptors (MOR) — but some also attach to delta or kappa opioid receptors (DOR and KOR). MORs are most commonly found in the amygdala, which is a collection of neurons that play a key role in how we perceive and process emotions — especially related to fear, reward, and memories.

DOR and KOR are found in parts of the brain related to stress and pain — the periphery, the dorsal root ganglion, the spinal cord, and in supraspinal regions as well. This is one of the reasons why opioid drugs are so effective at suppressing feelings of pain and creating euphoria. Keep in mind that both of these feelings can be very dangerous and cause harm.

How Chronic and Long-Term Opioid Use Affect the Brain

In the short term, opioids can create a rush of pleasure that is often accompanied by feelings of euphoria and relaxation. This feeling can be extremely addictive, especially to those who struggle with chronic pain, depression, or abuse opioids for the first time.

But because of how opioids affect our brains and bodies in the short-term, many opioid users find themselves continuing to use these drugs long-term even though they’re fading away from who they used to be — mentally, physically, and emotionally. Long-term opioid users are likely to be aware of the negative consequences of opioid abuse but may feel that they have no choice and cannot escape the cycle of abuse. This is because long-term use can change both our brains and our bodies in ways that can be extremely hard to overcome.


About Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

If you're addicted to opioids and are looking to quit, be sure to do so with the help of a medical professional. The withdrawal symptoms attached to opioid addiction can be just as dangerous as getting high itself. After becoming addicted, your brain will learn to expect a certain amount of opioids, and if you don’t provide that, the consequences can be very difficult to live with.

Some of the symptoms may include depression and suicidal thoughts, loss of appetite, insomnia, extreme anxiety, a variety of GI tract issues, and more, especially severe drug cravings. Never quit opioid use cold-turkey or the consequential symptoms will be even worse and the chances of relapse will also be greater. Additionally, never try to quit when you are alone — you will need a strong support system to better get over your addiction.

At Quest Recovery Center, we offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and other recovery programs for drug addicts and more at our outpatient facility in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Learn more about our facility and how we can help you safely get over your opioid or other addiction by contacting us today.


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