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How Do Opiates Affect The Brain?

Over the last two decades, opiates have swiftly become one of the most widely used and misused drugs in America. Easily, accessible, widely available, and highly addictive, opiates are uniquely positioned to have devastatingly negative effects on the lives of users due to how opiates affect the brain. Each year between 30 and 70 thousand Americans lose their lives at the hands of opiate misuse. In 2020 alone, 68,000 Americans died as a result of opiates. 

Knowing the dangers of opiate use and learning the next steps in the recovery process can be key in not only saving one’s own life but the life of a loved one as well. So how do opiates affect the brain? What makes them so lethal? In this post, we will analyze these questions and seek to provide insights into the effects of opiates on the human brain.

What are Opiates?

Opiates are a classification of drugs that specifically target opioid receptors in the brain. By acting on opioid receptors, the brain produces morphine-like effects on the body. Because of this, opiates primarily treat physical pain. This adds to their highly addictive properties and makes anyone experiencing physical pain susceptible to opioid misuse. Opiates come in many forms. These range from pharmaceutical prescription pain relievers like OxyContin and Percocet to synthetic opiates such as fentanyl and heroin. 

Often prescribed for anything from small injuries to major surgeries, the wide range of ailments that can be treated with opiates also greatly raises the likelihood of experiencing opiate dependency. Opiates are known to addict users after a small number of uses, unlike many drugs that require more extensive and persistent use to develop a lasting dependency. Because of this potency and the wide-ranging availability of opiates, they have become a formidable foe when battling both dependency and overdose. 

How Exactly do Opiates Affect the Brain?

After learning what opiates are, you may be asking: how do opiates affect the brain? Opiates affect the brain by acting on opioid receptors. These receptors are found primarily in the central and peripheral nervous system, as well as in the gastrointestinal tract. Opioid receptors mediate both the somatic and psychoactive effects of opioids. Often, the euphoria caused by opioid use is a key factor in recreational use and misuse. As a result, recreational misuse of the drug is one of the largest factors in leading one to dependency. 

In many cases, a user will be prescribed an opiate legally, for example, after major surgery. Ideally, the user takes the opiate as prescribed for the pain and discontinues use once the prescription’s purpose is fulfilled. However, things can be a bit messier in reality. Many people begin taking an opiate as prescribed but, as the pain wears off, they continue using the drug. This is where many experience the “euphoric” effects meant to dull severe pain rather than be used recreationally. At this point, many using the drug legally and with a valid prescription will still find themselves wrestling with the tribulations of dependency.

Short Term Effects of Opiates on the Brain

How do opiates affect the brain in the short term? Even with a short duration of use, opiates can have major negative effects on one’s brain and body. Many users will experience these effects even when taking the drug as prescribed or after very few uses. These effects include but are not limited to:

  • Itchiness
  • Nausea
  • Sedation
  • Constipation
  • Respiratory depression
  • Euphoria 

Long Term Effects of Opiates on the Brain

How do opiates affect the brain in the long term? Being so potent as to make short-term use dangerous, you may be questioning just how bad things can get with extended opiate use. The long-term effects of opiates on the brain include symptoms like:

  • Loss of motor function
  • Memory problems
  • Depression
  • Tremors
  • Symptoms of ADHD
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Memory loss
  • Increased pain sensitivity
  • Impulse control
  • Stroke
  • Mortality

Withdrawal Symptoms of Opiates

The highly physically and mentally addictive symptoms of opiates can lead to withdrawal that can be quite severe depending on a user’s history. Length of use, the amount used, frequency of use, and other factors can greatly vary the time in which one may experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms include the following:

  • Irritability
  • Myalgia
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating 
  • Nausea
  • Dysphoria
  • Tremor
  • Opiate cravings

Types of Treatment for Opiate Dependency

Misusing opiates can have massively negative effects on one’s brain and body. Fortunately, treatment options for opiate dependence are available, and those seeking to regain control over their dependency have options. Choosing the right support system in one’s quest for freedom from addiction can be imperative to one’s successful recovery. 

Deciding to undertake the process of recovery alone can often lead a person to relapse or continued opiate misuse. The right support system can mean the difference between a new lease on life and continued suffering at the hands of addiction. For those seeking sanctuary from opiate dependency, there are several options for treatment.

Opiate Addiction Treatment in Atlanta, GA

At Retreat of Atlanta, we are waiting with open arms to help you regain control of your life and your dependency. Located in Eatonton, GA, the Retreat of Atlanta provides a tranquil atmosphere focused on healing and recovery. With inpatient drug and alcohol recovery rehabilitation, one can tune out the distractions that can lead to relapse. Our team is ready to help you regain the stability and freedom that you deserve. Visit our admissions page today and take the first step in your recovery journey.

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