Opiates: How Do They Affect the Human Mind?
Opioids and opiates can affect the mind. This is not something to be worried about, because that’s how these substances work. They are helpful medicines that could relieve pain ranging from moderate to severe. They are prescribed for cases in which over-the-counter medicines did not do much to alleviate the patient’s pain. So it’s not surprising that these drugs can affect the mind.
But what exactly does it do to the brain? How do opiates and opioids work? How do they achieve the pain relieving effects that they provide?
Today we’re going to discuss how opiates and opioids affect the brain.
Opiates: A Powerful Pain Reliever
Opiates and opioids alike affect the way the brain perceives pain. For this reason, it is used to treat cancer pain, traumatic pain, surgical pain, and even some cases of toothache. These substances, derived from the opium poppy plant, do not make the pain go away. They simply make the body unable to detect it.
Opiates attach onto the molecules on certain nerve cells in the brain called opioid receptors. By latching onto these nerve cells, they are able to alter the severity of the pain that the pain is experiencing.
For patients, pain is reduced. But for those who are abusing opiates and are using it without experiencing pain, what they feel instead is a sense of euphoria. Because of their relaxing properties, people easily get addicted to these substances.
The reason opiates are habit forming is because they affect the way the brain feels pleasure.
Opiates: Short Term Effects on the Human Mind
Because of its addictive nature, one can expect various short term effects that can manifest from abusing opiates. A recreational user of these drugs put themselves at risk of various psychological changes within the span of just a few weeks.
MRI scans on people misusing morphine, for example, have shown reductions in the volume of their gray matter. The reduced volume of gray matter affected parts of the brain that were in control of pain, emotions, and regulation of cravings.
Opiates also affect the brain by slowing the central nervous system. While this may produce relaxing effects on the user, it also causes respiratory depression. People who take opiates in larger doses have a higher risk of experiencing overdose. In the worst cases, an overdose may cause a person’s respiration to stop completely.
While the benefits of opiates from a medical perspective are fast-acting and beneficial, the dangers are also quite high for people who take too much at a time. The way these substances affect the brain receptors could create adverse effects that would take months or even years to recover from.
Dependence and addiction are two of the worst effects that opiates can produce
Opiate Dependence and Addiction
Opiates and opioids are two terms that are often used interchangeably. But opiates are natural substances like morphine and heroin, while opioids can include synthetic and semi-synthetic substances like oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Similarly, there’s a difference between addiction and dependence, although they are sometimes used alongside one another.
Dependence occurs when the body develops tolerance to a certain drug. This means that the body is now requiring increasingly higher doses just to get the same effects. Once dependence has developed, a person will likely experience withdrawal upon attempting to quit.
Addiction is the compulsive use of a drug, even though it is producing adverse effects. It is associated with the breakdown of interpersonal relationships. The person begins prioritizing the drug over everything else. Careers, friendships, and families are affected.
In both cases, the person’s mind and body suffers.
Addiction happens because of opiates’ interaction with the brain’s reward center. The user feels pleasure, and the brain immediately associates it with taking the drug. Repeated use is a huge possibility, even when dependence hasn’t set in.
But once dependence sets in, the person’s body begins tolerating the drug’s presence. The mind is convinced to act normally when the drugs are present in the system. And so, it reacts negatively when the individual does not take its normal dosage.
Opiate abuse may affect the mesolimbic reward system, which prevents the user from experiencing pleasure from activities they once enjoyed. Former hobbies would stop being appealing. The individual loses interest in eating, sex, and other activities. Obtaining more of the drug becomes a top priority.
Other Mental Effects of Opiate Abuse
Aside from affecting the number of gray matter in the brain, long term abuse of opiates—heroin, in particular, can cause the white matter in the brain to deteriorate as well. This may lead to permanent behavioral problems, as the individual becomes unable to regulate their own behavior.
Chronic opiate abusers have also been found to have a high risk of developing anxiety disorders, depression, and bipolar disorder.
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They will likely undergo detoxification, during which their intake of the drug will gradually be lowered, while their withdrawal symptoms are managed by medical professionals. Behavioral therapy is also effective for preventing relapse in the long term. The addicted individual will be educated, and they will learn how to readjust to life once they have gotten sober again.
With enough support, the individual suffering from opiate addiction or dependence can live a normal life once more.
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