Effects of Opioids on the Brain


JANUARY 26, 2018

Edited by Editorial Team

Editorial Team

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Your Brain on Opioids

The abuse of prescription medications is an extremely prevalent issue throughout much of the United States today. Opioids are one class of prescription drugs that are frequently prescribed in our country. The effect of opioids is vast and can include very bothersome symptoms, dependence, and outright addiction. What are opioids? Why are they so addictive? What are the effects of opioid use on the brain? Not everyone who uses opioids overdoses, so the effects of opioids are not always understood. The information below will cover these vital questions more thoroughly.



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What are Opioids?

Opioids are a particular class of prescription pain relieving medications. Opioids can be prescribed for a wide variety of physical conditions and illnesses that result in severe and chronic pain. The effect of opioids can involve many different symptoms. Since they’re easy to become dependent on and addicted to, most physicians recognize that opioids are best reserved for limited time use and severe cases of pain.

There are several different types of opioids. First of all, natural opioids are found in nature, mostly in the sticky resin found in the Poppy plant. Semi-synthetic opioids begin with components from natural opioids. Laboratory specialists then combine synthetic components with these naturally-occurring ones to create a semi-synthetic version of opioids. Finally, fully synthetic opioids are created entirely from synthetic ingredients in a laboratory setting. No matter what type of opioid is in question, they all have high rates of addiction and potentially serious or even fatal effects in the body and brain.

Why are Opioids so Highly Addictive?

Due to the way that opioids directly affect specific brain structures, they are widely recognized for their highly addictive nature. Opioids release a lot of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical that creates pleasurable sensations in the body. This can create a state of euphoria in someone who is taking opioids, which is then reinforced each time they feel pleasurable sensations by using the medication. In the end, long-term opioid use can create significant changes in the brain chemistry that can lead to addiction.

Short-Term Effects of Opioid Use

Short-term effects of opioid use can vary widely among different people. Some common issues associated with short-term use of these medications include memory problems, lethargy, anxiety, and paranoia. In addition to these immediate effects on the brain itself, opioids can also cause digestive distress, constipation, slowed breathing, and excessive drowsiness.


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Long-Term Effects of Opioid Use

Long-term effects of opioid use can create changes to different portions of the brain responsible for regulating stress and providing us with the motivation we need to perform important daily functions. As a result of these significant changes, portions of the brain responsible for motivating and stirring us to action can actually decrease in size. Other portions of the brain can become essentially lit up with extra activity, sending these parts of the brain into overdrive. Unfortunately, these brain changes often create a vicious cycle in the individual who has become dependent on the use of medications such as opioids. When this person feels pain, is under severe stress, or has easy access to opioids, they are much more likely to abuse them. These changes in brain chemistry adversely affect the individual’s ability to make wise choices and to resist temptations, setting them up in a pattern of long-term drug abuse.

Effects of Opioid Abuse

Unfortunately, these negative effects associated with opioid use don’t simply stop or go away. In fact, they only worsen with continued use of the medication. Opioid abuse can eventually lead some people to take extremely large doses of the medication in order to achieve the desired effect or eliminate withdrawal symptoms. Opioid abuse can create serious and life-threatening problems such as labored breathing, a lowered blood pressure and heart rate, coma, and eventual death. Sadly, the US has experienced an increase in fatal opioid overdoses in recent years.

What Happens When Opioids are Stopped?

The brain is a living tissue just like other portions of the body. Although the effects of opioid use can be long-lasting and difficult to overcome, these things can improve with time. Proper professional treatment for an opioid addiction can allow the brain to recover and heal from the damage that the medication caused. Professional drug rehab in Arizona facilities are well-trained in the use of medications that can make this transition and healing period much easier to cope with.

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, please seek help from a qualified treatment rehab center. These specialists can provide you with the care and support required to experience true peace and healing.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/overview
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/opioids/what-are-opioids.html
  3. MedlinePlus: https://medlineplus.gov/opioidmisuseandaddiction.html#:~:text=Opioids%20can%20cause%20side%20effects,feels%20clammy%20to%20the%20touch
  4. WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/narcotic-pain-medications#1
  5. Medscape: https://www.medscape.com/answers/287790-85554/what-are-the-classes-of-opioids-in-opioid-abuse#:~:text=Naturally%20occurring%20opioids%3A%20The%20following,primary%20active%20component%20of%20opium.
  6. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851054/#:~:text=When%20opioid%20molecules%20link%20to,increasing%20their%20level%20of%20activity.
  7. The Brain from Top to Bottom: https://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/i/i_03/i_03_m/i_03_m_par/i_03_m_par_heroine.html
  8. Drug Free World: https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/prescription/opioids-and-morphine-derivatives-effects.html
  9. American Medical Association: https://www.ama-assn.org/system/files/2020-12/issue-brief-increases-in-opioid-related-overdose.pdf

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JANUARY 26, 2018

Robert Castan is a member of the Executive Leadership Team at SpringBoard Recovery. Robert started his professional career as a house manager and has become an industry leader and trusted voice in the treatment world. He brings extensive knowledge of organizational growth, industry-leading outcomes, and comprehensive marketing to SpringBoard Recovery. Robert has been walking his own path of recovery for over 10 years. This path has truly driven his ambition to help make treatment available to others who are struggling with addiction. Robert finds great joy in traveling and keeping physically active, with an emphasis on biking. Robert resides in Arizona with his husband and two four-legged children.   The U.S. Alcohol Crisis, Still Deadlier Than the Opioid Epidemic   Zombies and Other Future Threats to the Health of American Youth Dire Mental Health: A Catalyst for Post-Pandemic Drug Addiction The Benefits of Rehab Center Staff Working Their Own Recovery Opinion: The Opioid Crisis + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm Robert Castan on Successful Addiction Treatment and Entrepreneurship Castan: The road less traveled of addiction & recovery in Scottsdale Opioids & COVID Driving Phoenix’s Rising Fatal Drug Overdoses Opinion: The Opioid Crisis + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm Successful Addiction Treatment Programs & Entrepreneurship

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