Long-term Effects of Opioids on the Brain

Written by Robert Castan | Edited By Editorial Team

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Long-term Effects of Opioids on the Brain

Medical professionals prescribe opioids to treat acute pain, cough, and chronic diarrhea. While opioids can provide tons of medical benefits to alleviate pain-related conditions, they can lead to some severe health complications if continuously used. Beyond the pain suppressing qualities, opioids can activate the reward system of the brain. These reward areas link primarily with dose-dependent euphoria. The rewarding effects of opioids take over the brain and may turn into an addiction if used excessively. This is when the effects of opioids on the brain become a significant issue for people consuming high doses of these drugs.

Opioid addiction can cause detrimental and long-term effects on an addicted individual’s brain. These lasting effects will not diminish without professional help. Quitting drugs like opioids can be difficult because long-term opioid use causes changes in brain chemistry.  Many studies declared opioid addiction as a progressive and chronic brain disease that can alter brain functions and cause people to seek out destructive behaviors.

Since there are so many long-term effects of opioids on the brain, many people question why people use opioids, to begin with. Uncovering the common reasons why individuals abuse this drug will help shed some light on this.



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Reasons for Opioid Addiction

Even though opioids are prescription drugs and have plenty of therapeutic properties, opioid abuse has become a serious health concern for public health sector departments.  According to the latest statistic, approximately 26.4 million people in the world abuse this prescription drug.  That means people do not only use opioids to get rid of acute pain-related conditions but also to experience highly pleasurable effects such as:

  • Feelings of pleasure
  • Sense of escape and exhilaration

Individuals use opioids in several different ways.  From using opioid medications to snorting and dissolving them in various liquids, a large amount is easy to consume. Many addicted individuals combine other drugs such as benzodiazepines with opioids to enhance the “high” feeling.

Long-term Effects of Opioids on the Brain

Opioids can alter the brain functions by triggering activities within the reward system. This particular area of the brain comprises vital neuronal circuitry. It is responsible for giving the feeling of pleasure commonly associated with life’s activities that include eating and sex.

In other words, opioids activate mesolimbic (midbrain), which is a reward system. Upon taking high doses regularly, the ventral tegmental area of the brain releases neurotransmitter dopamine that gives users a feeling of euphoria.

As a result, your brain begins to expect these pleasurable feelings. The brain creates a long-term memory of positive and relaxing feelings with drug substances.  In time, the condition leads to intense cravings for opioids and many other health complications.

Opioid Use the Affects Brain’s Ability to Manage Anxiety and Stress

Opioids can become a dangerous addiction and can potentially affect the brain’s ability to manage stress. Opioid abusers are more susceptible to develop stress and mental health problems. An increase in cortisol levels is one of the effects of opioids on the brain.  Cortisol is an important hormone to help individuals combat stress, anxiety, and depression. It activates the mesolimbic reward system and reduces stress and mental pressure.

As opioids trigger the production of cortisol hormone in the brain, it causes the brain to become highly dose-dependent. People addicted to opioids struggle to manage stress when they do not take their daily dose. This condition potentially reinforces addicted individuals to continue the use of opioids.

Life-Threatening Problems

The effects of opioids on the brain cause lasting changes in the way the brain functions. Most of these changes are persistent and require individuals to take larger and higher doses of opioids to stave off the deprivation feelings. When addicted individuals do not take the large doses of opioid drugs, it affects the portion of the brain that controls heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. A sudden stop in drug usage may result in heart failure.


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Who Can Help?

Opioid addiction, with its lasting effects on the brain, is one of the toughest conditions to overcome unless you seek professional assistance. A reliable drug treatment center provides long-term holistic care to help addicted individuals attain sobriety.

SpringBoard Recovery offers effective drug treatments customized according to the specific health conditions of individuals. The 12-step based program, for instance, provides a comprehensive solution for people struggling with long-term opioids abuse. Other drug treatment programs include detox, dual diagnosis, and intervention services to help opioid abusers acknowledge their problems and achieve long-lasting sobriety.

There is no denying that the long-term effects of opioids on the brain can be hazardous and may lead to life-threatening health conditions.  SpringBoard Recovery has a holistic approach and many effective treatment programs to overcome opioid addiction.


Author: Robert Castan
NOVEMBER 7, 2019

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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