How Opioids Affect Dopamine Levels

Opioids are drugs that bind to the opioid receptors in the body. This includes illegal and prescribed drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. According to a chart published on HHS, more than 130 people die from an opioid-related drug overdose every single day. Opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in 2016. Addiction doesn’t just take a toll on your physical health; it also takes a huge toll on your mental health. Addiction affects your brain, and ultimately your mental well being, more than you think.

How Opioids Affect Dopamine Levels

Dopamine Levels and Opioid Abuse

There are many factors that go into whether a person who experiments with opioid drugs will continue to take them long enough to become addicted. For people who do continue on that path, they do so because opioids provide intense feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

When an opioid-based drug travels through the bloodstream to the brain, the chemicals in the drug attach to specialized proteins and opioid receptors. The linking of these chemicals to the receptors triggers the same biochemical reaction that gives people a feeling of pleasure when they engage in activities, such as eating or sex. Opioid drug abuse activates the midbrain reward system. This system generates signals in the part of the brain that result in the release of the chemical called dopamine.

The release of dopamine is what causes feelings of pleasure. In other words, the brain is flooded with dopamine, causing a euphoric feeling. These feelings are so intense that they begin to train the brain that they are superior to those that occur naturally. This reinforces that the brain should continue to seek the opioid drug more and more until the brain begins to prefer these effects to anything else.

How Opioids Affect the Brain

Other areas of the brain create a memory that associates these good feelings with drug use, the circumstances, and the environment in which they occur. These memories are known as conditions associations. This is what oftentimes leads to the craving for the drug again. Opioid use causes the brain to release up to ten times more dopamine than what naturally occurs in the brain. The body becomes accustomed to these high levels of dopamine, causing addiction.

In the early stages of opioid abuse and addiction, the stimulation of the reward system in the brain, due to dopamine, is a primary reason why people take the drugs repeatedly. Repeated opioid abuse and increasing dosages alter the brain so that it functions normally when the drugs are present, but abnormally when they are not. When someone builds up a tolerance to opioids, the brain signals that it needs more and more to feel the same euphoric feeling that it felt at the beginning.

If you think someone you love may be suffering from opioid addiction, it is important to know that the signs and symptoms look like. They may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slow breathing
  • Nausea; vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Physical agitation
  • Slurred speech
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Lowered motivation
  • Anxiety
  • Poor decision making

Get Help With Opioid Addiction Treatment

Here at Recreate Life Counseling, we understand the seriousness of opioid use, and we believe opioid addiction must be treated as soon as possible. If opioid addiction is left untreated, the chances of fatality continuously increase. We focus on treating addiction with a combination of effective treatments, predominantly focusing on group and individual therapy.

If you or someone you love has been struggling with opioid addiction, please feel free to give us a call today. We will discuss treatment options, and do our best to point you in the right direction. Now is the time to turn your life around. Let us help you do it.