Neuroscientists Discover How Opiate Addiction Develops in the Brain

In Drug Addiction March 15th, 2014 No Comments

Opiate Addiction Develops In The Brain

Opiate addiction is one of the fastest growing problems facing addiction counselors and others concerned with recovery and well being. Many opiates, which come in the form of doctor prescribed drugs, are highly addictive and may cause a person to become chemically dependant on them even in the amount of time that they are taking the drug for pain management or other medically necessary reasons. Recently, a new study conducted by scientists at Western University has offered new insight into exactly what happens within a person’s brain when they become addicted to opiates.

Addiction, Reward, and Brain Chemistry

Addiction, and opiate addiction in particular, is centered around the neurological process of being rewarded, or experiencing a pleasurable sensation after using a drug. When a person begins using an opiate, their brain quickly begins to associate happy or positive feelings with that drug and thus quickly associates a positive reaction to the drug.

A specific molecule in the brain, located in a region called the basolateral amygdala, holds onto associations with opiate use. This same area sends signals to the brain when the opiate is not in a person’s system, causing withdrawal symptoms, and associates certain activities with usage, leading to addiction, triggers, and relapse. It seems that within this region of the brain, there are two types of molecules at play: one that operates and holds memories before a person is addicted and one that takes over once a person has become addicted.

Research May Help Combat Addiction

As neuroscientists shed light onto the exact way opiate addiction alters brain chemistry, they may be making way for some exciting and effective treatment possibilities for people who are facing addiction. Understanding exactly how the brain is transformed when a person is addicted to opiates may help pharmaceutical researchers develop pharmaceuticals that can use the known information about shifts in neurological activity to develop drugs that can help curb a person’s addiction.

Addiction is a Disease

These findings also help validate the fact that has been obvious to mental health care providers and addiction counselors for a long time: that addiction is a disease that is just as chemically based as other diseases commonly attributed to faults in physical health or genetics. This position, which is commonplace among medical professionals, is slowly becoming more and more prevalent in mainstream society, in part because, unfortunately, a growing number of people are facing addiction.

Even the recently adopted Affordable Care Act, which helps expand medical coverage in a number of ways, stipulates that health insurance policies must cover mental health and addiction recovery treatment.

Support for Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction can wreck havoc on all aspects of a person’s personal, professional, and financial well being. Opiates have a number of harmful side effects, and continued use can lead to problems with a person’s internal organs as well as create serious mental impairment. Just because a person is prescribed opiates for a medical reason, does not mean that they cannot become addicted to them. Any time a person is physically or mentally dependent on a substance, they are facing addiction and should get help immediately.

The neurological changes that opiates create can make withdrawal very severe. If you have a problem with opiate abuse, you should seek professional help. A staff of professional doctors and addiction therapists can help you overcome initial withdrawal and work with you as you make your way from being dependent to regaining your sobriety. With the right treatment, even a person who is very dependent on opiates can become healthy and sober. A recovery program offers the tools needed to quit opiates and start living life again!


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