Opioid drugs, better known as pain-relief prescription medications, come in a wide range of brands, strengths and intended uses. Some of the more commonly known opioids include –
Opioid compounds are based on the ingredients found in the opium poppy seed plant. As synthetically made formulations, opioids can treat most any type of pain symptoms. In spite of their effectiveness as pain-relievers, opioids carry a high potential for abuse and addiction.
Opioid abuse can happen to anyone who takes these drugs on an ongoing basis, whether for recreational or prescription-based purposes. Over time, opioid abuse causes widespread disruption within the brain and body’s chemical processes. Not surprisingly, the effects of opioid abuse on a person’s mental health can be especially distressing.
Opioid abuse can have lasting effects on a person’s overall functional capacity. With continued use, these effects grow progressively worse, leaving users in a diminished psychological state. Inevitably, a person’s quality of life sees considerable decline with ongoing opioid abuse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, opioid prescription sales increased by fourfold between the years of 1999 and 2010. Consequently, opioid abuse rates rose considerably within this time period. As of 2010, an estimated 12 million Americans reported abusing opioid drugs.
Prescription opioids belong to the Schedule II class of controlled substances, which come with a high potential for abuse and addiction. This means, people who take opioids for medicinal purposes face the same risk of addiction as those who use for recreational purposes. Likewise, the “prescription” label placed on these drugs can be misleading as many assume prescription drugs to be safe compared to street-based opioid-type drugs like heroin.
Brain Chemical Effects
Opioids produce psychoactive effects, altering the brain’s overall chemical system. Opioids also have a similar physical make-up as the brain’s own pain-relieving chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters. This similarity plays a pivotal role in why opioids carry such a high potential for abuse and addiction.
With each dose, opioids stimulate certain brain cell sites causing an increase in neurotransmitter chemical outputs at abnormally high levels. These effects not only take a toll on individual brain cell sites, but also disrupt the brain’s overall chemical balance.
Opioid abuse takes hold as brain cell functions come to depend on opioids to function normally. Since neurotransmitter chemical outputs directly affect a person’s cognitive and emotional well-being, mental health problems can quickly develop with ongoing opioid use.
Brain Reward System Effects
The brain’s reward system regulates a person’s learning processes, which ties into the brain’s cognitive and emotional functions. As chemical imbalances become more pronounced from opioid abuse, the brain’s reward system “learns” to define the drug’s effects as a positive motivating factor within a person’s daily life. This process lies at the heart of addiction.
Over time, opioid effects on the brain reward system “rewire” a person’s psychological make-up and overall mental health. In effect, the brain comes to place as much importance on opioids as it does food and water.
The psychological dysfunction brought on by opioid abuse can take any number of forms depending on a person’s –
- Past psychological history
- Present psychological history
- Family history of mental illness
- Present-day circumstances in terms of stress levels
- Physical health
- Environmental and/or social influences
According to the Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, the effects of opioids on a person’s daily functional capacity can be seen in his or her –
- Relationships with family and friends
- Ability to think clearly and rationally
- Ability to communicate with others
- Performance on the job
The effects of opioid abuse on the brain’s reward system have a tremendous effect on a person’s overall mental health once addiction takes hold. At this point, opioids have become a primary motivation within the addict’s daily life. This change in a person’s psychological make-up accounts for why addicts continue to use in spite of the negative consequences that result.
In this state, the addict’s emotional experience centers around getting and using drugs. In effect, a person’s happiness revolves around “getting high.” This means, when “needed” drug supplies are lacking, addicts may exhibit any number of emotions and behaviors, such as –
- Violence-prone interactions
- Risk-taking behaviors
- Inability to focus or concentrate
More oftentimes than not, the initial effects of opioid abuse take the form of symptoms commonly associated with depression and/or anxiety disorders, some of which include –
- Decline in hygiene and personal appearance
- Mood swings
- Loss of interest in hobbies or recreational activities
- Isolative behaviors
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Anxiousness, tension
- Feelings of sadness
- Victim mentality
Conditions involving depression and anxiety symptoms work to worsen existing brain chemical balances. This in turn drives users to self-medicate through opioid abuse in an attempt to relieve discomfort brought on by mental health problems.
For some people, pre-existing mental health problems become the catalyst for opioid abuse practices. For others, ongoing drug use causes co-occurring conditions to develop. In effect, co-occurring disorders work to reinforce opioid abuse behaviors, which in turn intensify disorder symptoms and drive continued drug use. This vicious cycle makes it even more difficult for users to break opioid abuse patterns as brain chemical imbalances worsen.
The effects of opioid abuse tie in directly with a person’s mental well-being. Ultimately, continued drug abuse practices create a diseased chemical environment within the brain that makes a person that much more susceptible to mental illness. In the process, a person’s life continues to unravel as brain function undergoes further decline.
Considering how opioids tend to have cumulative effects on overall brain function, the sooner a person gets needed treatment help the better. While an opioid addiction only gets worse with continued drug use, so do co-occurring psychological disorders. Consequently, people who struggle with both addiction and mental illness will require treatment for both conditions in order to overcome opioid abuse and addiction.