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Opiates and The Brain: The Chemistry of Dependence

We read the headlines about opiates and the opioid crisis here in the United States. We see the damage these drugs are doing among people we know and love as well as in our communities. But what do we really know about the way opiates affect our bodies? Do we know the difference between opioids and opiates? What more can we do to recognize the signs of opiate addiction? Let’s explore the powerful effects of opiate drugs and how substance abuse can lead to fatal consequences when left untreated. 

Opiates 101

We often hear the word “opiate” and “opioid” used interchangeably. Opiates are prescribed for relieving pain, including chronic pain as well as those who are terminally ill. Opioid drugs are as well. The subtle difference between the two is this:

  • Prescription opioids are drugs that “act on opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in a wide range of pharmacological effects, especially analgesia (stopping pain).”
  • Opiates stop pain as well, but they are “either derived from poppy or synthesized from any drug that is found in poppy or synthesized from one.”

opiates and the brain

Essentially, opiates are a subset of opioids. Commonly prescribed opiates include:

Heroin is also an opiate. It is nearly “identical in structure to morphine, and is synthesized from it.” On the other side of the chemistry, the drug fentanyl is also prescribed to treat severe pain, but it “bears no resemblance to either, is synthetic, so it is classified as an opioid.”

Opiates and the brain 

Opiates have a significant impact on the way your brain processes and manages pain. The chemicals in opiates are similar to those naturally occurring in your brain. If your body becomes dependent on prescription or non-prescription opiates, it’s possible that you can lose your ability to tolerate pain without them. That is one of the scariest aspects of dealing with addiction. You may face severe opiate withdrawal symptoms once you decide to reclaim your body and your quality of life.

opiates and the brain

Here’s a quick look at the chemistry:

  • The chemicals in opiates bond with opiate receptors in part of the brain.
  • They work through the nervous system to provide pain relief.
  • If taken at an inappropriate dosage, these chemicals provide a euphoric high.
  • This floods the brain with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that provide pleasure in the brain.
  • Because these feelings can be so intense and the pleasure so high, the brain can be trained to seek out more and more of the drug.

Consequences of opiate abuse

While there are many legitimate reasons your health care team may prescribe you opiates, there are many physical as well as emotional and psychological consequences to opiate abuse. It’s important that you monitor your dosage, use opiates responsibly and talk to your doctor if you experience changes in your condition or in your use of the drug.

If you or a loved one are abusing opiates, you may experience:

  • Intense feelings of euphoria
  • Uncontrollable drowsiness
  • Tolerance development/dependence
  • Stomach problems such as nausea, bloating and/or abdominal distention
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Respiratory depression
  • Liver damage
  • Brain damage

opiates and the brain

Opiate withdrawal symptoms

Once you have decided to reclaim your life and your sobriety from opiate addiction, you can expect withdrawal symptoms to begin. The worst of these symptoms will end in a few days, but it will likely take longer for you to fully recover physically, mentally and emotionally.

For the first 12 hours after you stop taking opiates, you can expect:

  • Intense cravings
  • Body aches
  • Rapid heartbeat and fever
  • Poor sleep pattern
  • Feelings of frustration and anxiety

Throughout the next 72 hours, you may experience:

  • Intense mood swings and frustration
  • Stomach problems causing vomiting or diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Further drug cravings

We can help you

At The Blackberry Center, you will have the opportunity to recover from opiate addiction and to begin the journey to lifelong recovery in our state-of-the-art facilities.

If you or one of your loved ones is struggling with opiate addiction, we can help. We use a personalized approach to addiction treatment. Our focus is on treating the disease, not the symptoms. We put our patients first every step of the way.

Our substance abuse-only treatment programs include detox, residential and partial hospitalization program.  Our on-site rehab programs focus on a comprehensive recovery approach. They address your physical, mental and spiritual needs for optimal wellness. Your needs are unique. We treat you as such.

Blackberry Recovery Center of Central Florida - Location

Reach out for help today

You may be struggling with long-term addiction. Or you may be fighting strong temptations. We can meet you where you are in your fight for sobriety.

We welcome you to our treatment center. From support groups to individual therapy treatment options, we are here to fight the battle with you.

Reach out to us online today. You can also call us at 888-512-9802

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