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How Opioids Change Your Brain

Opioid addiction is a chronic problem in the United States, and many people become addicted to these prescription painkillers

Opioid addiction is a chronic disease that affects an estimated 2 million Americans. In the late 1990s, prescription pain medication use increased, leading to a higher instance of overdose and misuse. In fact, 20%-29% of people who take prescription opioids for chronic pain misuse their prescription, and many of them develop an opioid use disorder. 

Opioids change the chemistry of your brain and lead to drug tolerance, which means you need a higher dose of medication to get the same effect. Here at The Rose Center for Integrative Health near The Loop in Chicago, Dr. Glenn Harrison and his experienced health care team offer effective opioid reduction therapies so you can learn to live an opioid-free life. 

Opioids are highly addictive, and they affect your brain — so even if you don’t want to take them any longer, you may not have complete control over your ability to stop. Here’s what you need to know about how opioids change your brain. 

How opioids work

Opioids are a class of drugs derived from opium, a chemical that naturally occurs in poppy plants and poppy seeds. Typically, you take opioids to relieve pain; they also produce a calming effect and can even make you feel happy or euphoric. 

Opioids mimic the effects of naturally occurring endorphins in your body. Endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers. When opioids interact with a specific receptor in your brain, they can relieve your pain and make you feel better. 

Opioids also slow your breathing and produce an antidepressant effect. These types of drugs target your brain’s reward system by flooding it with dopamine — a neurotransmitter that regulates emotion, feelings of pleasure, and motivation. When this system in your brain is overstimulated by the opioids, it produces euphoric effects and teaches you to repeat this behavior.

In other words, opioids trick your brain into thinking that you feel good and that you need more of the substance that makes you feel that way. This is one of the ways so many people become addicted to opioids and find it so difficult to recover. 

Your body builds tolerance to opioids

Because of the way opioids affect your brain, after prolonged use, your body slows production of its own neurotransmitters, endorphins, and other natural painkillers. As a result, you become less capable of relieving pain naturally and you need more opioids to produce the same effect. As your body builds an increased tolerance to the painkillers, you continue to need a higher dosage of your prescription, which often leads to abuse.

Taking more opioids to reduce your pain means avoiding the withdrawal symptoms you may feel when you don’t take your pain meds. When you stop taking opiods, or try to, you might experience withdrawal symptoms that include:

When you get to the point of needing more and more medication to get through your day, the compassionate team at The Rose Center for Integrative Health can help you take steps to recover. 

Reversing the effects of opioids on your brain

When you struggle to overcome opioid dependence, you also struggle to overcome the effects of the drug on your brain, which is not an easy task. We customize a treatment plan based on your individual needs to help you break the hold of opioids — prescription or otherwise.

Our opioid reduction therapies provide access to safe, natural medications, including cannabis therapy, that can help you stay comfortable through withdrawal symptoms so you can finally break free of your opioid addiction. 


To take the first step toward an opioid-free life, give us a call at 872-204-3891, or book an appointment online today.

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