Opiate abuse correlates with significant increases in depression, and depression increases a person’s risk of opiate addiction as a tool for self-medicating.
Many of the risk factors for addiction and depression are similar and use of opiate medications exceeding 90 days can result in the manifestation of behaviors linked to risk factors for addiction like depression, anxiety, and social isolation.
Mood Changes Relating To Opiates And Opiate Addiction
Opiates have the effect of slowing neural activity in the brain, so the longer an opiate is used, the more depressed this activity can become. Mood changes like depression or a “flat” emotional state become increasingly common with longer duration of use.
Recent studies examining the effects of opiates on the mental health of individuals with no prior history of depression indicated a strong correlation between the use of opiates for longer than 90 days and depression. Opiate medications work on opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors are part of the body’s natural pain management system.
Normally, when being exerted, the body releases endorphins, or endogenous morphine, a neurotransmitter that attaches to opioid receptors located in the brain, along the central nervous system, and in the gut. When this occurs, the body’s pain threshold is increased, reducing an individual’s perception to pain. With an opiate medication, which has an analgesic effect that is many times higher than what occurs naturally, pain is significantly reduced.
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The body associates this change with a positive life-sustaining event and releases dopamine, from the part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, or “pleasure center.” The release of dopamine is normally triggered when we eat good food, go for a run, drink water, or have sex – actions associated with survival. The result is that satiated or contented and even euphoric feeling after you’ve ingested your favorite comfort food.
This domino effect triggers not only a significantly increased risk of addiction, but as the body becomes sensitized to the opiate medication, it grows increasingly dependent on use of the drug for the dopamine response, one of the body’s natural mood enhancers. These effects are felt within the first 90 days of use, leading to a significant increase in depression.
The Depressed Brain And Opiates
Those individuals who suffer from opiate addiction and with a history of depression experience a significant increase in risk of major depressive episodes, high rate of relapse, and thoughts of suicide or suicidal actions.
Someone who has never abused a substance previously, but who suffers co-occurring depression while on opiate medications is far more likely to begin self-medicating for the depression, increasing their exposure and vulnerability to opiate addiction. Recent studies have urged medical professionals to consider the risk benefit for opiate medications and depression risk.
Common Mood-Related Side Effects Of Opiates
Depression, negative thoughts or actions, fatigue, anxiety, feeling of impending doom, isolation, and suicidal thoughts or actions are some of the possible mood-related side effects of opiate use. Understanding the potential risk ahead of being prescribed opiate medications is one way to prevent the increased vulnerability to these mental disorders.
Regardless of whether or not someone has a history of depression, when someone begins using illicit opiates or abusing a prescribed substance, they may unwittingly enter into a co-dependent relationship with the drug, taking it to subdue the pain associated with their mental state, while also fueling the negative impacts of the substance on their mental health.
A history of chronic severe pain, often managed by opiates, may also be coupled with an occurrence of severe depression compounded by the medical condition. Someone who is already suffering from a condition that leaves them feeling hopeless or with anxiety, may see these symptoms exacerbated by the drug over time, potentially leading to self-medicating to relieve these symptoms.
Consequences Of Opiate Addiction And Depression
When someone becomes addicted to an opiate, they exhibit many of the same symptoms including isolation from friends and family, loss of interests in hobbies or work, and the physical changes that make it difficult to function within society.
Consequences from opiate addiction can mean loss of custody of children, job loss, loss of friends, and more. Each of these consequences can contribute to a person’s deteriorating mental state, leaving them feeling hopeless, anxious, and depressed.
Risk Factors For Both Opiate Addiction And Depression
The risk factors for both opiate addiction and depression are cyclical. Where a history of mental health issues exists, opiate use can exacerbate those symptoms, increasing risk of abuse of the substance. At the same time, a person without a history of depression, is likely to experience depression after just 90 days on an opiate medication. Risk and severity of the depression increase with continued use. Abuse may result as a way to self-medicate the depression.
Likewise, a genetic predisposition toward addiction, environmental factors, chronic pain, social isolation, or loss of a job, relationship, or modes of enjoyment can both be exacerbated, or in some case, caused by use of opiates.
Risk Factors for Opiate Addiction and Depression:
- History of existing mental disorder
- History of chronic pain
- Genetic predisposition toward addiction
- Environmental factors
- Social isolation
- Loss of job, relationships, or hobby
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