Let’s discuss the science behind what is happening to the brain when opioids are taken regularly and then what happens with the drug is taken away.
When opioids enter your system, they bond with receptors and a rush of dopamine is released to the body. This is the high felt by taking opioids. After long-term usage, those receptors need higher doses to feel the same dopamine rush.
When someone abstains from opioid use for an amount of time, whether on purpose or due to not being able to get access to what they usually take (pills, heroin, fentanyl, etc.), the tolerance that was built is no longer there. Many times when one experiences an overdose, it’s because they took the amount they were taking before they stopped and their body can no longer handle that amount. Unfortunately, this can have fatal consequences.
After months or years of addiction to opioids or illicit drugs, the chemical makeup of the brain is altered. That means it’s not as simple as “deciding” to quit. The brain of someone suffering opioid use disorder has a dependence caused by changes in the brain regions responsible for regulation, impulse control, and motivational functions. Their ability to make decisions is impaired. Likewise, they may seem less motivated to make a change because they are in survival mode to obtain the drug that will prevent them from getting sick.
When stopping the use of prescribed or illicit opioids, there are physical symptoms that will not stop until cravings are fulfilled: