Overcoming the Psychological Downfall of Opiate Addiction: How Rehab Can Help

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Opiate addiction is one of the most powerful to overcome.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates between 26 and 36 million people worldwide struggle with opiate addiction.  In light of such a staggering statistic, finding help for this health crisis is imperative.  Drug addiction is characterized by physical, mental, emotional and spiritual maladies.  Doctors offer pharmacological help to manage physical issues surrounding opiate addiction.  However, maintaining recovery requires treatment of the mental, emotional and spiritual maladies driving addiction.

The Nature of Addiction

Earlier in our history, addiction was thought to be a moral deficit or mental weakness.  After years of study, addiction is understood as a health problem requiring treatment.  With advancing technology, scientists are able to look at the brain with imaging systems like PET scans and MRIs.  It has been noted that addicts have significant differences in the frontal cortex and striatum.  The frontal cortex is the brain’s problem-solving center, while the striatum regulates the production of dopamine, the chemical that signals pleasure.

The Brain and Addiction

Psychological Downfall of Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction damages the brain, leading to emotional issues.

Given the indisputable fact that an addict’s brain is wired differently, it makes sense that specific therapy is required to overcome the mental processes that spur addictive behaviors.  Using drugs begins with a thought.  A message is sent from the pleasure center of the brain to the frontal lobe promoting the idea that getting high would feel good.  From there, addicts often engage in obsessive thinking, which leads to behaviors to quiet the urge for drugs.

Opiates Are Pain Relievers

Many people become addicted to opiates due to an initial illness or injury.  Doctors often prescribe drugs like codeine, oxycodone or Percocet after surgical procedures.  If used for a length of time, or used in a manner other than in which they are prescribed, addiction can occur.  Unfortunately, for some patients, tapering off opiates and kicking the physical addiction is not enough.  These drugs illicit powerful psychological cravings.  In the face of ongoing pain management issues, stopping opiates can feel like an impossible task.

Challenges in Finding Emotional Release

People struggling with opiate addiction do not generally get clean and skip happily into a trouble-free existence.  Finding positive coping strategies for mental and emotional health can difficult since this is a new behavior.  Normally, when problems arise, relief is found in the drug.  In absence of opiates, relief has to come from other sources, which are significantly less satisfying in the early days of recovery.  For example, if an addict has experienced an argument with a loved one, going for a jog will produce endorphins and dopamine.  However, these chemicals are produced at a much lower rate than taking a shot of heroin.

Mental and Emotional Illnesses Accompanying Opiate Addiction

Often, people who begin using opiates are self-medicating underlying mental and emotional illnesses.  In other circumstances, these issues develop upon extended use of opiates.  Opiates damage various areas of the brain and can create lasting mental health issues, as well.  The following are some mental illnesses common to opiate addicts:

Should Overcoming Opiate Addiction Take 50 Steps?

Benefits of Rehab in the Struggle for Opiate Freedom

Even in light of physical freedom from opiate addiction, stopping for good is extremely difficult for addicts.  In fact, complete freedom from opiate addiction without relapse is estimated at less than 20%.  In short, even with successful treatment, the psychological effects of opiate abuse are ongoing and require treatment for continued cessation.  Seeking formal rehabilitation offers some of the following benefits:

  • Strategies for fighting cravings
  • Education to recognize patterns of behavior
  • Behavioral therapy to change instilled habits
  • Emotional therapy to treat underlying issues
  • Establishing a support group
  • Connections to others with similar issues

Setting the Stage for Recovery

Rehabilitation, whether out-patient or in-patient, sets the stage for ongoing recovery.  Through treatment, patients begin to uncover thought patterns and deep seated emotional issues that contribute to addiction.  Awareness, strategies for new behaviors and support can be found in structured rehabilitation with qualified personnel.  To fight opiate addiction and stay clean, rehab can help overcome the psychological downfall of addiction.


Fowler, J., Volkow, N., Kassed, C. & Chang, N. (2007). Imaging the addicted human brain. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice. 3(2). 4-16. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851068/

Kosten, T. & George, T. (2002). The neurobiology of opioid dependence:  Implications for treatment.  Addiction Science & Clinical Practice. 1(1). 13-20. Retrieved from:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851054/

NIH. (2016). Misuse of prescription drugs. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/opioids/what-are-possible-consequences-opioid-use-abuse

Volkow, N. (2012). America’s addiction to opioids:  Heroin and prescription drug abuse. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse

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