Can Opioid Abuse Cause Brain Damage?

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Can Opioid Abuse Cause Brain Damage?

Opioid abuse can have a number of lasting health complications including brain damage. This is especially true if a person experiences an opioid overdose. Seeking treatment for opioid abuse and addiction is the best way to prevent permanent damage to the brain and other health conditions.


Opioids are common drugs used to treat moderate to severe pain. Many opioids are available only through prescription; however, there are illicit opioids that are sold on the street for recreational use. Regardless of how they are obtained, opioids used in any way other than what is suggested or prescribed can be dangerous and even deadly. Opioid abuse can drastically increase a person’s chance of overdose, which can ultimately result in permanent health complications – such as brain damage – and even death.

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid abuse or addiction, Vertava Health of Ohio has several addiction treatment options for adults and young adults. Our multi-level treatment approach ensures that each patient receives the best program of recovery for his or her needs.

How Do Opioids Affect The Brain?

Opioids work by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors are responsible for managing and relieving pain throughout the body. By taking an opioid, the body’s own natural opioids are enhanced and more pain relief is produced.

Opioid drugs also impact certain neurotransmitters like dopamine by increasing their production. These neurotransmitters play a large role in the brain’s reward center and are largely in charge of producing feelings of well-being and pleasure. When a person takes opioids – especially in larger quantities – the brain releases more of these feel-good sensations. The euphoric effects of opioids are the primary reason why these drugs are so addictive.

If a person continues to use opioids over an extended period of time, he or she will likely build up a tolerance to the drug. This means that more of the substance is needed to experience the same effects. As a result, many people will increase their dosage in an attempt to experience the initial high. Unfortunately, this is how individuals become dependent and addicted to opioids.

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How Opioid Overdose Can Cause Brain Damage

While using opioids exactly as prescribed for a short period of time is considered safe and effective at pain management, abusing opioids can be incredibly dangerous. One of the most severe consequences of opioid abuse is the risk of overdose. Overdosing on opioids can have life-altering consequences including permanent brain damage.

Opioids work as central nervous system (CNS) depressants, meaning they slow down the body and brain. The heart and breath are part of the CNS, so these functions are directly impacted by opioids. When the heart and breath slow down too much, the body can cease to breathe on its own. This can result in hypoxic brain injury, or when the brain does not receive enough oxygen or even anoxic brain injury, or when the brain receives no oxygen at all.

When a person sustains hypoxic or anoxic brain injury as a result of opioid overdose, he or she may also experience:

  • concentration problems
  • short-term memory loss
  • balance and coordination problems
  • loss of hearing or vision
  • depression
  • confusion
  • irritability
  • trouble reading or writing
  • difficulty communicating
  • trouble doing once-familiar things

The longer a person’s brain goes without oxygen, the more severe the brain damage will be. When the brain is deprived of oxygen for as little as three minutes a person can experience permanent brain damage.

Symptoms Of Opioid Overdose

Knowing the symptoms of an opioid overdose can help to prevent serious side effects like permanent brain damage and even death. If you believe someone is suffering from an opioid overdose, seek medical help immediately.

Symptoms of an opioid overdose may include:

  • slow or shallow breathing
  • clammy skin
  • pinpoint pupils
  • lips and/or nails that are blue
  • confusion
  • loss of consciousness

The sooner a person gets help for an opioid overdose, the more likely he or she is to recover.

Treatment Options For Opioid Abuse And Addiction

Opioid abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous and put individuals at risk for overdose and even death. The sooner a person seeks treatment for opioid addiction, the better the chance he or she has at making a full recovery and preventing potentially life-threatening side effects.

Vertava Health of Ohio is a state-of-the-art rehab facility located in Ohio that offers customized addiction treatment tailored to each patient’s needs. From detox programs to dual diagnosis treatment, Vertava Health of Ohio provides a comprehensive approach to addiction recovery and evidence-based treatment methods.

To learn more about how opioid abuse can cause brain damage, contact one of our dedicated treatment specialists today.


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(888) 481-7821

For Immediate Treatment Help Call:
(888) 481-7821