Opiate Addiction & Recalibrating the Brain’s Reward System

The reward system of a person’s brain while they are in active opiate addiction is similar to an intense roller coaster ride. When the user takes opiates, they peak during the high and fall after the effects wear off. After prolonged use, the peak isn’t as high, and the low spots seem to go lower than before. This leads the user to increase the dose and/or frequency with which they take opiates.

This heightened dependence on opiates leads to the individual losing the ability to stimulate the brain’s reward system with other life activities. Eating a good meal, watching a good movie, and even hanging out with friends or loved ones doesn’t provide the same level of happiness for an individual who is abusing opiates as it does for a substance free healthy person. All aspects of life, outside of drugs, start to lose value as the addiction progresses.

This impact on the activity of the brain’s reward system lingers into sobriety. Studies have found those those who are still detoxing and those who have been clean for 1-2 weeks from opiates still show a heightened reaction within the brain’s reward system to images that relate to opiate abuse (such as pills). These individuals also showed a declined response from the brains reward system in such things that would typically stimulate happiness like tasty food or people having fun. The same studies found that individuals who were 2-3 months removed from active opiate addiction showed a lesser response from the brain’s reward system when showed drug related images and a near normal response to images that people typically associate with happiness.

This further strengthens the case for residential treatment as the route to long-term sobriety. Detoxing from the substance only removes the drug safely from your body. For the first month or two, the brain still performs similar to the way it did in active addiction. The time to fully heal, and fully enjoy life again, requires a timeframe of sobriety that is much easier to attain with residential treatment than it is by simply detoxing.

Harmony Foundation offers both men’s residential treatment and women’s residential treatment, as well as an Aftercare Program for those who complete our Residential or Family Programs. Both programs offer premier addiction treatment services that will help ensure that your recovery, and outlook on life, are successful.