Drugs for Physical and Emotional Pain Change Your Brain

By Dr. Mercola

Prescriptions for opioid painkillers have risen by a staggering 300 percent over the past 10 years.1 This drastic increase in the number of opioid prescriptions written and dispensed is thought to play a major role in the global problem of addiction to opioids such as heroin, morphine, and prescription pain relievers.

In the U.S. alone, 2.1 million people suffer from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, while an estimated 467,000 are addicted to heroin.2 Prescription pain relievers are considered a “gateway drug” to heroin. Over the past five years, heroin deaths have increased by 45 percent.

This increase is blamed on the rise of addictive prescription drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, codeine, and Fentora, all of which are opioids. (The reason for the resurgence of heroin is in large part due to it being less expensive and, sometimes, easier to obtain, than its prescription counterparts).

Despite the prevalence of the problem, why some people become addicted and others do not remains a mystery. It’s known, however, that such drugs lead to neuroplastic changes in animals when taken long term, and now new research shows they also occur in humans, even after short-term use.

One Month of Morphine May Change Your Brain

In a study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, people with chronic low back pain received either morphine or a placebo daily for one month. Both groups experienced similar reductions in pain, but there was a major difference among those taking morphine — changes in the brain.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans showed the patients taking morphine had a 3 percent reduction in gray matter volume over the course of the study. The reductions occurred in regions of the brain that regulate emotions, cravings and pain response.3

Further, the morphine

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