THE BRAIN AND DEPENDENCE:
UNDERSTANDING HOW ALCOHOL AND OPIOIDS MAY AFFECT THE BRAIN
Brain regions associated with dependence1
Dependence is thought to affect both the cortex and the limbic system.This image is for illustrative purposes only.
Opioid and alcohol dependence are chronic, relapsing brain diseases that affect both the brain’s cortex and limbic system. Addiction can be devastating both psychologically and physically. While counseling can help patients work through the psychological aspects of dependence, medication may help address the physical changes in the brain.1
The Brain and Pleasure
The limbic system of the brain rewards us for doing life-sustaining activities by releasing endogenous opioids, for example beta endorphins, that attach to opioid receptors in the brain and stimulate the dopamine reward system.2-4 Questions remain about the endogenous opioid system as to the relationship between various opioid peptides and opioid receptors. Endogenous opioids can bind with mu (µ), delta (δ), and kappa (ϰ) opioid receptors.5
The brain and alcohol use
Drinking alcohol may cause an increased release of endogenous endorphins, which can bind to opioid receptors and stimulate the dopamine reward system. For some people, this increased dopamine release can cause them to seek out this feeling again and again.4
The brain and opioid use
Heroin and prescription pain relievers are exogenous opioids. When they bind to mu opioid receptors in the brain, the resulting dopamine release can be 2–10 times greater than the dopamine release associated with natural pleasures. This excess of dopamine has a powerful reinforcing effect on the brain, which is why opioids have a high potential for abuse.1,6
The brain and chronic opioid use
Tolerance develops with chronic opioid use6
- With repeated exposure, opioid receptors become less responsive to opioid stimulation.
- More opioid is needed to stimulate the reward system to release the same amount of dopamine and produce the same amount of pleasure as before.
- When an individual who is physically dependent on opioids suddenly stops using, they experience withdrawal symptoms.
VIVITROL is not right for everyone. There are significant risks from VIVITROL treatment, including risk of opioid overdose, injection site reactions and sudden opioid withdrawal.
See Important Safety Information below. Discuss all benefits and risks with your patients.
See Prescribing Information. Review Medication Guide with your patients.