(HealthNewsDigest.com) - Great Neck, NY, August 24, 2016 - Despite the broad reach of opioid addiction into every segment of the American population and its heartbreaking effects on individuals and families, most people know and understand little about how opioids wreak havoc on the brain and why the cycle of abuse is so hard to break. In 2014, almost 2.5 million Americans suffered from substance abuse disorders involving opioids, about 80% of them involving misuse and abuse of prescription pain relievers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine, and fentanyl, and about 20% involving the illegal drug, heroin.1 "Understanding how opioids change the brain helps us understand why it is so challenging for an addict to simply stop using drugs," says neurologist and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Russell Surasky with Surasky Neurological Center for Addiction. "Addiction is not a moral failing. It is a complex, chronic disease with a lifelong risk of relapse. Fortunately, as we have developed an understanding of how opioids affect the brain, we have seen the introduction of treatments that can reverse the neurological damage and support a permanent recovery."

Dr. Surasky offers the following tips to help people understand more about opioids and what they do to the brain: What are opioids?

The term "opioid" is generally used to refer to both drugs derived from the opium poppy, such as morphine, codeine, and heroin, and synthetic drugs that produce similar narcotic effects such as Oxycodone and Hydrocodone more popularly known as Percocet and Vicodin. Opiate receptors are found in the brain and spinal cord. They significantly reduce the sensation of pain but also play an enormous role in the way we feel mentally and emotionally. They cause an overall feeling of "well-being". They significantly reduce symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

Opiates also cause negative symptoms including drowsiness, nausea and constipation. The human body naturally produces its own substances ("endogenous opioids") that act in similar ways to modulate pain and also regulate life-sustaining functions such as the need for food, water, and sex. Endogenous opioids trigger the brain's reward center to produce feelings of pleasure when these vital needs are satisfied. "Opioid drugs stimulate the reward system just as endogenous opioids do," says Dr. Surasky. "They produce a euphoric effect and over time rewire the brain to pursue that effect as it does a basic life need, making the individual as powerless to resist the impulse to take more drugs as he or she is to resist the need for food and water."

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