During a Senate hearing earlier in the year, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander managed to get to the heart of a complicated question: Why are we prescribing mostly opioids to fix opioid addiction? The answer Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, gave was a rather softball answer, that scientists are hard at work coming up with another solution. But the sad truth is, the brain likes opioids, and it is hard to make it stop liking opioids. Once the opioids hit the brain’s receptors, it not only relieves pain and provides good feelings with it, it also disrupts the way the brain normally works, and this disruption makes it even more stand-out in the brain. So, for the time being, many people get stuck taking methadone and buprenorphine, two opioids, to wean the brain off of other opioids, which has often just led to new addictions being created.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill earlier this year, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander asked an important question: Why is most of the treatment for opioid addiction more opioids?
In response, Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, did their best to assure the senator – and thus the nation – that scientists are hard at work developing treatments for addicts that are not just more of the same.
But even with a number of research projects to develop alternatives to opioids, the reality is that our brains don’t let go of an opioid addiction easily, if at all.
It’s not just that your brain likes opioids – whether it’s prescription pain relievers, heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl – and responds to them with feelings of euphoria and warmth, helping you overcome pain. Opioids disrupt the normal functioning of your brain, making it harder for people to quit and more vulnerable to relapse.