Opioid dependence and addiction are most appropriately understood as chronic medical disorders, like hypertension and diabetes. As with these other disorders, there are genetic and environmental risk factors for the illness and changes in the body as a result of these illnesses.
With addiction, the effect of a drug on the reward centers is dependent upon the person’s genetic makeup, how the nervous system has developed since childhood and the current state of the nervous system at the time of use. With the repeated experience of the drug, the nervous system adapts biochemically to the presence of the drug and the reward and safety circuits of the brain begin to be trained that the drug is necessary for survival.
These circuits become strengthened and more automatic with repetition. These changes then lead to both physical dependence and addiction. As with those other diseases, a simple cure for drug addiction is unlikely, and relapses can be expected; but long- term treatment can limit the disease’s adverse effects and improve the patient’s day-to-day functioning.
Pharmacological interventions for opioid addiction are one part of the treatment; however, given the complex biological, psychological, and social aspects of the disease, they must be accompanied by appropriate psychosocial treatments.
Dr. Sherif Elasyouty is aware of the neurobiological basis of opioid dependence and looks forward to assisting each patient in helping to reverse the effects of these drugs on the patient’s brain and on their lives.