Opioid Addiction: Tolerance vs. Addiction

Opioids such as heroin, oxycodone, morphine, codeine, or fentanyl, if misused for long periods of time, will cause physical alterations to the brain. Because areas of the brain are no longer normal or healthy in people addicted to opioids, scientists consider opioid addiction a disease. But just like cancer, meningitis, or diabetes, opioid addiction is treatable.

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When a person experiences a satisfying experience like exercising, running or eating a favorite food, the brain produces a chemical called dopamine which causes the feeling of pleasure and satisfaction.

The healthy body regulates dopamine production so that feelings of extreme happiness or extreme sadness are avoided, and balance is maintained.

Opioids interfere with and interrupt the body’s normal production of dopamine and cause extremely high levels of dopamine to be released.

This causes the euphoria, or “high”, that opioid users desire. Over time, the brain is less easily tricked into producing high levels of dopamine, so the person needs more and more opioids to obtain the same results.

This is called tolerance.

The body learns to tolerate the opioid over time, and increasingly higher doses are needed to get the same effect.

Opioid Addiction

Tolerance is not the same as addiction. At this point, gradual weaning off the opioid use could be done.

The body is still capable of producing dopamine in appropriate levels.

However, with the continued use of large quantities of opioids, the brain adapts and changes and can no longer produce appropriate levels of dopamine without the opioids.

The physical changes in the brain cause the person to compulsively and repeatedly seek and use opioids just to feel normal.

This is called addiction.

Treatment of opioid addiction can take a long time, up to a year or more. Each person is unique and no estimates for recovery time can be made accurately.

Misuse of opioids over a long period of time is the cause of the addiction and it will take time to change the behavior and heal the brain.

How Can You Tell if You’re Addicted?

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states that there are two main symptoms that will help you determine if you’re addicted.

The first is that if you have tried to stop and cannot stay stopped, you are probably addicted. Usually, this occurs after a big consequence, for example, a divorce, DWI, car wreck, or trouble at work.

After these consequences, we emerge remorseful with a strong resolution to never use again. But then we use again.

The second symptom is that when you start using, you do way more than you intended to do. You cannot control the amount you take.

The big book says that if either of these occurs, you are probably an addict or alcoholic. Only a spiritual experience will solve your addiction problem and nothing else will be able to solve the problem of drinking.

Get Help Today!

If you need help with opioids or other mind-altering substances, then call Renewal Lodge to determine which program is right for you.

We have 30, 60, 90-day programs for you. Or call our admissions line.

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Dear Renewal Lodge Visitors,

My name is John Bruna, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Recovery® Institute, and more importantly, a grateful member of the recovery community. I am incredibly fortunate to have found my recovery in 1984. Of course, I did not achieve continuous recovery through willpower or my own efforts, but through the guidance and caring support of countless others that selflessly taught me how to live through the 12 Steps.

My journey of recovery brought this once homeless, shame-based, traumatized, insecure young man to a life far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I discovered self-worth, the joy of helping others, the gifts of parenting and grandparenting, and most importantly the ability to live a meaningful and purposeful life with integrity.

One of the greatest gifts of recovery is that I have the opportunity to give back and help others discover their self-worth, dignity, and the skills to fully live lives that they find truly meaningful. This is the inspiration for developing the skills of Mindfulness in Recovery® (MIR) to meet the needs of new generations struggling with alcohol and other substance use disorders. MIR is a set of evidence-based skills designed to help people fully integrate their tools of recovery in ways that are personalized, practical, and in alignment with their deepest values.

While we train counselors and therapists throughout the United States and abroad, I personally have chosen to work directly with the amazing team and clients at Renewal Lodge to develop the model MIR 12-step program for the nation. I choose Renewal Lodge because of the vision of its mission and the dedication of its team. Renewal Lodge is an extremely rare environment in which the staff embodies the very mindfulness and 12-step practices and skills they offer their clients. The results have been beyond my expectations. It is an honor to be here and I treasure my personal time with every client I meet.

With Gratitude,

John Bruna
John Bruna
Director of Mindfulness
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