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Opiate Abuse And Addiction Linked To Mood Disorders And Anxiety

It is a troubling situation when you are feeling the weight of depression and/or anxiety, and also suffering with an addiction to opiates. This is not an unusual set of circumstances that some, possibly even many people find themselves saddled with. I know for me, my depression and anxiety actually got worse as my addiction became more and more out of control and I began using more and more pills. You may have read a previous blog article where I discuss the link between prolonged opiate-abuse and it worsening depression. This post has some similarities although we are looking at how the predisposition of a mood or anxiety disorder actually exposes someone to abuse opiates in the first place.

Research from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that mood and anxiety disorders are highly associated with non-medical prescription opioid use. Meaning that there is a link between those with mental illness and subsequently self-medicating or abusing opiates as either a coping mechanism or for some other reason.

The following extract provides further analysis on what the researchers found during their study:

“Lifetime non-medical prescription opioid use was associated with the incidence of any mood disorder, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and all anxiety disorders. Non-medical opioid-use disorder due to non-medical prescription opioid use was associated with any mood disorder, any anxiety disorder, as well as with several incident mood disorders and anxiety disorders,” said Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, lead author of the study and an associate scientist with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health. “However, there is also evidence that the association works the other way too. Increased risk of incident opioid disorder due to non-medical use occurred among study participants with baseline mood disorders, major depressive disorder, dysthymia and panic disorder, reinforcing our finding that participants with mood disorders might use opioids non-medically to alleviate their mood symptoms. Early identification and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders might reduce the risk for self-medication with prescription opioids and the risk of future development of an opioid-use disorder.”

From my own research, much of the literature regarding how opiates affect the brain deals with a chemical in the brain responsible for “reward” – called dopamine. When we eat chocolate, exercise, or do something exhilarating there are fine chemical processes taking place in our brain chemistry – including the release of dopamine – the brain’s reward chemical. Unfortunately, when someone takes opiates, the same process occurs, a very concentrated release of the reward-chemical dopamine occurs in the brain, making us feel good, and this is just one reason why the addictive properties of opiates are so powerful. Taking in the substance, we realise and identify with the dopamine release and as addicts, we begin to want to repeat the reward cycle and so begins the downward spiral of addiction, ever-chasing that feel-good release.

I believe this to be a direct link to why I eventually became addicted to abusing opiates, because my anxiety and depression were forces against me – I looked for a way to try and crush those forces, and opiates initially helped do this due to the way in which it alters our brain chemistry. The problem though is, overtime it actually makes things worse, taking everything from you until you are left with nothing. And this is why recovery is so important, to get that second chance to live your life fully again.


  1. http://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2011/martins-opioids.html

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