Neuroscience 101: Understanding Opioid Addiction and How Chiropractic Can Help

Dynamic Chiropractic | January 23, 2019

Dynamic Chiropractic on how chiropractic can help with opioid addiction.

Opioids now account for nearly two-thirds of all overdose-related deaths in the U.S. This insidious bane is no respecter of gender, age, race or ethnicity, with nearly all categories experiencing increases. Since 2015, overdose deaths from heroin are up 19.5 percent, prescription opioids 10.6 percent; and in a disturbing rise, death rates from synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) have risen by more than 100 percent.1

Over 80 percent of heroin addicts report first abusing prescription narcotics for pain relief, underlying the moral imperative for the chiropractic profession to educate the general population and medical profession on the role chiropractic care should play in the fight against opioid addiction. (I won’t rehash the evidence of chiropractic efficacy in treating these conditions, as it is readily available.)

The Neuroscience of Opioid Addiction

Our current understanding is that the rewarding and addictive properties of opiate drugs are mediated by dopamine (DA) neurotransmission in the mesolimbic system. These DA neurons originate in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the mid-brain and project to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) in the ventral striatum.

ventral tagmental area – Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Increased levels of DA are associated with increased reward.2 These levels increase with acute consumption of drugs of abuse, providing a reinforcing stimulus for further use.3-4 During withdrawal, DA neurons become hypoactive while GABA neurons become hyperactive.5-8 Both contribute to a reduction in dopamine neurotransmitter release that is theorized to be the primary driver of withdrawal and relapse.9

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