Opioid Addiction & Mental Health: What’s The Connection?

Both opioid addiction & mental health are complexly intertwined. We can’t draw a line and tell you where one begins or where the other ends. These two share a connection so strong that we cannot break it. However, we can use it. When we pull one string to the good side, the other follows. That’s why our experts at Pennsylvania substance abuse treatment programs make great efforts to understand and explain this connection.

Opioid addiction & mental health

Opioids alleviate pain and provide happiness by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain. On the other hand, they may cause physical dependency and addiction. Now, as you see, we cannot even define opioids without mentioning a section on mental health. Pain management is an important part of keeping your mental health stable. On the other hand, happiness is the goal and unspoken part of the definition of mental health.

When a person is addicted to opioids, mental health is disrupted. But, disruption of mental health also can lead to addiction to opioids. As you see, the question of opioid addiction and mental health is similar to the question about chicken and egg. What is older? No one can tell for sure.

man abusing opioids
What is older – human despair or opioid addiction?

How are painkillers related to mental health disorders?

Pain relievers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine fall under the category of opioids. But, it’s important to note that there are street narcotics like heroin as well. Opioid addiction is a chronic disease defined by the inability to control opioid use despite distressing effects. According to our experts at the drug rehab center Pennsylvania, opioid addiction has been linked to a number of psychological problems, such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • PTSD
  • hallucinations and delusions
  • decrease in cognitive function
  • suicide

Depression and anxiety

Being in pain is a very active state of the brain. There are a lot of regions that secrete excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate, to make sure that the body answers to the stimuli as soon as possible. In a way, opioid painkillers work by shutting down the secretions of those neurotransmitters and promoting inhibitory response. They also promote the unnatural state of ecstasy, which is great until it stops.

Opioids affect a very important section of the brain. The reward center, even if it doesn’t seem quite important at first glance, is a major center that dictates the behavioral patterns of every individual. So, every substance that has an effect on a reward center, plays a major role in a person’s behavior and mental health.

Brain scan
Substances that have an impact on the reward center in the brain have an impact on a person’s behavior.

The vicious circle is hard to get out of

There is a circulatory connection between depression and anxiety with opioid abuse. Due to their effect on the reward center and other receptors of neurotransmitters, opioids slowly tend to cause tolerance, then physical addiction, and finally psychological addiction. These addiction cycles make depression and anxiety deeper. So, people that started to use opioids as a way to cope with depression (because they cause ecstasy) actually make their depression worse. It’s even more difficult considering the fact that withdrawal syndrome occurs when they attempt to quit, creating a whole new level of misery.


According to the experience of our experts at inpatient drug and alcohol treatment centers in PA, there is a certain increase in risk for opioid abuse in people that struggle with PTSD. A lot of them suffer from chronic pain, sleep disturbances, and emotional disbalance as well. So, they take opioids in a desperate attempt to cope with these symptoms. 

However, these effects can be good only for short periods. Over time, opioids actually worsen all of the main symptoms of PTSD. Physical symptoms of addiction follow. At a certain point, withdrawal syndrome makes their life a living hell. PTSD hits harder than ever, and on top of that, all the problems that come with addictions come in full force. That is why it’s important that people with PTSD and opioid addiction seek help in specialized dual diagnosis treatment centers Pennsylvania. A proper method is crucial for making a step toward recovery.

soldiers learning about opioids addiction & mental health
Opioid addiction & mental health in soldiers have a common ground – PTSD.

Now you see it…

Hallucinations are perceptual experiences that occur without proper external stimuli. The particular processes through which opioid addiction may cause hallucinations to remain unclear and may differ from person to person. However, there are certain hypotheses. Opioid medicines upset the equilibrium of neurotransmitters. Hallucinations result if the normal operation of several brain areaIt’s even more difficult considering the fact that withdrawal syndrome occurs when they attempt to quit, creating a whole new level of misery.s, especially those responsible for sensory processing, is disturbed.

Anxiety, agitation, and sleep difficulties are just some of the physical and psychological symptoms that may result from abruptly stopping or reducing opioid usage after long-term use. Hallucinations are a potential side effect of very intense withdrawal symptoms.  Additionally, the use of many drugs, or polydrug use, may increase the likelihood of hallucinations and is a problem for many people who suffer from opioid addiction. Opioid addicts who engage in polysubstance abuse are at increased risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations.

Decrease in cognitive functions

There are a number of ways in which long-term opiate usage might impair mental acuity. Depression of the central nervous system (CNS) occurs as a result of the action of opioids on the CNS, which reduces the activity of nerve cells. Decreased alertness, attention, and focus might impede cognitive function due to this CNS depression. Opioids may also cause sleep disorders that interfere with cognitive performance.

Opioids may throw off the brain’s chemical messengers, causing communication problems. Learning and memory are only two of the cognitive processes that might be disrupted in this way. Neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine play crucial roles in cognitive function. As our experts at IOP Pennsylvania say, chronic opioid usage may affect their release and absorption.

A picture of a head
Opioids influence neurotransmitters that play a major role in the brain.

The brain is changing

Changes in brain structure may occur as a result of opioid abuse. Long-term opioid abuse can cause brain shrinkage. This is especially significant in areas related to cognitive processes like the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. Deficits in executive processes including decision-making, impulse control, and problem-solving may emerge from these anatomical alterations.

Opioid addiction is often accompanied by other mental health issues. We mentioned depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, every one of them has the potential to adversely affect a person’s ability to think clearly. It’s especially difficult to think clearly and make good judgments when a person is struggling with both opioid addiction and a mental health problem.

It impacts the whole way of life

Opioid addiction may have indirect consequences on cognitive function by interfering with a person’s career, education, and social relationships, all of which are part of a healthy lifestyle. We’ve seen a lot of this effect on our patients in partial hospitalization program rehab Pennsylvania. Stress, anxiety, and depression may all have an effect on cognitive function, and can be exacerbated by financial troubles, strained relationships, and other repercussions of opiate addiction.

Depending on variables including length and dose of opioid usage, genetics, and other individual characteristics, the amount and severity of cognitive deficits associated with opioid addiction may vary widely across people. Yet, research shows that long-term opioid usage has negative impacts on cognitive function, which may have serious consequences for things like an individual’s capacity for abstract thought, rational decision-making, and learning.

A person behind the books
People addicted to opioids have trouble learning new things, as opioids affect a hippocampal area of the brain.


Opioid addiction has a direct connection to an increased risk of suicide, which may be due to a number of variables. Opioid addiction often occurs in tandem with other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People with this kind of diagnosis are more likely to take their own lives. In addition to raising the risk of suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide) and suicidal conduct, chronic opioid use may aggravate or interact with underlying mental health conditions.

Both the addictive process and the repercussions of opioid usage, such as health concerns, financial challenges, interpersonal strain, and legal troubles, may cause physical and mental distress for those struggling with addiction. Feelings of hopelessness, despair, and misery, all of which might raise the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions, can result from experiencing pain, whether physical or emotional.

Lost connections to others disconnect you from yourself

Opioid dependency may wreak havoc on a person’s social life. Our patients at Pennsylvania opioid treatment programs reportedly encountered social isolation, prejudice, and stress in their connections with loved ones and neighbors. Loneliness, hopelessness, and worthlessness all increase in social isolation and a lack of social support.

Also, opioid withdrawal, which happens when someone abruptly ceases or lowers their opioid usage after chronic use, is quite physically and emotionally taxing. Suicidal thoughts increase when the withdrawal symptoms of despair, anxiety, irritability, and mood change occur. Having a setback in rehabilitation may cause feelings of guilt, humiliation, and despair, all of which might raise the risk of suicide. That’s why our experts at detox center Pennsylvania are always cautious when it comes to taking care of the patients after withdrawal.

Book of suicide
If you or your loved one think about taking your own life, please tell someone and ask for help.

Not every addict will be suicidal

The association between opioid addiction and suicide may be complicated and multifaceted – not everyone with opioid addiction will have suicidal thoughts or act on them. But, it’s important not to forget that opioid addiction is associated with an increased risk of suicide. This is particularly true for those who already suffer from mental health issues, chronic pain, social isolation, and suicidal ideation.

Why do we need to understand this connection?

Since mental health problems and opioid addiction often occur concurrently and may intensify one another, knowledge of the relationship between the two is crucial. Opioid addiction is more common among those who also battle with mental health issues including depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Similarly, those who have a hard time resisting opioids may have a deterioration in their mental health.

A terrible circle is created when opiate addiction and mental health issues go hand in hand. A person with chronic pain who administered opioids for pain treatment may, over time, become physically dependent on the drugs. Also, they can become emotionally unstable as a consequence of their addiction. On the other hand, someone with mental health issues like depression or anxiety may try to treat themselves with opioids. According to our experts at outpatient detox rehab PA, this will probably lead to addiction and make their symptoms much worse.

Treatment requires extensive knowledge of both

Effective treatment for opioid addiction requires knowledge of the complex relationship between substance abuse and psychological well-being. Combined opioid addiction and mental health treatment programs have been shown to be more effective than either one alone. Untreated mental health issues might increase the possibility of recurrence and slow the healing process.

The stigma is real

Last, but not least, it’s crucial to combat the stigma that surrounds opiate abuse and mental illness. People that are not in this line of business often don’t understand the effect of opioids on someone. They blame the addict for being addicted, and even more, they blame the addict for not being able to battle this disease. However, this is counterproductive as t causes addicts to fear judgment and avoid getting the help they need. They are too embarrassed or humiliated to ask for it. Now, all of this can be avoided, if we all put a little extra effort to learn about the connection between opioid addiction & mental health. We can put an end to this stigma. As a result, hopefully, more people will be free to ask for help and follow their little creek of hope to a better future.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

“Adventure trek is always popular”

Little creek lodge is such an amazing place for people who want to make a serious change in their life. I’ve watched my loved one grow immensely through his recovery with the help of the caring staff and engaging programs. Adventure trek is always popular on the agenda!

Annabelle Stiso |

Take the First Step Towards a Healthier Life

Let Little Creek Recovery Center guide you down the right path to recovery, personal growth, and long-term sobriety.

Begin Today

Need Help?

Contact Us 24/7


Contact Us

For Help Today Email or Call us at 877-689-2644.

Little Creek Lodge 359 Easton Turnpike Hamlin, PA 18427