How opioid addiction alters our brains to always want more

At a hearing on Capitol Hill earlier this year, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander asked an important question: Why is most of the treatment for opioid addiction more opioids?

In response, Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, did their best to assure the senator – and thus the nation – that scientists are hard at work developing treatments for addicts that are not just more of the same.

But even with a number of research projects to develop alternatives to opioids, the reality is that our brains don’t let go of an opioid addiction easily, if at all.

It’s not just that your brain likes opioids – whether it’s prescription pain relievers, heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl – and responds to them with feelings of euphoria and warmth, helping you overcome pain. Opioids disrupt the normal functioning of your brain, making it harder for people to quit and more vulnerable to relapse.

Paul R. Sanberg and Samantha Portis/The Conversation