The Opioid Effect on Social Life

Have you ever considered the opioid effect on social life in America? When you consider that painkiller prescriptions have tripled nationwide, it is easy to understand how opioids are viewed upon as the villain. Sadly, we have seen policy makers and research pay much less attention to the social losses that our nation has suffered. Emotional pains such as flat wages and the destruction of ties with others have boosted the emotional pain of this drug epidemic.

More and more studies are beginning to realize that the social ramifications of opioid addiction must be explored more thoroughly if communities truly want to resolve this problem. A recent study discovered that for each 1 percent rise in the U.S. unemployment, the death rates for opioid overdoses went up by almost 4 percent.

The sad news is that drug overdoses have become America’s top cause of deaths for those who are in the prime of their life. Studies have also shown that alcohol and suicide related deaths have risen as well. These rises in death rates have been most prominent in regions suffering most from economic distress. Experts state that it will be difficult to resolve the addiction and overdose problems without enhanced understanding of the neurobiology that links opioids and social connectivity.

The notion of relating opioids to social stress is not exactly a new approach. Decades ago, a neuroscientist named Jaak Panksepp first recognized the accepted hypothesis that the human body’s natural opioids—endorphins and the like—are vital to bonds that nurture the connection between parents and children. Panksepp’s studies indicated that when an opioid system is blocked in the brain, the distress calls are increased from the broken connection. This is comparable to infants being separated from their mothers. When someone takes an opioid drug, these cries are reduced.

Panksepp concluded that there were strong similarities between heroin addiction and maternal love. His experiments showed that animals would continue to do any behavior – even negative ones – to receive access to that maternal bond or an opioid. Unfortunately, Panksepp’s journals were rejected in the 1970s because the science community felt that promoting a notion that heroin addiction being comparable to motherly bonds was too controversial.

However, since that time, study after study has supported the idea of maternal bonding and opioids.  New researchers have grabbed the baton and taken on the cause.

New studies have shown that oxytocin, the hormone that has been linked with child labor and maternal nursing, is critical to the bonds between parents and babies. Feelings that are felt by infants or adults when they are nurtured are derived from a combo of this oxytocin and opioids. It has also been observed that people who are addicted to opioids feel these same maternal feelings – a feeling of nurturing and love.

All this data implies that addressing these connections between pain, stress and bonding could very well be the key to eventually resolving the opioid crisis.  Researchers now understand the biology and similarities that exists within trusting and nurturing social relationships and how dramatically the body’s opioid system changes the way the science and medical communities feel about treatment.

 In conclusion, if we desire to see a drop in opioid use, we probably need to determine how to generate more love and affection. This is the benefit of understanding the opioid effect on social life.