The risks of opioid addiction include death and the emotional devastation of families who are left behind. Despite the tragic results of misusing this drug, the opioid crisis in America continues to worsen. Two out of every three drug overdose deaths in 2018 were from opioids. , in 2019, 10.1 million people over the age of 12 reported misusing opioids.1
Opioids include prescription pain relievers such as hydrocodone and fentanyl, as well as illegal drugs like heroin. Both illicit and prescribed opioids produce feelings of euphoria. People who regularly use these drugs build a tolerance to their effects and require higher and higher amounts to achieve that sense of joy. That is why opioids are highly addictive and extremely dangerous.
The Risks of Opioid Addiction
Death from accidental overdose is the number-one risk of opioid addiction. The CDC reported an acceleration of overdose deaths in 2020, 2 with synthetic (and illegally manufactured) fentanyl being the primary cause of the increase. However, death from overdose isn’t the only risk associated with opioid addiction. Abusing or misusing this drug can cause long-term health problems even after you have stopped using it. Health risks include:
- Heart damage
- Loss of cognitive function
- Infectious disease
- Liver damage
- Hepatitis C
- Weakened immune system
Mental health is one of the most overlooked long-term risks of opioid addiction. Losing control of your life, estrangement from loved ones, job loss, and the constant stress of needing to find and buy drugs to get through the day take their toll. According to the Archives of General Psychiatry, at least 60% of people entering a drug treatment program for opiate addiction show signs of depression.3
Vitamin D and Opioid Addiction: New Findings
Could an inexpensive vitamin supplement help solve the opioid crisis? According to new studies by the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), that may be the case.4
While conducting cancer research in 2007, Dr. David E. Fisher, MD–Ph.D., and his team learned something unexpected. They found that exposure to ultraviolet rays caused the skin to naturally produce the “feel good” hormone endorphin. Natural endorphins activate the same brain receptors as opioids and create a mild sense of euphoria similar to that experienced with opioid use.
Fisher first speculated that the reason people continue to sunbathe or visit tanning salons despite the known cancer risks of too much sun exposure is because of the endorphin connection. That led the team to wonder if sun-seekers instinctively know they have a vitamin D deficiency because human bodies need UV exposure to make vitamin D.
Making the Connection Between Vitamin Deficiency and Addiction
In experiments with laboratory mice, Fisher and his team learned that changing vitamin D levels in their subjects directly affected their addictive behaviors. After conditioning a group of mice with small doses of morphine, some subjects received a diet lacking in vitamin D.
The subjects lacking the vitamin continued to seek out the drug, and when the morphine was withdrawn entirely, the mice with low levels of vitamin D developed more withdrawal symptoms.
As even more evidence of the connection between addiction and low vitamin D, mice with a vitamin D deficiency had a more exaggerated response to morphine. If the same results translate to humans, that could mean that people with a vitamin D deficiency experience more exaggerated euphoria with opioids. With the exaggerated euphoria, they may be more likely to become addicted.
The good news is, when their vitamin D deficiencies were corrected, the mice returned to normal, and their exaggerated opioid responses changed. Again, if the same results hold with people, something as simple as fixing a vitamin deficiency could significantly influence public health and the opioid epidemic. Boosting vitamin D levels could reduce the risks of opioid addiction by supporting recovery from addiction and overall health.
Ocean Hills Recovery: A Caring Opioid Addiction Treatment Center in California
Opioid addiction does not have to define the rest of your life. With the proper treatment, education, and support, people can recover from their addiction and live a full, drug-free life. Our compassionate staff understands how difficult it is to break the addiction cycle. But we know how to help you do it.
If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, contact Ocean Hills Recovery today. It doesn’t matter if the problem is with prescription medications or illegal street drugs. The risks of opioid addiction are the same. Reaching out is the first step to getting your life back.
 Opioid Crisis Statistics | HHS.gov | https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/opioid-crisis-statistics/index.html
 Overdose Deaths Accelerating During COVID-19 | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC | https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/p1218-overdose-deaths-covid-19.html
 Diagnosis and Symptoms of Depression in Opiate Addicts: Course and Relationship to Treatment Outcome | JAMA Psychiatry | JAMA Network | https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/492720
 Vitamin D deficiency may increase risk for addiction to opioids and ultraviolet rays (massgeneral.org) | https://www.massgeneral.org/news/press-release/Vitamin-D-deficiency-may-increase-risk-for-addiction-to-opioids-and-ultraviolet-rays
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.