Can Vitamin D Deficiency Increase Risk of Opioid Addiction?

Can Vitamin D Deficiency Increase Risk of Opioid Addiction?

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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:

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.

[1] Opioid Crisis Statistics | |
[2] Overdose Deaths Accelerating During COVID-19 | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC |
[3] Diagnosis and Symptoms of Depression in Opiate Addicts: Course and Relationship to Treatment  Outcome | JAMA Psychiatry | JAMA Network |
[4] Vitamin D deficiency may increase risk for addiction to opioids and ultraviolet rays  ( |

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