Josh Chandler | June 24, 2022

Toxic Brain Injury and Other Effects of an Opioid Overdose

Opioid Overdose and Toxic Brain Injury

A fatal overdose is the most feared consequence of addiction, but opioid abuse has many devastating effects including the risk of experiencing toxic brain injury from overdose events. The opioid epidemic has put tremendous stress on individuals, families, communities, law enforcement, government, and the addiction recovery treatment community. Brain injury awareness is one topic that drug addiction treatment specialists incorporate into drug abuse education. At Muse Treatment, we help people understand the disease of addiction and how it affects the brain through a variety of outpatient and inpatient treatment options. Treatment also includes relapse prevention, education about drug overdose, and the many serious issues caused by drugs and alcohol.

Toxic brain injury is one of the more serious side effects of drug addiction. Living with brain injury symptoms that could be permanent should not be easily dismissed. Any activity, including opioid abuse, that could result in deprivation of oxygen to the brain should be avoided whenever possible. This is why professionals at addiction treatment centers stress taking action sooner rather than later when it comes to seeking drug rehab. If you or one of your loved ones has been struggling with addiction, opioid abuse, or any other substance use disorders, call us at Muse Treatment today. We have multiple levels of care that can assist you with your addiction recovery journey. 

Click here to call Muse Addiction Center today. Our staff is available 24/7 to provide answers and begin the admissions process. Call (800) 426-1818.

What is Toxic Brain Injury?

Opioid abuse, including the misuse of prescription painkillers, has become an epidemic in the United States. Drugs and alcohol in general are known to cause different types of brain damage, in some cases very slowly, and others in an acute event, as with an opioid overdose. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, approximately 25% of those people treated for brain injury symptoms were due to drugs and alcohol. The risk of brain damage is not often thought about by people struggling with substance abuse but it is a serious problem. 

Research regarding brain damage from prescription opioid addiction, heroin addiction, and other categories of substance abuse continues. However, there can be lasting effects even after someone takes advantage of available recovery resources and stops their cycle of substance abuse. Opioid overdose is just one way a person can develop toxic brain injury when abusing heroin, prescription opioids, and other substances. Opioid abuse slows the respiratory system, which leads to the deprivation of oxygen, which then can cause traumatic brain injury. That’s why it’s not enough to have the abuse of drugs and alcohol under control, but to take advantage of programs offered by a treatment facility like Muse that can help you stop using and drinking entirely. That way, through various levels of care available, an individual can make a change in their life that removes drugs and alcohol from the equation altogether. 

Toxic Brain Injury Symptoms

In addition to slowing breathing, leading to deprivation of oxygen to the brain, an opioid overdose can stop an individual’s breathing completely, causing brain damage similar to a stroke. Once this occurs, symptoms of traumatic brain injury include:

  • memory loss
  • vision and hearing loss
  • loss of balance and coordination
  • problems walking or moving
  • irritability
  • depression
  • confusion
  • trouble reading and writing

A condition called hyperalgesia, which is a significant increase in pain sensitivity, can also occur. Opioid abuse is known to cause brain damage specific to the frontal lobe. This type of brain damage from drug abuse results in problems with memory, attention, spatial planning, and executive functions.

Chronic opioid abuse also creates a vicious cycle regarding impulse control. The brain damage from opioid abuse or an opioid overdose results in the part of the brain that deals with impulse control, including using opioids even if the person realizes it is dangerous or doing them harm. This also results in issues with aggression, relationship problems, and problems at work that would normally be easily avoided. Lastly, chronic opioid abuse can cause brain damage that affects a person’s reward system. This can lead to depression when not using opioids, a common symptom among people with substance use disorders. 

How a Drug Overdose Affects the Brain

Two types of brain injury can occur when a person is struggling with substance abuse. Hypoxic brain injury occurs when there is a partial lack of oxygen to the brain. Anoxic brain injury occurs when there is a total lack of oxygen to the brain. An Anoxic brain injury is the far more serious of the two, as brain death can occur in less than five minutes when there is a total lack of oxygen. When an opioid overdose happens, there are signs that there has been brain damage due to the event. These include:

  • loss of consciousness
  • disorientation
  • general lack of balance
  • slurred speech or difficulty forming complete sentences and phrases
  • confusion
  • forgetfulness
  • mood swings
  • facial drooping
  • motor impairment
  • headaches
  • seizures
  • blurred vision. 

Anytime someone has an acute reaction to drugs and alcohol, they should seek medical attention immediately. This includes an opioid overdose. A person may not immediately feel the more serious effects if brain damage has occurred, and treating a toxic brain injury as soon as possible is very important. Drug overdoses are thought by many experts as the most likely end result of substance abuse if a person does not take advantage of available addiction treatments. The longer someone struggles with addiction, the more likely they are to exhibit one symptom of brain damage or another. If you or one of your loved ones are experiencing memory loss, vision and hearing loss, loss of balance and coordination, problems walking or moving, irritability, depression, or confusion, call and speak to one of our treatment professionals at Muse or contact your medical provider. 

Learn how to obtain and administer Naloxone (Narcan) in the event of an overdose in our recent blog, Discover How to Use Narcan to Reverse an Overdose.

Can Toxic Brain Injury From an Overdose be Treated?

The resulting symptoms from a toxic brain injury can be treated. Partial and even full recovery from the brain damage caused is possible. It’s important to seek medical attention as quickly as possible if you have an opioid overdose. Doctors and other medical personnel will take some or all of the following steps in order to try and limit the damage and increase the chances of recovering from traumatic brain injury. Some steps that can be taken include normalizing an individual’s oxygen supply. This is an important step because the longer there is a lack of oxygen going to the brain, the worse the damage may be in the short and long term. By ensuring the body has enough oxygen, healthcare providers can move beyond the immediate problem of oxygen deprivation to begin treatment to mitigate further brain damage. Another course of action taken by medical professionals will be to reduce an individual’s core body temperature. By cooling the patient’s body further damage can be avoided. Doctors will also attempt to control swelling. Inflammation can make recovery efforts more difficult or cause additional brain damage. Steroids may be administered to help reduce swelling around the brain and minimize the negative impacts of a drug overdose. Administering barbiturates is another step taken to try and limit the damage that occurs after a drug overdose that results in a toxic brain injury. The goal is to try and reduce the brain’s activity levels, which can limit the damage the brain suffers after a traumatic brain injury and is beginning to recover.  Learn more about how Muse Treatment in Los Angeles can help.  

How to Prevent Toxic Brain Injury

Lack of oxygen is the key component when it comes to hypoxic or anoxic brain injury. If you or one of your loved ones frequently abuses drugs or alcohol, especially opioids, there are symptoms to be aware of that can indicate there is a lack of oxygen going to the brain. Of course, the best way to avoid this happening is to contact a drug abuse care provider and begin one of the many addiction treatments available. If this is not immediately possible, you should look out for any symptoms of brain damage that could be caused by lack of oxygen and stop using and seek medical attention as soon as possible. 

Here are some of the signs to look out for in yourself or one of your loved ones: headache, difficulty coordinating balance, vision problems, seizures, changes in sensory perception, trouble speaking and swallowing, difficulty forming sentences, confusion, trouble communicating, difficulty with reason, focus and logic, memory impairments, depression, changes in sleep pattern, lack of bowel and bladder control, changes in sexual function, motor impairment, personality changes, poor concentration, mood swings, limited attention span, disorientation, forgetfulness, and acting inappropriately. What might seem like minor medical issues are often brushed off as no big deal in a lot of cases but if opioid abuse is a problem and these symptoms begin to occur, it’s important to take action. 

Addiction Treatment at Muse in Los Angeles

Toxic brain injury is a serious matter and at Muse, we are here to help you put drug abuse and the dangerous effects it can have on you behind you through our many levels of care and addiction treatments. If you or one of your loved ones is struggling with opioid abuse or any other substance use disorders, we can help.  Call (800) 426-1818 to learn more. 

opioid addiction,Overdose,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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