Endorphins are a class of neurotransmitters that convey electrical signals between cells in your brain and nervous system. Other neurotransmitters in your brain that perform analogous functions are dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Your brain will release endorphins when you are under stress or are in pain, at which time the endorphins bind with opiate receptors in your brain to reduce the sensations of pain that you feel. They also create a mild sense of euphoria which further eases pain sensations. Runners and other endurance athletes have reported sensations of feeling a “runner’s high” after they have been exercising for extended periods, suggesting that excess amounts of endorphins are accumulating in their brains and nervous system in response to those efforts.
The Role of Endorphins
Neuroscientists have theorized that endorphins play a role both in drug addiction and in depression and other psychological disorders. With respect to addiction, your brain and metabolism are structured to give you positive feedback when endorphins are released and attach themselves to opiate receptors. A person will seek to achieve this favorable response by repeating the activity that caused it. Opioids are chemically similar to endorphins and attach to the same receptor sites in your brain, but unlike endorphins, they are not rapidly broken down by natural enzymes. A person who ingests opioid products floods his brain with chemicals that crowd into opiate receptors, fostering a massive favorable response. The opioids remain at the opiate receptor sites for a longer time, and the opioid user’s brain then starts to build a tolerance to the opioid. Before long, that tolerance reduces any feelings of euphoria, and produces only addiction and dependency.
With respect to depression and other mental disorders, neurobiologists have discovered that individuals who exhibit signs of depression have a relatively lower level of endorphins and other neurotransmitters that induce positive feelings in their brains and nervous systems. Therapists have used the “runner’s high” concept by recommending periods of exercise for these individuals, and have observed that strenuous exercise does account for subsequently elevated moods. Individuals who exercise regularly have reported withdrawal-like symptoms when they stop all physical activity, thus further bolstering theories that compare endorphins and opiate painkillers.
Endorphins are therefore a natural mood regulator and pain control mechanism that humans have developed over tens of thousands of years of evolution. Elevation of endorphin levels can alleviate symptoms of chronic pain and depression apart from any serious risk of addiction. Neuroscientists and psychologists are using this knowledge to develop mechanisms for an individual’s brain to release these neurotransmitters without artificial stimulation from pharmaceuticals.
The Last Resort Recovery Center near Austin, Texas, can give you further information on how you can naturally increase your endorphin levels to alleviate stress and pain and to improve your moods. Please call us at 512-360-3600 for a confidential consultation and for assistance in treating addiction or psychological problems that you may be experiencing.