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Listen to Your Gut: How Opioids Can Affect Your Gut Health

A woman struggling with stomach pain due to opioid abuse.
Opioid addiction can ravage your gut and prevent your body from producing feel-good neurotransmitters your brain and body need.

Have you ever just had a gut feeling about a dangerous situation you found yourself in or towards your partner on a first date? This intuition isn’t made up or something that’s been romanticized in movies. In fact, there’s actual science behind all your “gut feelings.”

Your brain has the largest network of interconnected neurons in your body. But the second largest network is actually in your gut, constantly communicating and interacting with your brain to help you process thoughts and emotions.

Your gut is truly a powerhouse, playing pivotal roles to keep your mind and body healthy. Unfortunately, opioid abuse can affect your gut’s microbiome and overall health. In this post, we’ll cover what your gut is, how opioid abuse affects your gut and how proper addiction treatment can improve your gut health.

What is the Gut and What Does it Do?

The gut – also known as the digestive system or gastrointestinal tract – includes your mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, small intestine, colon and rectum. Every single part of your gut plays a key role in digesting food and helping your body absorb the nutrients it needs. But your gut is also a key player in keeping your body and mind working together in a healthy and productive way.


Your gut’s role in digestion starts at the very beginning of meals when you’re chewing and swallowing food. Your mouth breaks down the food, your esophagus moves that food into your stomach and your stomach and small intestine absorb key nutrients and continue to break down the food. Your pancreas, liver and gallbladder also absorb nutrients your body needs, breaking down proteins and creating glucagon to help regulate your blood sugar levels.

Disease Prevention

Besides breaking down the foods you eat, your gut also sterilizes what you’ve eaten to protect your body from infections and illnesses. Immune receptors in the digestive tract also work to keep you healthy by triggering specific hormones that keep your immune system running smoothly.

Then, there is what we call “gut microbiome,” or bacteria in your digestive system. The right balance of gut bacteria helps to fight off diseases and maintain your overall health.

Communication with the Brain

Returning to why we have “gut feelings,” the gut communicates constantly with your brain. Based on information passed from your gut, your brain determines what you eat, how much you eat and how often. The gut and brain also work together to determine how quickly food moves through the digestive system, depending on how much you eat or how heavy the food is.

Your gut is also filled with tons of nerve cells, allowing your gut to sense changes in stress that then get communicated back to the brain for a response. And as the primary producer of serotonin in the body, your gut is also responsible for communicating and regulating your mood and emotions.

How Do Opioids Affect Your Gut Health?

When you’re eating the right foods and doing all the right things to keep yourself healthy, your gut does what it needs to do. It digests your food for you, it absorbs the nutrients you need to function every day and it works with your brain to keep you happy and respond appropriately to stressors.

That is, until opioids enter your body. Opioids absolutely have a place in medicine and pain management. But excessive use of opioids or opioid addiction does more harm to your body and brain than good.

For starters, opioid abuse confuses the communications between your brain and your gut. Opioids flood the brain with unnatural levels of chemicals to help you feel good, which affects your brain and gut’s ability to naturally regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. This ultimately affects your ability to manage your thoughts and feelings.

Opioids also impact your digestive system. When your brain gets hooked on opioids and isn’t able to communicate with the gut properly, you prioritize the drugs instead of a healthy diet. This means your gut isn’t getting food to break down into nutrients that the rest of the body needs. And even if you are eating healthy foods, opioid abuse keeps your gut from working properly, preventing nutrient absorption and immune health.

Recovering from Opioid Addiction and Improving Gut Health

If you’re suffering from opioid addiction, the best way to recover and heal your body and mind is through addiction treatment. At The Raleigh House, we take an evidence-based approach to treatment and offer a gold standard continuum of care designed to ease your withdrawal from opioids, get to the bottom of why your addiction started in the first place and help you learn how to live without opioid abuse again.

Our treatment also includes a pro-recovery diet. During residential treatment, our Executive Chef uses fresh, locally sourced foods and ingredients to cook you meals designed to help your digestive system begin to heal from the damage opioid addiction has caused.

Then, once you enter outpatient treatment, our Nutritionist helps to educate you on the pro-recovery diet, what foods to buy at the grocery store and how to meal plan, so you can take care of your gut on your own when you’re no longer in treatment.

With the help of addiction treatment, you’ll begin to heal your gut with the right foods, and develop better sleep habits and exercise regimens that are also important for your overall gut health.

Recover from Opioid Addiction and Heal Your Body at The Raleigh House

Are you struggling with opioid addiction? If you are, there is hope for recovery and an ability for you to rewrite your story. Opioid abuse doesn’t have to define your life and do long-term damage to your digestive system. At The Raleigh House, our pro-recovery nutrition approach and evidence-based treatment programs put your recovery and gut health first.

To get started, fill out our form or contact us now to get in touch with one of our friendly admissions team members.

Call Now: 720-891-4657

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