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The Link Between Opioid Addiction and Vitamin D Deficiency

sunlight through tree leaves

Our nation’s opioid crisis impacts countless lives. With so many people struggling to overcome this disease, it’s essential to understand what factors contribute to opioid addiction. While behaviors, mental health and genetics play a huge role in the development of opioid dependency, we are just beginning to understand how environmental factors can potentially increase a person’s risk for addiction. This includes a lack of the essential sunshine vitamin — vitamin D.

How a Lack of Vitamin D May Impact and Exaggerate Opioid Addiction

The human body cannot produce vitamin D on its own. We need to spend time in sunlight, eat certain foods or take supplements to obtain this nutrient. As a result, when you experience low vitamin D levels, you may feel an urge to sunbathe or spend time outdoors in the sunlight. But what do vitamin D levels have to do with opioids and an increased risk of addiction?

A 2007 study found something unexpected. Exposure to ultraviolet UVB rays may be addictive. This form of light causes the skin to produce endorphins. Also called the “feel good” hormone, this chemical activates the same receptors in the brain as morphine and thus induces a mild euphoria. These findings prompted a research team out of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to conduct a new study exploring the link between vitamin D deficiency and opioid addiction.

The MGH team found that vitamin D deficiency amplifies cravings for opioids in those who have become dependent on the drug. By comparing normal laboratory mice with those deficient in vitamin D, they found that modulating vitamin D levels changed multiple addictive behaviors — both to UV rays and opioids. Mice lacking in this essential vitamin would continually seek out the morphine provided by researchers. However, among normal mice, this behavior was less common.

Low vitamin D levels also seemed to impact the risk of addiction and withdrawal. Mice with vitamin D deficiency were far more likely to develop an addiction to morphine and experience stronger withdrawal symptoms when the drug was taken away.

What These Findings Mean for Opioid Addiction Treatment

These findings seem to offer a simple yet effective adjunct treatment for opioid addiction. As shown by the research team, correcting vitamin D levels in those addicted to opioids could potentially reverse their opioid responses.

Vitamin D deficiency is a highly common problem, but it can be safely and easily treated with inexpensive dietary supplements. While more research is needed, this simple approach may offer a new way to help reduce the risk of opioid use disorder and support existing treatments for addiction. In other words, a simple supplement could help combat the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Don’t Struggle With Opioid Addiction Alone

If you’re caught in a cycle of opioid addiction and would like help breaking free, BAART Programs is here to support you. Using medication-assisted treatment, we combine FDA-approved medications with supportive addiction counseling and harm reduction techniques to help you put a stop to opioid addiction’s hold on your life. Find a location near you to begin your journey to recovery.

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