How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?

The brain is affected by drug abuse of any kind. Heroin is no different. How does heroin affect the brain? Using heroin changes the brain chemistry and when that chemical make up is altered, it can be difficult to rewire the brain back to normal functionality once the drug is removed from the system. Why can’t a person just stop using heroin? Why start using it to begin with? The euphoria that can be achieved through heroin use, or other opiates, can be a highly desirable feeling. The desire to maintain that euphoria can lead to dependence and addiction.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a powerful opiate that is derived from the opium poppy plant. Heroin is a Schedule I narcotic, this means it has no FDA-approved medical purpose, and has a high risk for being abused. It is a synthetic drug with no regulation so individuals have no idea what is actually in it when they are using it. It can be used nasally, by smoking it, or by injecting it into the veins.   

According to the National Institute on Drug Addiction, approximately 13,165 people died of a heroin-related drug overdose in 2020. Those numbers are staggering, and the effects that heroin has on the brain are partially why heroin related drug overdose statistics are so high.

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?

How does heroin affect the brain? When someone uses heroin, it causes the brain to produce excess dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical produced when things happen that make us feel good. It is kind of a reward to the body, and allows for a feeling of happiness or joy. Dopamine is also used in other bodily functions such as movement, attention, memory, and mood. When there is excess dopamine produced artificially, the brain thinks that it is an acceptable amount and becomes accustomed to the level of dopamine that is produced. So when the drug is unavailable, and the dopamine production reduces, the functionality of the brain is reduced.

Heroin affects the brain in other ways, such as cognitive delays. This occurs when harmful chemicals are produced and build up in the brain inhibiting how well it can function. Reactions to certain situations can be hindered when these harmful proteins continue to build up.

When heroin is abused, the risk of inflammation in the brain occurs. This can cause memory issues in the heroin user, and make everyday life more difficult. White matter deterioration within the brain can lead to drastic behavioral changes in the person using the drug. This can cause explosive anger, and physical aggression. These reactions can be heightened when the drug is not readily available for use. 

Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Symptoms of heroin addiction can vary person to person based on length of use, amounts being used, and any underlying mental health concerns. However, there are some common symptoms that seem to be somewhat universal in those who struggle with heroin addiction. 

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme weight fluctuation
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired judgment
  • Legal issues
  • Secretiveness
  • Lying
  • Stealing

The effects of heroin on the brain can influence any or all of these symptoms as when the drug is removed and the body begins to withdraw, it is essentially trying to rewire the brain to normal functionality without the drug. The longer the heroin use is sustained, the deeper the damage that is caused to the brain and its daily functionality. The good news is that these things can be reversed when heroin use is ceased. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is possible for the brain to return back to a state of normal functionality.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Abusing heroin can lead to a physical dependence on the substance, and fear of being without it. When the drug is then removed, the body is shocked as to why its “feel good” effect is no longer being provided. This can cause mood and personality changes, in addition to the physical symptoms of withdrawal. There are some physical and mental symptoms that can be seen and felt when heroin withdrawal begins. These are just a few of the symptoms that are usually experienced when heroin use has ended.

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Cravings
  • Spikes in blood pressure
  • Lowered heart rate

Any of these symptoms can lead to long term side effects. Seeking medical supervision when deciding to come off heroin is highly suggested, so that symptoms can be managed and more severe side effects can be prevented. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal can begin within just a few hours of the last use. 

Getting Help for the Effects of Heroin in South Florida

The Neuroscience Institute provides state of the art care for heroin addiction’s effects on the brain. Our team strives to provide the proper care, personalized to the individual. If you or a loved one have struggled with heroin addiction and are struggling to get back to normal brain functionality, contact us today and let us help get you back on track.

Call Us Now (561) 202-3458

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