Effects of Heroin on the Brain

Heroin is a highly potent and habit-forming illicit drug, one that gained rampant popularity shortly after prescription opiates took the country by storm. When prescription opiates were first introduced to the market, the pharmacists that developed them insisted that they were completely safe and non-addictive. Prescribing physicians began handing them out to those with mild, moderate, and severe pain-related disorders, assuming they would be safe when taken as prescribed. Instead, it was quickly discovered that all narcotic opioids had habit-forming qualities, and those that were prescribed the drugs very commonly became addicted over time.

With a rise in addiction, cases came a rise in overdose-related deaths, and the national government began to take notice of what would soon be labeled an “opioid epidemic.” The government then began to regulate distribution, and the prescription painkillers in circulation were harshly limited. Unfortunately, many had already developed a physical and psychological dependence on opiates by this point. Because painkillers were no longer available, they began to look for an accessible alternative; this alternative happened to be heroin. Those that use heroin put themselves in great physical danger daily. Not only do they risk potential overdose, but serious and permanent brain damage is liable to occur.

Effects of Heroin on the Brain

Heroin and the Brain

The truth is that all addictive substances cause serious damage to the physical body, including many major organs. When it comes to heroin abuse and addiction the brain is the most significantly damaged organ. Addiction is considered brain damage in and of itself, but repeated heroin use can affect the brain in a variety of additional negative ways. There are many short-term effects of heroin use, including:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Itchy skin
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Intense drowsiness
  • Appearing to fall asleep/”nodding off” or lack of consciousness
  • Severe constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Slurred speech and blurred vision

Long-term effects of heroin abuse or addiction are serious and often life-threatening. These include:

  • The building of a physical tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms with ceased use
  • Lung infections/chronic pneumonia
  • Collapsed veins at injection sights
  • Blood clots and abscesses
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage and kidney failure
  • Viral infections, common with intravenous use
  • Stroke
  • Overdose/overdose-related death
  • Severe brain damage

The brain contains numerous opioid receptors, which produce opioids naturally when you experience physical pain. Heroin works to block these receptors, limiting pain and inducing feelings of relaxation – even euphoria. Heroin is a synthetic opioid, which acts the same way as a naturally occurring opioid receptor. Once the brain encounters enough synthetic opioids it will no longer be able to block pain on its own. The brain will then send messages to the body that essentially say, “Help! I need more heroin to function!”

Heroin Abuse and Addiction Recovery

So, does heroin affect the brain? Yes, heroin does cause damage to the brain – significant damage. Heroin affects chemicals within the brain, ultimately leading to disorders such as depression and anxiety, and affecting the inability to feel pleasure or gratification either temporarily or permanently. It is very common for those who have abused heroin for an extended period to develop depression, seeing as heroin affects chemicals like dopamine and serotonin that help regulate the pleasure center in the brain. If you or someone you love has been struggling with heroin addiction, professional help must be sought immediately. Not only is this potent opioid the cause of thousands of overdose-related deaths on an annual basis, but if someone struggling with a heroin addiction does not seek help to stop, damage to the brain may turn out to be permanent.

For more information on our comprehensive program of heroin addiction recovery, please give us a call today. Recreate Life Counseling is here to answer any and every question you may have about heroin addiction or recovery, and get you started on your personal sobriety journey as quickly as possible. We look forward to speaking with you soon.