How Heroin Affects The Brain

The opioid epidemic isn’t the only issue related to the increase of individuals suffering from heroin abuse. Heroin is one of the most addictive substances and its influence on an individual’s psychological and physical properties can nearly paralyze those afflicted—ultimately preventing them from seeking help. The consequences of long-term heroin use are unpredictable and pose serious life-threatening and irreversible effects on the body’s most vital organ: the brain.

Heroin affects the brain in a number of ways including permanent brain damage, an entirely altered chemical structure, and the development of severe mental disorders.

Also, heroin affects the brain more severely after experiencing an overdose. The overdose rates are currently skyrocketing and unfortunately, countless people do not make it. However, if you do, you run the risk of experiencing some of the many negative effects of heroin, both short-term and long-term.

Heroin is psychologically addictive as it enters the body quickly and actives the neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for its pleasure response. Over time, the brain begins to shut down its production of “feel good” chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.

Heroin is also physically addictive, producing almost immediate withdrawal symptoms and side effects once you’ve minimized use or attempted to stop altogether. The physical effects go hand in hand with the way heroin affects the brain.

Heroin Addiction and Chemical Structure In The Brain

The beginning stages of an entirely altered brain structure when it comes to heroin addiction is the increase in tolerance and the development of dependence. Dependence occurs when a constant influx of heroin is introduced to the brain. As time passes, the brain adapts to the constant surge of pleasure, eventually leading to a change in its natural functions. The neurons in the brain have been provided with many chemicals and when the drugs are taken away, the brain has to begin producing neurotransmitters again. 

This creates an imbalance in the chemical structure of the brain, which interacts with the central nervous system causing a series of side effects to arise such as muscle spasms, anxiety, nausea, or abdominal cramping.

Tolerance, on the other hand, is your need for more of the drug to achieve the initial psychoactive effects of the drug. Heroin affects the brain by altering the natural process of the brain’s cognitive process. What this means is the equilibrium is off, causing failed attempts to restore itself, which leads to the need for an increase in heroin and other drugs you may be using at the time.

Long-Term Effects of Heroin on the Brain

Although the long-term effects of heroin on the brain can be permanent, it can take many years to restore the original functioning of the brain. Even then, there will be significant dysfunctional activities long after you have been abstinent.

The leading causes of how heroin affects the brain are complicated in certain cases. The most common is the aftermath of an overdose. When you overdose, all of your body functions drastically slow or stop altogether. The lack of oxygen to the brain runs the greatest risk of developing permanent brain damage, which is referred to as brain hypoxia.

The severity of the damage depends on how long the brain goes without receiving oxygen.

The most common symptoms of brain damage caused by hypoxia include:

  • Vision and hearing impairments
  • Lack of concentration
  • Memory loss (both long and short-term)
  • Impaired coordination and balance
  • Death
  • Vegetative state or retardation

Another way heroin affects the brain is by deteriorating white matter, which affects decision-making skills, the ability to regulate behavior, and response to situations. White matter is vital in the healthy behavioral functioning in the brain. The depletion of white brain matter during active addiction and the brain will heal itself during the recovery process, however, relapse plays a role in how quickly the brain full restores.

White matter depletion caused by the nature of heroin’s effects on the brain impacts structures such as:

  • The limbic structure white is responsible for emotion, memory, learning, and motivation.
  • The frontal lobes that are critical for functions such as attention, impulse control, and regulating emotions.
  • The cingulate cortex, which is connected to both structures. It plays an integral role in the reward pathways in the brain, motivating addictive behavior such as impulse control and drug cravings.

Heroin is dangerous at deeper levels than the physical impairments and withdrawal symptoms that arise from abuse.

The internal damages caused by heroin abuse are much more severe and life-threatening and often go overlooked unless you seek medical attention. Often, you might not realize you are experiencing issues relating to the effects of heroin in the brain. Sometimes, active addiction causes similar side effects and symptoms of worsening brain damage. This can lead to an increase in irreversible symptoms, prolonged damage, longer recovery time, and possibly death.

Treatable Short- and Long-Term Effects of Heroin

Most of the immediate symptoms of heroin abuse are treatable, however, long-term effects, depending on severity will be more difficult to treat. The physical withdrawal symptoms of heroin abuse are the first to come and go. Medical facilities will aid in the diminishing of withdrawal symptoms using medications designed specifically for opioid withdrawal. Although the physical effects appear worse, they are easier to treat.

Depending on how heroin affects the brain and the severity in each individual will determine the route of treatment and how effective treatment will be.

The short-term effects of heroin consist of:

  • Flushing of the skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Nodding out
  • Euphoria
  • Surge of pleasure

The long-term effects of heroin consist of:

  • Insomnia
  • Collapsed veins
  • Infections in the heart
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Mental disorders
  • Lung complications
  • Brain damage

Sure, addiction is treatable, however, it can take time for the brain to recover—if it fully recovers at all. The development of mental issues such as depression or anxiety may cause you to need medications to create a balance in the amount of dopamine or serotonin your brain is naturally producing. Since heroin affects the brain by reducing the proper functions, you might find yourself in need of reuptake inhibitors to aid in the healing process and restoration of major chemical imbalances.

Time is also on your side when it comes to recovering from damage caused by heroin abuse. However, if your symptoms of heroin brain damage are more severe, the time it takes the brain to fully restore might be longer even when abstinent. The only way the brain can fully recover from the effects of heroin use is to seek help and remain fully abstinent. Recovery is possible and heroin damages to the body and brain are preventable if you take the necessary steps.

Begin Your Journey to Recovery Today

Opioid and heroin addiction are on the rise but there is help available. The consequences, both long-term and short-term can eventually lead you to a place of no return. Unfortunately, many people don’t make it but recovery is possible if you’re willing to seek help. At Maryland House Detox, our trained professional staff members can help you regain control of your life and safely detox from heroin or other potentially dangerous drugs. It’s never too late to begin again; call (855) 928-0596 today to start your journey to recovery.

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