Psychological Effects of Heroin

The effects of heroin are far-reaching and felt in both the short and the long term. Heroin is a highly addictive and often deadly drug. Unfortunately, its use continues to skyrocket in the U.S., which is the case with other opioids as well. Heroin doesn’t just impact users when they’re high. The effects are felt over the long term for many users. So, what are the physical and psychological effects of heroin?

Psychological Effects of Heroin
An important part of understanding the psychological effects of heroin relies on understanding how the drug works. This drug is classified as an opioid. Opioids also include prescription pain medication. It’s not uncommon for heroin addiction to start with a legitimate prescription for a pain medication like Vicodin. Someone will be prescribed an opioid, take it, and become addicted. When they can no longer get more of the prescription, they’ll turn to heroin, which tends to be cheaper and more potent than many prescription opioids.

These drugs are powerful in the way they interact with the brain. Once someone takes an opioid, it binds to certain receptors in the central nervous system (i.e., opioid receptors). These receptors play a role in how someone senses pain, but they have other effects as well. For example, when opioids bind to these receptors, it breathing slows, and when breathing becomes too slow, an overdose occurs. The unfortunate reality is that an overdose is often fatal.

Opioids can refer to both natural and synthetic drugs. Heroin, for example, is naturally derived from the poppy plant, but it’s commonly cut with fentanyl. Fentanyl is cheap to manufacture and incredibly powerful. When someone is prescribed a prescription opioid (also called narcotics), the objective is to treat their pain by artificially replicating the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals. Opioids change the way the body and the brain sense pain, and they do have therapeutic benefits, despite the risks. Heroin, on the other hand, is illegal and isn’t used medicinally. It stands to reason that when something affects the brain as much as heroin and other opioids do, it’s going to lead to psychological effects.

One should consider the short- and long-term psychological effects of heroin. In the short term, when a person uses heroin it quickly travels to their brain where it binds to the opioid receptors and triggers a flood of neurotransmitters, which are responsible for making the user feel high. Some of the same neurotransmitters are released when people eat or exercise, but with heroin, the levels of these neurotransmitters are extremely high and artificially inflated. In larger doses, prescription opioids can have the same effect.

Following the euphoric high that occurs with heroin, a person will start to feel very relaxed, drowsy and anxiety-free. While this isn’t necessarily a high, some people enjoy this feeling as well. They feel like it can relieve their worries, and they may turn to heroin as a way to self-medicate certain mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.

Your brain is conditioned to find the flood of feel-good brain chemicals to be a pleasant experience — one that it likely wants to repeat. Addiction is a psychological condition in which the balance of chemicals in your brain and your brain’s pathways have been altered to perpetuate a cycle of continued drug use. It’s a psychological scenario that some people are more predisposed to than others, and it can be difficult to treat. Addiction is one of the most profound and severe psychological effects of heroin, and it can happen extremely quickly.

Over time, there are other psychological effects of heroin that begin to occur. The brain becomes unable to experience pleasure in natural ways. When people stop using heroin, they may deal with psychological side effects like anxiety and depression because their brain doesn’t produce feel-good chemicals naturally, and it takes time for it to regain its natural functionality.

There are psychological side effects of opioids that occur when someone is going through withdrawal as well. These side effects are usually the direct opposite of the effects of heroin itself. For example, someone experiencing withdrawal may feel restless and irritable, or highly anxious. While many of the psychological effects of heroin withdrawal end after a few days, some can persist for months.

The psychological effects of heroin result in a change in brain physiology. There can be shifts and imbalances in neuron and hormone systems, particularly in heavy heroin users. These psychological effects of heroin can be reversed, but it does take time. With very heavy and long-term use, heroin can also lead to changes in decision-making, behavior regulation and stress response.

It’s difficult to reverse the effects of heroin, but the sooner someone seeks treatment, the more likely they are to be successful at this. The longer or more heavily someone uses heroin, the more profound the psychological effects are likely to be. If you’d like to learn more about treating heroin addiction, contact The Recovery Village.

Psychological Effects of Heroin
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