Understanding What Heroin Does To The Brain

What heroin does to the brain explains why users feel the euphoric rush or high they describe, but it can also be alarming to look at just how heroin affects the brain.

There are so many ways heroin affects the brain, the body, the emotions and the life of someone who uses it. Understanding what heroin does to the brain can help empower you to either avoid ever using the drug or take the necessary steps to receive treatment if you’re already using it and addicted to it.

The following provides an overview of what heroin does to the brain, and how that then translates to the behaviors, addictions and lifestyle changes that often occur in people.

Understanding What Heroin Does To The Brain
First, heroin is a central nervous system depressant, as are other opioids including prescription painkillers. There are certain receptors in the brain for opiates so when you take heroin, it binds to these receptors. The same is true of drugs like codeine and morphine. Your body produces its own natural opioids as well, but it’s nothing compared with what happens when you take a drug like heroin.

When heroin binds to opioid receptors, it impacts how you perceive and feel pain, but it also causes an increased sense of pleasure and well-being because a flood of dopamine is released into your body. These extremely high dopamine levels are what’s responsible for the high created by heroin.

As soon as you take heroin and it enters your brain, it’s converted into morphine before it binds to opioid receptors, and then comes the euphoria.

The areas of your brain impacted by heroin are the ones responsible for controlling your reward pathways, and they include the frontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, and the ventral tegmental area. These are the circuits in your brain responsible for creating a sense of pleasure when you engage in activities like eating or sex.

If you were to eat a great meal, the same areas of your brain would be triggered as when you take heroin, but the response to heroin is so heightened and unnatural that it changes to way your brain communicates, ultimately “rewiring” it in some ways.

There are estimates showing using heroin can increase the dopamine levels in your body by as much as ten times more than what’s normal.

Also key to understanding what heroin does to the brain is looking at the concept of tolerance. Tolerance to heroin occurs after you’ve been exposed for a period of time to opioids, and you’ve as a result had a consistently raised dopamine level. Then, your body adjusts to that level and the presence of the drug.

As this happens, your pain threshold is lower, so you respond with more sensitivity to pain stimuli, and your pathways in the brain become overactive. That leaves your body with the feeling that you need to maintain your heroin use to feel normal. There are some studies that show the ways heroin affects the brain can start happening after only using the drug one time.

Since the presence of these increased dopamine levels has become your new normal, you won’t feel the same high you did initially with heroin. It takes larger doses to feel anything.

So what about what heroin does the brain in the long-term?

When you’re a long-term heroin user, it starts to affect your prefrontal cortex, and also the temporal lobe of your brain. These are parts of your brain responsible for memory, decision-making, self-control of your behavior, and deeper-level thinking.

Some of the changes in your brain with long-term heroin use may result in the inability to control your behavior, problems processing emotions, memory problems, and difficulty making decisions. What heroin does to the brain in the long-term can also include reducing your reasoning and problem-solving abilities, and it can make things like planning and interactions with others difficult.

Some studies have shown that the disintegration of the brain starts to appear very soon after the start of chronic heroin abuse, and there is also brain damage often seen in people because of overdoses as well as injuries that occurred when they were impaired by the drug. There has been some evidence that opiate abusers shown signs of brain damage similar to what happens in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and there can be outward signs of this brain damage such as permanent tremors.

It’s important for people to realize how severe what heroin does to the brain can be, and it doesn’t take years of abuse for the drug to take its toll on the brain. It can happen relatively quickly and be difficult to reverse.

Understanding What Heroin Does To The Brain
How Would You Rate This Page?