When you use heroin, you’ll experience a range of changes throughout your body. In the brain, these changes can be both severe and long-lasting.
Although stopping your use of heroin can help some of these effects to resolve, others may persist even months or years after you have stopped using.
Your Brain On Heroin
Heroin interacts with mu-opioid receptors, which are found in the reward center of your brain. These receptors are designed to respond to naturally occurring chemicals in your body.
When activated, mu-opioid receptors release neurotransmitters like dopamine, which produces positive feelings, relaxation, and relief from pain. Heroin’s effect on the mu-opioid receptors is typically more pronounced than the effect of naturally occurring opioids.
As a result, consider four ways heroin affects your brain:
1. Heroin Stops The Brain From Producing Its Own Opioids
One of the primary effects of using heroin is a reduction in the brain’s ability to produce its own endogenous opioids. Because the brain’s mu-opioid receptors are receiving so much stimulation from external sources, the brain will reduce the production of its own chemicals.
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Over time, this leads to a physical dependence on heroin. If you stop using heroin, you’ll experience severe withdrawal symptoms within a few hours because of the brain’s physical dependence on the drug.
In addition to basic physical dependence, you’ll also begin to build a tolerance to heroin. As your brain adapts to the presence of the drug, you’ll likely need higher and higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effects.
2. Heroin Creates Long-Term Imbalances In The Brain
Continued use of heroin changes the physical structure of the brain, leading to imbalances in hormonal systems and neurological systems. These imbalances often continue even after you stop using the drug and can be difficult or even impossible to reverse.
Depending on the severity of these imbalances, you may experience both physical and psychological symptoms in the years to come.
3. Heroin Causes White Matter To Deteriorate
Some studies have shown that continued or excessive use of heroin can destroy white matter in the brain. As a result, you may lose some of your ability to reason and make decisions. You may also experience difficulty regulating your behavior and dealing with stress.
4. Heroin Can Cause Severe Impairment
For those suffering from heroin addiction, continued exposure to the drug can cause the development of a syndrome resembling dementia.
Over time, heroin causes a build-up of proteins in the brain, as well as inflammation, similar to the structural changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This leads to dementia-like symptoms and severe cognitive impairment.
Preventing Further Brain Damage
At this time, it’s not known whether all of the brain damage caused by heroin use can be reversed. For people who are suffering from heroin-related brain damage, the best treatment is to stop using heroin as soon as possible.
Likewise, for people who are using heroin but have not noticed symptoms of brain damage yet, getting clean is the best form of brain damage prevention. The sooner you get clean, the less likely you’ll be to experience long-term brain damage because of heroin use.
Because heroin causes physical dependence, it is not wise to try to detox from heroin without professional assistance. For the best results, you need to enter a professional detox program designed to give you the help and support you need to get through this difficult time.
At Turning Point, we understand how difficult heroin detox and recovery can be. Regardless of your background or current situation, we’ll work with you to design a customized treatment plan that meets your needs.
Please contact us today to learn more about heroin addiction treatment and detox programs available from Turning Point.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — Heroin