How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?

Published by Raffa Bari | Last updated: 24th November 2023 | All Sources

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?

Heroin can cause a number of health problems, from short term symptoms to chronic long-term health conditions. But how does heroin affect the brain and what causes heroin to be so addictive?

Find out why heroin is addictive, how heroin affects the brain and the impacts of heroin addiction here.


How Does Heroin Use Affect the Brain?

Heroin affects the brain during use by binding to opioid receptors, which is why heroin is so addictive. When heroin is consumed it triggers a surge of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter that is linked to pleasure and reward and causes a powerful sense of euphoria when activated.

This feeling causes many people to develop a heroin addiction when they consume the drug, as the enjoyable sensation heroin creates becomes both psychologically and physically addictive.

This activation of the brain’s reward system is what makes heroin highly addictive. Heroin is also a powerful pain reliever due to the drug’s impact on the opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord.

Although heroin can be a good painkiller medication, heroin also poses a severe health risk as it can slow down breathing and easily lead to addiction, which is why it is only prescribed in rare cases for people on end-of-life care.

Prolonged heroin use can cause significant changes in the brain which can affect decision-making, emotion and behaviour, as well as cognitive abilities. Cognitive impairment, increased likelihood of mental health issues, and a heightened risk of heroin addiction are common outcomes of heroin use.


Heroin Effects on the Body

When a person uses heroin, it not only affects the brain but also affects the body and the way the body functions. Immediately after consumption, heroin users may experience a rush of euphoria, followed by drowsiness, slowed breathing, and an unusual sensation in the limbs such as numbness or heaviness. Heroin can also cause nausea, vomiting, and severe constipation.

Over time, chronic heroin use can lead to numerous health problems. Users may experience weakened immune systems which makes them more susceptible to infections, and addiction to heroin can result in heart and liver issues, overdose and more.

A key danger of intravenous use of heroin is collapsed veins and an increased risk of infections like HIV and hepatitis due to shared needles. Skin abscesses, dental issues (such as tooth loss or gum disease) and menstrual irregularities in women are common physical consequences of heroin abuse.

Long-term use can also lead to deterioration in overall health with weight loss, malnutrition, and a decline in overall physical appearance commonly experienced by people suffering from addiction.

Heroin addiction can be extremely harmful and affect relationships, employment, and overall quality of life. It is crucial to seek professional help and support to address both the physical and psychological problems that can be caused by heroin addiction.


Long Term Effects of Heroin

Long-term heroin use can lead to addiction, a chronic disease that leads to people depending on the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and an inability to control drug use despite adverse consequences.

Overdose is unfortunately a very common occurrence in people who use heroin, as the drug is extremely potent and often bought illegally. When heroin is bought illegally, it is commonly cut with other drugs such as Fentanyl, so the amount being consumed is impossible to track.

As well as overdose, long term heroin use can lead to behavioural changes, extreme weight loss, vision and balance problems, infections, weakened immune system and more. The organs in the body are damaged by long term heroin use, so seeking treatment as soon as possible is important.


Does Heroin Cause Brain Damage?

Severe heroin use can cause brain damage, particularly when the drug has been used over an extended period of time or at high doses. Heroin affects the brain in multiple ways. It binds to opioid receptors, resulting in the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which are associated with pleasure and reward which can lead to changes in the brain’s reward system, reinforcing the compulsive use of the drug.

Long-term heroin use can also alter brain structure and function and can impair cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, and behaviour, as well as issues with emotional regulation and decision-making. Chronic use of heroin can also cause mental health problems such as depression and anxiety which is another way that heroin can affect the brain.

The risk of brain damage from heroin is more likely if a person has previously overdosed, as this can lead to oxygen deprivation and damage to brain cells. Overdoses can have a huge impact on the body and brain, which is why seeking heroin addiction treatment should be prioritised as soon as possible.


How Addictive is Heroin?

Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs available, alongside other opioids such as Fentanyl, Morphine and Oxycodone. Its addictive potential stems from the way heroin interacts with the brain’s reward system.

When heroin is consumed, it rapidly binds to opioid receptors, leading to the release of large amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that causes the user to experience pleasure. This intense and immediate euphoria creates a powerful reinforcement for continued use and drives individuals to seek the drug again, resulting in a cycle of addiction.

Repeated heroin also causes a tolerance to the drug to develop, which means that the body requires higher doses to achieve the same high. If tolerance to heroin has developed psychologically in the brain and physically, withdrawal symptoms are experienced when use is stopped. Heroin withdrawal contributes to the cycle of addiction, making it challenging for users to quit on their own.

Heroin addiction can have devastating consequences on a person’s life, health, and well-being. Overcoming heroin addiction often requires professional treatment, therapy, and ongoing support to address both the physical and psychological aspects of the addiction.

Due to its high potential for addiction, it’s crucial to prevent and address heroin use early to minimise its destructive impact – reach out today to learn more about your available treatment options.

Raffa Bari

Raffa Bari - Author Last updated: 24th November 2023

CQC Registered Manager

Raffa manages the day to day caring services here at Cassiobury Court. Dedicated to the treatment and well being of our visitors she is an outstanding mental health coach registered with BAAT (British Association of Art Therapists). Raffa has outstanding experience in managing rehabs across the country and is vastly experienced at helping people recover from drug and alcohol addictions.