How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?

Every time a person uses heroin, they put themselves at risk for extensive damage. Heroin’s impact can include impaired thinking, physical harm, and drastic behavioral changes. The common thread among these negative outcomes is how the drug affects the brain. However, continued research into the questions, “How does heroin affect the brain?” may result in approaches and techniques for treating people who have become addicted to this dangerous drug.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a powerful and highly addictive substance. After all, it is an opioid, which is the category that also includes morphine, fentanyl, opium, and many prescription painkillers.

Heroin usually appears as either a powder or a sticky, tar-like substance. It is typically abused by being smoked, snorted, or injected. 

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug in the United States. This means it poses a high risk for addiction. Schedule I drugs are also considered to have no legitimate medical use in the U.S.

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?

Heroin affects the brain by interacting with parts of the central nervous system associated with pleasure and pain. It also disrupts areas of the brain that control automatic functions like body temperature, heart rate, and breathing.

When a person uses heroin, they often experience an intense rush of euphoria. This is accompanied by an easing of physical pain. As a result, heroin is attractive to people seeking a recreational high.

Because heroin affects how the brain regulates the heart and lungs, overdose can be fatal. Heroin overdose symptoms include loss of consciousness, shallow breathing, faint pulse, and a significant drop in body temperature. As a result, anyone who exhibits any signs of heroin overdose needs immediate care.

Signs of Heroin Use

People who use heroin may go to great lengths to hide this behavior from family members, friends, and colleagues. However, the longer a person uses heroin, the more likely they will exhibit certain warning signs.

The physical signs of heroin use can include:

  • Glassy, watery eyes
  • Wearing long pants and long sleeves, even in warm weather (which can be an attempt to hide evidence of heroin injections)
  • Constipation
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Scabs or sores on the skin (which can be a sign they’ve been injecting heroin)
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Diminished energy
  • Slowed breathing

Because of the ways heroin affects the brain, people who have been using this drug may also exhibit certain behavioral signs, such as:

  • Pulling away from family and friends
  • Lying or being otherwise deceptive about where they go and who they associate with
  • Not paying attention to their appearance or personal hygiene
  • Losing interest in activities, hobbies, topics, or other things that used to be important to them
  • Experiencing drastic mood swings

If someone you know has been demonstrating any signs of heroin use, encourage them to consult with a qualified healthcare provider. Being assessed, getting an accurate diagnosis, and receiving an appropriate treatment recommendation can be essential steps on the path toward improved health.

Dangers of Heroin Use

Using heroin can lead to a variety of devastating outcomes, such as:

  • Damage to the liver and kidneys
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Brain damage
  • Financial devastation
  • Development of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Destroyed interpersonal relationships
  • Separation, divorce, and loss of child custody
  • Being arrested and incarcerated
  • Thoughts of self-harm and suicide
  • Death

Some of the dangers of heroin use can occur the very first time a person uses this drug. For example, using heroin just once can result in overdose and death. Other dangers are more likely to occur among those who have been using heroin for an extended period of time.

In any case, seeking professional treatment for heroin abuse and drug addiction can limit a person’s risk for continued harm. Also, treatment helps people begin to heal from any past damage that resulted from their heroin use.

Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

People who use heroin can quickly become addicted. Common signs and symptoms of heroin addiction can include:

  • Tolerance, or needing to use greater amounts of heroin to achieve the expected effects
  • Withdrawal symptoms, or the onset of physical and psychological distress when unable to acquire and use heroin
  • Spending significant amounts of time acquiring, using, and recovering from heroin
  • Prioritizing heroin over personal and professional responsibilities
  • Being unable to get through the day without using heroin
  • Trying to stop using heroin, but being unable to do so

Heroin Addiction Recovery is Possible

In conclusion, the answer to the question “How does heroin affect the brain?” is that heroin can cause tremendous harm, not just to the brain, but to person’s overall well-being. Fortunately, heroin addiction is a treatable condition. When people get the right type of care, they can stop using heroin. Also, they can achieve long-term recovery from heroin addiction.

For many people, effective treatment for heroin addiction starts with detoxification, or detox. After all, detox programs offer expert guidance and support to help people get through withdrawal as safely and comfortably as possible. 

Once a person has completed detox, they can transition into an inpatient or outpatient heroin addiction program. During treatment, people can begin to make important behavioral changes and build a strong foundation for long-term recovery.    

Get Heroin Addiction Treatment in South Florida

Ambrosia Treatment Center offers personalized treatment for adults who have become addicted to heroin and other opioids. Heroin addiction programming at our center also includes customized services for people who are experiencing certain co-occurring mental health concerns. Our continuum of care includes detoxification, inpatient treatment, an intensive outpatient program (IOP), and outpatient services. To learn more about heroin addiction treatment in South Florida, contact us today.

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