How does Heroin Affect the Brain?



Heroin is a powerful opiate which significantly impacts almost all of our bodily processes, either directly or indirectly. Much of this impact is exerted through heroin’s direct effect on the brain, where it binds to receptors and triggers a whole host of neurological responses which in turn control everything from our respiration and heart rate to our digestive processes and appetite. What exactly does heroin do to our brains that makes it so dangerous, addictive, and deadly?


Upon entering the brain, heroin converts to morphine and begins binding with opiate receptors. This triggers the release of several neurochemicals, which is what causes the immediate rush of euphoria reported by those who have used heroin or other opiates. The activation of these opiate receptors blocks pain signals emanating from nerves in the body from being received and processed by the brain. Additionally, neurochemicals released in the brain stem slow our respiration and heart rate, which is the mechanism through which heroin exerts its lethality at higher doses. These effects occur as soon as the first dose of heroin enters the brain, meaning it only takes one instance of heroin use to lead to a fatal overdose.


The human body seeks to maintain a level of homeostasis, or balance, in terms of its processes and chemical levels. It is the body’s attempt to restore balance which causes a regular heroin user to develop a tolerance to the drug, forcing them to use larger and larger doses more frequently in order to achieve the desired effect. In addition to the physical dependence that results from longer-term heroin use, clinical studies have determined that prolonged abuse of heroin can cause white matter in the brain to deteriorate, negatively affecting a person’s decision-making ability and stress responses for the rest of their lives. These long-term effects of heroin on the brain are life-altering and may cripple a person’s ability to function in society permanently.


Heroin use has a substantial impact on our bodies and our minds, both in the short term and after prolonged substance abuse. The immediate effect heroin has upon the brain is damaging at best and lethal at worst, as the flood of neurochemicals resulting from the use of heroin can easily lead to fatal respiratory depression after just one instance of use. In the long term, your body’s attempt to cope with the introduction of this foreign substance will always result in a physical dependence and often leads to permanent damage to the brain, negatively impacting a person’s ability to control their emotions and make rational decisions for the rest of their lives. These are all compelling reasons to seek treatment immediately should you find yourself actively abusing heroin. Do not delay in seeking treatment - call our Admissions Counselors right now at 833-818-3031 and prevent any further irreversible damage to your body and mind.


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