How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?

Heroin is a potent opioid drug with a high potential for addiction. Many people turn to heroin after becoming dependent on prescription opioid medications, like oxycodone and hydrocodone, used to treat chronic pain. But the real question is, how does heroin affect the brain? Unfortunately, heroin abuse can quickly lead to addiction and other dangerous side effects.

If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin abuse, it is time to get help. At Promises, we offer a variety of residential and outpatient treatment programs, including medically monitored detox, dual diagnosis treatment, and addiction therapy. Contact us at 17135283709 to find out more about our heroin addiction treatment programs and which of our treatment centers is conveniently located for you. 

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?

As a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, heroin slows down the body’s functions, including in the brain. The process usually works like this:

  1. Heroin is injected, snorted, or smoked.
  2. Heroin quickly enters the brain and converts to morphine.
  3. The morphine binds to opioid receptors located throughout the central nervous system.
  4. The person feels a rush of euphoria, relaxation, and pain relief.

A heroin high can last for minutes or hours, depending on the delivery method. Smoking or snorting heroin results in a shorter high, approximately 15 to 30 minutes in duration. Injecting heroin extends the high to several hours. 

The pleasurable effects of heroin encourage people to continue using the drug whenever they want an escape from chronic pain or emotional distress. Over time, heroin abuse can lead to long-term changes in the brain.

Long-Term Effects of Heroin Abuse on the Brain

Heroin is classified as a full opioid agonist, meaning that it fully binds with opioid receptors to produce a strong response. Other full opioid agonists include methadone, fentanyl, codeine, and hydrocodone. Each of these drugs has powerful pain-relieving and relaxing properties, which contribute heavily to its addictive potential. When used long-term, heroin and other opioid agonists can trigger some worrisome changes in the brain:

Rewiring of the Brain’s Reward Pathways

The brain’s reward pathways basically function to keep you repeating certain behaviors, for better or worse. Food, sex, and social interactions are rewarding to ensure that you continue eating to live, procreating for the survival of the species, and engaging with your peers for the well-being of society. 

Drugs like heroin hijack the brain’s reward pathways, prioritizing the drug above rewards that bring positive results. This rewiring reinforces drug-seeking behavior and makes it increasingly difficult for you to experience pleasure from non-drug-related activities.

Instigating Structural Changes in the Brain

Brain imaging techniques have actually shown that chronic heroin use leads to structural changes in the brain. For example, a loss of volume was noted in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain responsible for memory, impulse control, and decision-making.

Impairment of Cognitive Function

Due to structural changes in the brain, those who use heroin long-term may start to notice memory loss, a decrease in attention span, and impaired decision-making abilities. You may see improvement in these areas after quitting heroin, but in some individuals, these impairments can last long after heroin use has ceased.

Enroll in Heroin Addiction Treatment at Promises Today 

The effects of heroin on the brain can be unsettling, but there is hope to protect your cognitive function if you get help sooner rather than later. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the top choice for overcoming heroin addiction, as it helps minimize the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms while providing you with comprehensive therapies to address mental and physical health. To learn more about how Promises can help you quit heroin for good, contact us at 17135283709 or fill out our online contact form to speak with a member of our team.

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