As an opioid, heroin is a central nervous system depressant. That means that it causes the brain to slow down. For those using this drug, it has a number of different side effects, including some short- and long-term effects on the brain that may create significant changes in your future and health. As an illicit substance, there is no safe level of use of this drug. At all levels, it can cause fatal overdoses as well as dependence, tolerance, and addiction. 

But, how does heroin affect the brain? What does heroin do to the brain to create changes there? Here’s a closer look.

How Heroin Affects the Brain

When a person uses heroin, the drug travels through the bloodstream to the brain. There, it has an initial depressing impact. That means that it slows down the function of the brain. As a result, the brain slows the function of other organs, including how hard and fast the heart beats and how much you breathe. It may also cause the brain function to change in other ways, including reducing focus, memory, and overall cognitive function.

As an opioid, heroin also impacts the opioid receptors in the brain. These control the pain signals a person feels. That means that the drug may help you stop feeling pain when using it, much like other opioids work. However, it has a very high risk of addiction, and because of that, heroin is not recommended as a treatment option for chronic or acute pain.

Yet another way that heroin impacts the brain is by triggering the brain’s pleasure center. This is the area of the brain that recognizes pleasurable activities and, as a result, tries to seek out more of those experiences. Many people who take heroin feel an initial surge of euphoria or a high. This feeling may be very relaxing and calming. Because it is pleasurable, the brain learns to seek out this drug on a consistent basis so it can feel the same experience over and over again. This can lead to dependence on the drug.

Over time and when a person consistently uses heroin, dependence forms, making it nearly impossible for a person to feel normal if they do not take the substance. If they try to stop using it, they may feel intense pain, insomnia, anxiety, and cravings for the drug. These may be so significant that they end up causing a person to seek out the drug to use over and over again.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Heroin Use?

When a person just starts taking heroin, they may notice a number of initial effects. This may include:

  • Trance-like state
  • A slowed heart rate
  • Slowed breathing
  • Itching of the skin
  • Euphoria or a feeling of being high
  • Flushed skin

These symptoms typically fade within a few hours of use. However, even the first time a person uses this drug, there can be adverse, severe side effects, including paranoia and overdose. Your brain may feel depressed in terms of function, almost as though you cannot focus, but you also do not care to do so. Your body reacts to the drug by slowing down most functions.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use?

When using heroin over a period of time, you may notice a number of complications arising. Some of those may include:

  • Development of liver disease
  • Increased risk for lung infections
  • Collapsed veins
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Depression onset
  • Kidney disease
  • Chronic constipation
  • And a drop in sex drive

In addition to this, many people experience less control over their actions. They become more risk-taking, which increases the risk of driving intoxicated, engaging in sexual activity, getting hepatitis or HIV, and overdosing. In women, it can also lead to miscarriage.

Another important impact that heroin has on the brain specifically is the deterioration of the brain’s white matter. This is the functional portion of the brain. This is why many people suffer long-term cognitive impairment when using opioids, like heroin, for a long time. In other words, your brain suffers significant damage.

What to Do When You’re Facing Risks?

In many cases, getting help now may stop some damage caused, and for others, it may lead to improvement. The key is getting in to get that help.

Reach out to our admissions team to discuss treatment options. We will be able to help you work through the initial detox period and get you on the road to recovery. Give us a call at (866) 971-5531 to get started on the path toward heroin addiction recovery.

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