The Common Neurological Risks Of Drug Use
Although many are aware that substance abuse can cause numerous negative side effects, the short-lived euphoria and cravings can make it difficult to cease use. The short- and long-term side effects can vary from person to person, but over time, they begin to evolve and become more threatening as a persons patterns and addiction changes. While some of the neurological risks associated with use are rather mild, others can be severe and life-threatening. Over time, frequent substance abuse can lead to the development of impairments that may negatively affect employment, relationships, and financial situations.
Effects Of Hallucinogens On The Brain
Popularized in the 1960s, use of hallucinogenic drugs has made a comeback in recent years among college students and music festival goers.
While very little research has been done on this class of drugs, it is thought that hallucinogens, such as LSD and DMT, affect the brains serotonin levels. When ingested, these drugs create an over-stimulation of serotonin and flood the mind with signals that mimic psychosis and break down your inhibitions.
Hallucinogens also stimulate the part of your brain that is responsible for your mood and your perceptions. This can lead to sensory crossover, which is why those who use hallucinogens sometimes report hearing colors or seeing sounds.
This class of drugs is also thought to interrupt or block the brains reception of glutamate, a chemical responsible for your pain perception, learning, and memory. Due to this, you may feel like you have dissociated from your body when using some hallucinogens or feel very detached from your surroundings.
Before taking any drugs, its essential to know that affects that these potentially mind-altering substances can have on your brain.
This page does not provide medical advice.
Important Dates In The History Of Opiates
1803 – morphine was isolated from opium by Frederick Serturner. 1832 – codeine was extracted from opium. 1853 – the hypodermic needle was invented.1874 – heroin was first produced from morphine.1898 – The Bayer Company introduced heroin as a substitute for morphine.1906 – Pure Food and Drugs Act – required medicines to be labeled with the materials that they contained.1914 – Harrison Narcotic Act – added a tax on opiate distribution.1922 – Narcotic Import and Export Act – restrictedthe importation of crude opium except for medical use.1924 – Heroin Act – made manufacture and possessionof heroin illegal.1930 – Federal Bureau of Narcotics was created.1970 – Controlled Substances Act was passed – divided drugs into categories, set regulations and penalties for narcotics.
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The True Extent Of The Current Opioid Crisis
Around 130 people still die every day from an opioid-related overdose in the U.S., according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse . These fatal overdoses emanate from the misuse and abuse of prescription opioid painkillers, eg. OxyContin being just one of these, heroin, and synthetic opioids, which are predominantly illegally manufactured, and often imported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently estimates that the economic burden nationwide of the misuse of prescription opioids stands at around $78.5 billion a year in total. Here are just a few of the deeply concerning statistics about the extent of the crisis:;
- 21-29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain will misuse them
- 8-12% will go on to develop an opioid use disorder
- 4 6% who misuse such opioids will transition to heroin, and
- Predominantly, it is the young who are the most vulnerable from opioid addiction; however, every U.S. demographic is suffering
How Heroin Causes Cravings
Heroin disrupts the reward system in the brain. It overwhelms opioid receptors, causing massive amounts of pleasure. The brain notices that heroin makes us feel good, and it remembers the situation that the person was in when he or she used heroin. In short, the brain produces cravings for heroin because it learns over time that the drug causes happiness.
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Heroin And The Opioid System
To better understand what heroin does in, and to, the brain, it is necessary to first look at the drug itself. Heroin is synthesized from a combination of the opium poppy and morphine. This makes heroin an opiate; like any opiate, it targets the naturally occurring opioid receptors in the brain.
The opioid system in the human body is responsible for regulating pain, as well as controlling how a person experiences the sensation and anticipation of being rewarded. This makes opioids a double-edged sword; whether found in nature or isolated and derived in a lab , opiates are very effective painkillers, but they can also be very addictive.
All opioids work the same way in the brain, but the chemistry behind heroin makes it act much faster than most kinds of similar drugs. If heroin is injected into a vein, it takes only 10 seconds for the bloodstream to carry heroin to the brain. When the opioid hits the receptors, the drug binds to specific molecules in the receptors, which are linked to how the brain processes the sensations of pain and pleasure.
The immediate effect of a powerful drug like heroin binding to those molecules is a surge of euphoria and pleasure, giving way to a feeling of supreme tranquility that can last for hours. Healthline describes it as a warm blanket on the brain. Pain, meanwhile, is dulled or completely forgotten.
Heroin Use Symptoms Tolerance Dependence And Addiction
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Effects Of Heroin Addiction
The effects of heroin abuse will differ from person to person, depending upon the length of abuse, amount of heroin used, the presence of other substances, and individual makeup. Severity of symptoms tend to get worse the longer the drug is abused. The most common effects of heroin addiction may include:
- Liver disease
- Skin disease and abscesses around injection sites
- Infections of the valves and lining of the heart
- HIV or Hepatitis B and C
- Chronic pneumonia
- Blood clots, leading to stroke, pulmonary embolism, and heart attack
- Kidney disease
- Risks of contracting chronic illnesses
- Risks for blood-borne pathogens
How Heroin Affects The Nervous System And Brain
After your nervous system is consistently exposed to opioids and the subsequent elevated levels of dopamine, you adjust and develop a tolerance to heroin. This adjustment means that your threshold for pain is lowered, and your sensitivity to pain is higher. Some of these side effects may even begin as soon as after the first time you use the drug.
After you begin using heroin, your pathways that signal pain become overactive, and in this way, heroin affects the nervous system by creating the feeling that you need to keep using heroin to maintain a sense of normalcy.
Another way that heroin affects the nervous system is the fact that it depresses activity. This occurrence means it slows down vital functions of the brain and the entire nervous system, including respiration. This is what causes people to overdose from heroin.
How heroin affects the nervous system as a depressant also includes the fact that it can cause an irregular heart rate, and it can lower their bodys temperature and blood pressure.
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Mental Function And Heroin Addiction
Heroin has a significant impact on the users brain short term and long term. Not long after using heroin, a person will experience a suppression of their central nervous system. This causes mental cloudiness making it difficult to respond to people and make decisions. This suppressed mental function is a short term effect on a person and will pass as the heroin leave a persons body, however, this clouded mental function can make it difficult to resist the cravings for this drug.
As time passes, heroin can cause permanent changes to the physiology of a persons brain. Many studies have shown a link to heroin use and the deterioration of the brains white matter. Those who lose white matter lose the capability to control behavior and respond properly to stress. This causes a revolving door of heroin use.
How Different Drugs Damage Your Brain
Different substances will have different impacts on the body and the way it functions. The severity of side effects varies depending on factors such as amount used, frequency of use, potency of the substance, and whether or not it is mixed with another substance. Overall, drug and alcohol use can impair motor functions, decision-making and problem-solving abilities, as well as reduce inhibitions. Some substances can produce additional side effects that may be unique. These include:
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Agape Treatment Center And Heroin Addiction Recovery
At Agape Treatment Center, we specialize in treating heroin addiction regardless of how severe it has become. It is important to remember that substance abuse is progressive, and even if your symptoms are not severe yet, they will continue to worsen over time. If you have recently started using heroin, the prospect of doing permanent damage to your brain might seem like a long shot.
However, doesnt brain damage occur in people who have been abusing heroin for years? With rapidly changing potencies and the inclusion of fentanyl in many current batches of heroin, there is no telling how severe your initial reaction will be. Even people who use heroin one time are liable to experience a range of serious side effects.
How Does Heroin Work In The Brain
Heroin interferes with the natural process of neurotransmission. The role of neurotransmitters is to enable communication between neurons, which are responsible for sending, receiving and processing signals.1
Heroin mimics the structure of a natural neurotransmitter which enables it to activate neurons. This abnormal activity disrupts the natural functions of the brain and the normal communication between neurons.1
Repeated heroin use can cause deterioration of the brains white matter, which is responsible for the persons decision-making abilities, the ability to regulate behavior, and the ability to respond to stressful situations.2
However administered, heroin is highly addictive and enters the brain rapidly.3 However,; smoking or injecting heroin allows the drug to reach the brain the fastest, which considerably increases the risk of developing heroin use disorder.2
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Brain Damage From Heroin Abuse
Next, opioid receptors in the brain are tied to pain relief, but they are also tied to breathing. A person who abuses heroin will experience depressed breathing, even at non-overdose amounts. Depressed breathing is when breathing becomes shallow, slow, or irregular, and the body then receives less oxygen. With less oxygen, the brain will begin to reduce function of other systems in the body, which could lead to organ damage. Lack of oxygen could also lead to brain damage.
Abusing heroin has also been linked to a form of brain damage that looks like Alzheimers disease. The drug, according to one study, creates low-grade inflammation in the brain, along with a buildup of proteins. The drug may, for some people, induce a form of dementia.
What Heroin Does To Your Brain
When youre in pain, your brain produces natural opioid chemicals to help relieve discomfort and aching. Most times these naturally occurring opiates dont last for a very long time and may not be strong enough to help ease chronic pain. Heroin, on the other hand, works like a very strong version of the natural opioid chemicals in your brain. Heroin enters your body and binds itself to your brains opioid receptors. Because of heroins high potency, the substance releases an influx of dopamine and other neurotransmitters that help you feel relaxed, happy, and free from pain. Unfortunately, this is where problems in the brain begin. The more the brain encounters synthetic opioids, the less likely it is to produce natural opioids, making it more difficult for the brain to go drug-free.
Heroin Stops The Brain from Producing Its Own Opioids
Heroin May Cause Cognitive Impairment
- Long-term use of heroin can severely impair the brain. Using heroin for a long period of time allows harmful proteins to build up in the brain. Chronic heroin use can also inflame the brain and cause structural changes similar to those associated with Alzheimers disease. When this happens, you might experience dementia-like symptoms such as mental decline, confusion, personality changes, lack of restraint, depression, nervousness, paranoia, and memory loss.
Heroin Use Can Deteriorate White Matter in The Brain
Heroin Can Create Long-Term Imbalances In The Brain
Other Ways Heroin Affects The Brain
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The Opioid Crisis & Heroin Addiction In Arizona
Just like every other state in the U.S., Arizona has had its share of the effects of the opioid epidemic plaguing the nation. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, statistics show that between June 15, 2017 and July 24, 2020:
- There have been about 6,500 suspected opioid deaths.
- There have been close to 47,000 suspected opioid overdoses.
Additionally, the NIDA reports that:
- In 2018, there were 1,106 opioid-overdose deaths reported in Arizona, out of a nationwide total of 14,996.
- 352 of those deaths were heroin overdoses.
, AZ, one of the worst affected counties in the state, reports that:;
- Between October 2018 and September 2019, there were nearly 1,400 drug-related overdose deaths, mostly involving alcohol, opioids and/or methamphetamines.
- About 91% of overdose deaths in the county involved poly drug use.
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Inability To Generate Pleasure
As an individual takes more drugs, the effects of heroin causes the brain to confuse the drug for dopamine itself, relying on heroin to fabricate all feelings of happiness. Despair and depression are common consequences of continued heroin usage. These disorders can lead to suicide attempts. Other negative emotions that increase with use are:
- Emotional volatility
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How Heroin Creates Addiction
Each time people use heroin, it reinforces changes in the brains reward system that cause cravings. Brain receptors continue to adapt to heroin exposure, making people more dependent on the drug as they continue to use it.
Depending on a variety of genetic and environmental factors, some people develop a disease called heroin addiction because of changes to areas of the brain that affect self-control, motivation and pleasure. Most of the time, these people seek heroin for the sole purpose of avoiding withdrawal.
Without heroin treatmetn, people addicted to the drug may be unable to quit. They are often incapable of reversing the long-term changes that heroin has caused without professional help.
Detoxing from heroin helps the brain recover from adaptations that cause dependence. Once people complete detox and overcome withdrawal, counseling and therapy can help them learn how to control cravings and make healthy decisions.
What Will Heroin Do To Your Brain
The body contains many neurotransmitters, which are naturally occurring chemicals that bind to certain receptors within the brain to complete vital functions. One of these receptors, called mu-opioid receptors, is activated in the brains reward center when an opioid drug enters the central nervous system. As a result, a significant amount of certain feel good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine are released, which leads to intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Over time drug-taking behavior is reinforced by this excess dopamine release, and physical dependence develops. There are certain consequences involved in introducing opioid narcotics to the system as opposed to naturally occurring mu-opioids.
The brain becomes incapable of producing these feel good chemicals independently, and it becomes completely reliant on artificial production. This is one of the most significant ways that heroin affects the brain. When heroin is used chronically, it can lead to permanent memory loss as well.
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How Does Heroin Work
Heroin can be injected, smoked or snorted up the nose. All of these ways of taking heroin send it to the brain very quickly. This is why the drug is so dangerous and why it is often so quick to cause addiction. When an individual abuses heroin , the drug works through the steps illustrated below:
- Once the drug reaches the brain, it is converted to morphine by the enzymes. This occurs because morphine is a natural opiate while heroin is a semi-synthetic opiate, derived from morphine.
- Tthe morphine then binds to the opiate receptors in certain areas of the brain including
- Part of the cerebral cortex
- The VTA
- Spinal chord
These immediate feelings in the brain caused by heroin use are pleasurable. They are what will make those individuals who become addicted to heroin want to abuse the drug again and again.