Your Brain on Drugs: Heroin
Your Brain on Drugs: What is heroin?
Heroin is an illicit street drug known as an opiate that is synthesized from morphine. Heroin is a naturally occurring substance that can be extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. Heroin usually comes in either a white or brown powder or as a black sap like substance known as “black tar heroin.”
Heroin can be injected, snorted, or smoked. All the routes of administering heroin rapidly deliver the drug to the brain. Injecting heroin means to use a needle to put the drug immediately into the bloodstream. Snorting is inhaling heroin powder through the nose. Smoking heroin involves inhaling heroin. Anyway heroin is used it can lead to addiction and other health problems.
Your Brain on Drugs: Heroin and the Brain
When heroin enters the brain it is turned into morphine and then binds to specific receptors known as opioid receptors. Opioid receptors are found all in the brain especially in the parts of the brain that perceive pain and pleasure. These receptors are not only in the brain but in the brain stem. The brain stem controls automatic processes of the body such as breathing, blood pressure, and arousal. Usually when someone overdoses on heroin it is because of a suppression of their breathing.
For someone injecting heroin the experience is a bit different than those who snort or smoke it. After an intravenous shot of heroin, heroin users will experiences a rush of euphoria. Which heroin users rightly call “the rush.” This coincides with other symptoms of shooting up heroin such as dry mouth, warm flushing of the skin, heaviness of arms and legs, and clouded mental ability. After this initial euphoria, the heroin user will most likely go into a wakeful yet sleep and drowsy state known as a “nod.” Anyone who snorts or smokes heroin gets the same effects just without the initial “rush” of euphoria.
Heroin users tend to want to use heroin all the time. This is because it makes them feel so good. When heroin is used regularly it can lead to a tolerance. This means that the heroin user’s physical and mental response to the drug when they use it decreases so they need more heroin to achieve the same effects as before. Heroin users are at a very high risk of addiction due to the way the drug bind to opiate receptors in the brain.
Your Brain on Drugs: Heroin Side Effects
Aside from the effects heroin has on an individual’s brain it also can wreak havoc on their body. For instance, those who shoot up heroin can end up with collapsed veins, abscesses, liver and kidney disease, pneumonia, clogged blood vessels that can lead to permanent damage of the brain, liver, kidneys, lungs, and liver.
With continued use of heroin in any way a drug user will become physically dependent on it. If the drug user tries to stop using heroin due to their brain expecting it, they will now experience what is known as heroin withdrawal symptoms. Most heroin withdrawal symptoms are not fatal but are extremely unpleasant. They can range from insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, hot and cold flashes, muscle and bone pain, and restlessness. This can go on for 2 to 3 days. That is why it is recommended that anyone with a heroin problem seek outside help for their addiction. The brain can’t handle the loss of its feel good drug once an individual stops and most drug users will decide to go back to using heroin instead of sticking through the withdrawal until goes away.
Your Brain on Drugs: Treatment for Heroin
Heroin addiction is a pretty hard drug to kick due to the strong physical dependance that occurs in users. A heroin user can either detox through tapering, going cold turkey, or participating in a methadone or Suboxone maintenance program.
Opiate withdrawal is rarely fatal. It is characterized by acute withdrawal symptoms which peak 48 to 72 hours after the last opiate dose and disappear within 7 to 10 days, to be followed by a longer term abstinence syndrome of general malaise and opioid craving.
According to NIDA, properly prescribed methadone is not intoxicating or sedating, and its effects do not interfere with ordinary activities such as driving a car. The medication is taken orally and it suppresses narcotic withdrawal for 24 to 36 hours. Patients are able to perceive pain and have emotional reactions. Most important, methadone relieves the craving associated with heroin addiction. Among methadone patients, it has been found that normal street doses of heroin are ineffective at producing euphoria, thus making the use of heroin more easily extinguishable. Methadone’s effects last four to six times as long as those of heroin, so people in treatment need to take it only once a day. It’s important to note that there have been concerns over Methadone maintenance because of the risk of addicts continuing to take heroin and methadone simultaneously thus relapsing and overdosing.
Buprenorphine is another option for Heroin treatment as it has weaker opiate effects and produces a lower level of physical dependence. so patients who discontinue the medication generally have fewer withdrawal symptoms than do those who stop taking methadone. Because of these advantages, buprenorphine may be appropriate for use in a wider variety of treatment settings than the currently available medications. Several other medications with potential for treating heroin overdose or addiction are currently under investigation by NIDA. Other drugs aimed at reducing the severity of the withdrawal symptoms include Clonidine, Lofexidine, Naloxone and Naltrexone.
If your loved one is in need of heroin addiction treatment please give us a call at 800-951-6135.