Monday, October 29, 2012

Heroin Addiction & The Brain

Heroin is an extremely addictive and illegal opiate from the same family tree as opium and morphine. Derived from poppies and sold in either a sticky tar-like form or powder, heroin is consumed by smoking, sniffing, or injecting direction into the bloodstream. Heroin users commonly describe the high as an intense surge of euphoria followed by a heavy, warm sensation – similar to slipping into a pool of warm water.

The Brain

The brain is the control center for the entire body with a seemingly endless assortment of chemicals named neurotransmitters. When these chemicals are released, they attach to specific areas call neuroreceptors. These special areas are found within the brain, the nerves existing it. Neurotransmitters have an array of shapes, which correspond to unique neuroreceptors.

The Brain & Heroin

Oddly enough, heroin possesses the exact same makeup of the endorphin neurotransmitter. These endorphins serve as the body’s “joy” chemical, and is released by the brain as a response to stress and pain. The body and brain possess natural endorphin receptors, and due to heroin’s endorphin makeup, the drug fits perfectly into the receptors. Because the brain has no control over the exact amount of heroin that meets the receptors, the effect of the drug is often much more intense than a typical endorphin rush.


The human brain is not able to distinguish between external chemicals and those it creates to serve the same function. When high amounts of these external chemicals are introduced to the brain, the brain will adjust to ensure proper balance. As such, a smaller amount of the natural chemicals are produced, and receptors are gradually shut down. This results in users requiring more of the external chemical to achieve the same effect. If an addict decides to quit using heroin, the body will go into withdrawal due to the lack of endorphin production. In these cases, addicts must continue their addiction to avoid becoming sick. However, with long enough abstinence periods, the brain will slowly begin to recover, and endorphin levels will return to normal. 

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