Drug and Alcohol - Opioid Addiction

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain? Here’s What Happens When You Use Heroin

How Does Heroin Affect The Brain?

How does heroin affect the brain? Heroin changes the brain in fundamental ways...which is why it's so addictive. Learn more in our blog.

Heroin, known as "devil's candy" or "the destroyer," has deeply affected communities for years. It's a dangerous drug that can trap you in addiction. In this article, we will discuss the complex ways heroin impacts your brain, a key to understanding addiction.

Knowing how it changes your brain is essential for anyone looking to protect their health or help others. At The Edge Treatment Center, we understand the battle against heroin addiction. We believe in your ability to overcome this challenge. With personalized care tailored to your unique needs, we're here to support your journey towards a healthier life.

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain: What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a potent, illegal opioid made from morphine, coming from the opium poppy. It's a Schedule I drug, meaning it's highly addictive, with serious health risks and no accepted medical use.

Heroin works by affecting the brain's opioid receptors, offering pain relief and euphoria, but also leading to a high chance of addiction. It falls within the opioid category, which includes both natural substances like morphine and synthetic ones like fentanyl, though heroin's dangers have led to its illegality worldwide.

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?

Our brains have a reward system that motivates us to seek pleasure, like enjoying a good meal or achieving a goal. This system relies on a chemical called dopamine, which creates feelings of happiness and encourages us to repeat rewarding activities.

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain: Dopamine Release

Dopamine is known as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter. It's released when we experience something enjoyable, reinforcing the desire to seek out that pleasure again.

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain: Heroin's Impact

Heroin drastically changes the brain's reward system. It causes a large release of dopamine, leading to intense euphoria. Over time, heroin use can disrupt the reward system, requiring higher doses for the same effect and reducing the brain's ability to feel pleasure from everyday activities.

If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin addiction, The Edge Treatment Center can help. We offer personalized treatment to support recovery and restore the brain's natural balance.

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How Does Heroin Affect the Brain: What Are The Long-Term Changes in the Brain Due to Heroin Use?

Heroin profoundly impacts the brain when used over an extended period. This impact is primarily characterized by the development of tolerance, alterations in the brain's structure and function, and an increased risk of addiction.

Building Tolerance

Regular heroin use leads your brain to need more of the drug for the same effect, a sign of building tolerance. This means you may find yourself using more heroin over time to feel good.

Changes in Brain Structure

Heroin affects the brain by causing changes in certain regions:

  • Hippocampus: This area is key for memory and learning. Long-term heroin use can shrink it, making it hard to remember things or make decisions.

  • Prefrontal Cortex: Responsible for controlling impulses and making decisions. When affected by heroin, it’s tougher to resist the drug, even if you know it’s harmful.

  • Striatal Changes: This part of the brain deals with motivation and reward. Heroin use can weaken your ability to find joy in everyday activities, making quitting harder.

Despite these challenges, there's always hope for a new, healthier life. At The Edge Treatment Center, we're committed to helping you through personalized treatment care. We believe in your strength to overcome addiction and rebuild a fulfilling life.

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain: Heroin Withdrawal and the Brain

Heroin withdrawal is a tough and often agonizing ordeal that arises when someone who has become dependent on heroin decides to stop using it. It's a critical stage in the cycle of addiction and grasping how withdrawal from drugs like heroin affects the brain is key to understanding the potent hold heroin can have on individuals.

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Common symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

Flu-Like Symptoms

Many folks go through symptoms that are reminiscent of the flu, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.

Muscle and Bone Pain

Heroin withdrawal often brings about significant discomfort in muscles and bones, which can be incredibly unsettling.

Anxiety and Depression

Emotional turbulence is common during withdrawal, with intense anxiety and depression being frequent companions.


The struggle to get a good night's sleep and restlessness are common complaints.

Intense Cravings

There's an overpowering urge to use heroin again to alleviate these distressing symptoms.

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How Does Heroin Affect the Brain: How the Brain Reacts to Heroin Withdrawal

The brain plays a central role in the ordeal of heroin withdrawal. When heroin is suddenly taken away, the brain is left in chemical disarray.

During withdrawal, the brain responds in several ways:

Drug Cravings

The brain, accustomed to the surge of dopamine caused by heroin use, desperately craves the drug. These cravings are a potent force driving the cycle of addiction, compelling individuals to seek out and use heroin to ease their discomfort.


With heroin out of the picture, physical and psychological discomfort sets in. As the brain struggles to regain equilibrium, individuals experience the symptoms we discussed, like pain, anxiety, and depression.


Repeated heroin use can result in neuroadaptations in the brain. It becomes less responsive to natural rewards and more reliant on heroin to maintain normal function. This neuroadaptation reinforces the cycle of addiction.

The Dangers of Heroin Overdose

Heroin, a powerful opioid drug, poses significant dangers to those who use it, with one of the gravest risks being overdose.

The Danger of Overdose

Heroin is extremely dangerous because of how unpredictable it is. Even a slight increase in dose can lead to an overdose, putting your life at risk due to:

Unpredictable Purity

It's hard to know how strong street heroin is, making overdosing easier.

Tolerance Changes

Using heroin regularly means needing more to feel its effects. But if you've taken a break and then use your usual amount, the risk of overdose jumps because your body can't handle it like before.

Polydrug Abuse

Often, heroin is mixed with stronger drugs like fentanyl without the user knowing, greatly increasing the overdose risk.

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How Does Heroin Affect The Brain: Heroin Overdose

An overdose can be deadly, affecting the brain by:

  • Slowing Breathing: Heroin slows down your breathing, and too much can stop it, cutting off oxygen to your brain.

  • Coma: Lack of oxygen can put you into a coma, a deep state of unconsciousness.

  • Brain Damage: Not getting enough oxygen can lead to lasting brain damage.

  • Death: Sadly, many overdoses are fatal, often from not breathing.

At The Edge Treatment Center, we understand the seriousness of heroin addiction and overdose risks. We're here with empathy and expert care to support you or your loved one in finding a safer, healthier path forward. Our personalized treatment options are designed to help manage addiction and reduce the risk of overdose. There's always hope for recovery and a chance for a new beginning.

Why Fast Action Is Crucial in a Heroin Overdose

Acting Quickly Saves Lives

If you think someone is experiencing a heroin overdose, acting fast is essential because:

Naloxone Can Reverse Overdose

This medication can quickly counteract heroin's life-threatening effects, but it needs to be administered immediately.

Professional Care Matters

Doctors and nurses can provide essential care like monitoring heart rate, giving oxygen, and more to keep the person stable.

Protecting the Brain

Getting help swiftly can lessen the chance of long-lasting brain damage due to lack of oxygen.

Every Minute Counts

Heroin overdoses can be deadly very quickly.

At The Edge Treatment Center, we can't stress enough the importance of quick action during an overdose. Our team is committed to educating about the risks of heroin and providing supportive care to those in need. Remember, your prompt response can make all the difference, potentially saving a life and offering a chance for recovery and a healthier future.

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Treatment and Recovery for Heroin Addiction

Battling heroin addiction is tough, but remember, you're not alone. There are many paths to recovery, and finding the right one for you is key:

  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an approach that combines medications that ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms with counseling to support your mental health.

  • Inpatient Rehabilitation: If you need a structured environment to focus on recovery, this residential option might be for you.

  • Outpatient Treatment: If you have responsibilities that you can't step away from, outpatient care offers flexibility while supporting your recovery.

  • Counseling and Behavioral Therapy: These therapies are crucial for addressing the habits and thought patterns that contribute to addiction.

Healing Your Brain and Regaining Control

  • Building Back Tolerance: Recovery can reduce your tolerance, lowering the risk of overdose if you relapse.

  • Harnessing Neuroplasticity: Your brain is capable of remarkable change. With the right support, you can rewire it, moving past addiction.

  • Rediscovering Joy: Therapy and time can help restore your brain's natural ability to find pleasure in everyday activities, not just drug use.

Hope for a Brighter Future at The Edge Treatment Center

How does heroin affect the brain? In short, heroin damages it. But with the right help, the damage heroin causes the brain can be repaired.

Recovery is not just a dream; it's a real possibility. With determination, the right treatment, and support, you can rebuild a healthy and fulfilling life. Remember, improvements in both mental and physical health are within reach.

Recovery means healing the changes in your brain that heroin has made. It opens the door to a healthier mind and a brighter tomorrow. Getting help from professionals is a crucial step in overcoming heroin addiction and its lasting effects.

At The Edge Treatment Center, we believe in your potential to heal and grow. Support from loved ones and professionals can make a significant difference. Let us be part of your support system, helping you find your way back to a life full of hope and joy.

Our team is here to walk with you on your journey to a life free from addiction. We offer the guidance and support you need to heal and rediscover hope. For more information, contact The Edge Treatment Center today.

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We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

Opioid Addiction

March 22, 2024