Most people realize that addictive drugs affect the body, but they do not always realize that effects of heroin on the brain can be just as powerful. It all starts when the heroin user takes their first dose of heroin, which puts the roller coaster in motion and sets them up for long term addiction to heroin. The initial rush of euphoria is produced by a flood of powerful opiates being sent to the brain, and this of course becomes the new bar for feeling good. Over time, the brain comes to demand the same level of extra opiates in order to tell the body that “everything is fine.” Without the extra boost of opiates, the brain shifts into panic mode, and alerts the body that more opiates are needed in order to feel normal. Thus the addiction is propagated from the level of starving opiate receptors in the brain.
How does Heroin Addiction Change the Brain?
What most addicts do not realize is that long-term heroin use and abuse literally changes the brain over time. This is one of the most profound effects heroin has on the brain, because it is essentially permanent if the heroin addict has abused the drug for several years. Here is what basically happens: A normal person has a certain level of dopamine that is produced on a regular basis that is trickled out to their brain so that they can simply feel normal as they go about their day. For example, after and during strenuous exercise, the body is slowly releasing small bits of this natural dopamine to the brain, so that the person can feel a bit better in spite of their hard work. This is a basic, biological survival mechanism.
The Dangers of Heroin Use on the Brain
When an addict starts using heroin every single day, the person’s brain basically says “Hey wait a minute here. My body is being constantly flooded with extra opiates and dopamine, so there is no need to produce any myself naturally. I am getting all that I need and more.” And so over time, if the heroin addict continues doing heroin for years and years, they slowly train their own body to cease all natural dopamine production. Because heroin addiction is so dangerous and has so many risks involved with long term use, most heroin addicts never make it to this end stage where their body has ceased making natural dopamine. But those who do are stuck in a predicament where their body is always going to be a bit starved for natural opiates, just so that they can feel normal. In such cases, drug maintenance therapy with a synthetic opiate is usually recommended.
This phenomenon should demonstrate the power that heroin use can have, as it is actually one of the physical effects of heroin on the brain. There are other effects of course, such as the phenomenon of craving, which can be so powerful that it is stronger than the urge to eat during starvation. But aside from these other side effects, this powerful opioid can literally change the chemistry of the brain over time, and grip the addict ever deeper into the clutches of heroin drug addiction.