Skip to main content

A before and after ‘snapshot’ of a heroin addicts brain processes and functionality depicts a story of deception, manipulation and devastation. Sound dramatic? Perhaps, but it’s unfortunately all too real.

Heroin is an opiate made from morphine that comes from the opium poppy plant. Like all opiates, heroin leads the brain to believe it’s a favorable substance (deception). After an association is established, heroin influences the brain and causes the belief that more heroin is needed to achieve the desired high (manipulation). It doesn’t take long for a full-blown addiction to arise, leading to unbecoming choices and devastating outcomes.

The effects of heroin on the brain are intense and extremely hard to walk away from. But by taking the time to fully understand how heroin effects the brain, you will be more prepared for the withdrawal process.

Before Snapshot: Your Brain’s Mesolimbic Pathway

Within your brain, there’s a reward system that, when triggered, notes an activity or substance to be important, pleasurable and worth repeating. Located in the brainstem, the mesolimbic pathway is the circuit that is most associated with the pleasure and reward system. The primary focus of this area is basic survival.

Dopamine, a vital neurotransmitter, is the main compound linked to the mesolimbic pathway. When dopamine is released, we’re motivated to repeat whatever it is that triggered the let down in the first place.

Food is a primary example. When we eat, we feel fulfilled and nourished. In turn, the brain’s reward system is activated, and dopamine is released – making us feel good. Since the act of eating is necessary for survival, food is a primary reward. The brain’s pleasure and reward system is built to reinforce behaviors that make us feel good.

Before heroin, your brain functions as designed: To do things and consume substances that promote a healthy, happy survival.

During Snapshot: Your Brain as Heroin is Introduced

When heroin enters your body and races to your brain, it attaches to your brain’s opioid receptors. Because heroin has a synthetic chemical structure that mirrors that of natural neurotransmitters, it’s able to arouse the brain’s pleasure and reward system, triggering a release of dopamine.

While all substances and activities worthy of attention from the coveted reward and pleasure system prompt the release of dopamine, heroin can make it to the brain in 10 seconds – via the bloodstream – and signal the release of excess dopamine. This results in an almost instant, euphoric high where pain symptoms are significantly diminished or blocked altogether.

The aftermath of the brain’s first few encounters with heroin has it wanting to repeat the intake.

As your substance use continues, your brain becomes tolerant and, therefore, less responsive to the current dose. Your brain needs a higher dose to deliver on the high you’ve become addicted to.

After Snapshot: Your Brain on Heroin

Once addicted, heroin rules your life. Your focus shifts, your health suffers, and your only priority is getting your next fix, no matter the cost.

Your brain has fundamentally changed. Once your body establishes a tolerance, that tolerance will only continue to grow.

To make matters worse, your brain on heroin stops releasing natural endorphins, making you more susceptible to pain symptoms and curtailing your ability to naturally feel happy.

Your Brain Withdrawing from Heroin

Because of the strong-hold heroin places on your mind, the detox process is anything but smooth and easy. As early as six to 12 hours after your last dose, your brain is craving more and can send messages out of desperation to the rest of your body that manifest in the following ways:

  • Restlessness
  • Aggression
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Dehydration
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to concentrate
  • A runny nose
  • Aches and chills
  • Heavy perspiration
  • Repeated yawning
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle aches and spasms

Beyond the immediate withdrawal symptoms, you can experience:

  • Severe cravings
  • Personality changes
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Relapse
  • Overdose

The withdrawal process can be very uncomfortable and dangerous, but with the right support, you can get through the initial detox. Often times, a medically assisted withdrawal is the most advantageous route, for it can help manage unpleasant side effects, diminish drug cravings, evade serious complications and promote sobriety by teaching life skills that avert relapse.

Heroin Drug Treatment at Covenant Hills

While it may sound impossible, you can walk away from your addiction and start a sober, healthy life. At Covenant Hills, we place total focus on your mind, body and spirit as you reclaim control over your life and begin to design the future you’ve always wanted. Anything is possible through our faith-based heroin addiction treatment program. Learn more about our heroin rehab program, or contact us for a free and confidential assessment.