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Heroin Abuse Effects on the Brain and Receptors

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How Will Heroin Use, Abuse and Addiction Affect the Brain and the Receptors?

Our brain is the most complex organ we have in our body and is made up of essential parts that communicate together and are responsible for regulating basic functions of our body. Our behaviors, thoughts, emotions and everything we experience in life including breathing is regulated by our brain. There are specific areas of our brain that are responsible for particular functions. The brain stem controls our heart rate, our breathing and sleep. Our reward circuit is in the limbic system in the brain which is responsible for regulating feelings of pleasure. The cerebral cortex which is responsible for our ability to taste, hear, feel, and see is divided and the front part of the cortex is responsible for helping us solve problems, decision making, and our ability to think. These areas in the brain are greatly affected when drugs are abused.

Receptors in the brain control how our brain cells communicate with each other and when a person uses a substance like heroin it impairs communication among brain cells. Frequent use of heroin can cause irreversible damage to brain cells over time.

heroin abuse brain receptors

When a person uses heroin the drug enters the brain and it's turned into morphine, the morphine fastens or bonds to receptors in the brain called 'opioid receptors'. Opioid receptors are located in various parts of the brain and body, especially the receptors that are involved with pain, reward, and perception.


We also have opioid receptors in our brain stem which is associated with breathing, blood pressure, and arousal. The use of heroin floods the brain with opiates which in return creates an intense rush followed by a high. With continued heroin abuse the brain gets use to the morphine and surge of chemicals creating the powerful rush and sends intense messages throughout the brain and body for repeated use. This leads to tolerance and eventually addiction.

How Does the Use of Heroin Affect the Brain and Dopamine?

When heroin is abused the reward system in our brain becomes flooded with dopamine (chemical) which is a neurotransmitter in areas of the brain that control our emotions, movements, feelings of pleasure and perception. When heroin reaches the brain large amounts of dopamine are produced which then produces the intense rush and euphoria experienced. Because the pleasurable affects are so intense, the individual is highly motivated to repeat the use again. Overtime your brain gets use to the intense surges of dopamine being produced when using heroin and when not using, begins to produce less on its own waiting for you to reuse. Now instead of your brain producing a healthy normal amount of dopamine, the levels are low and the user becomes depressed and unable to experience pleasure. The only way you can feel normal again is to reuse heroin in order to function. When a person is addicted to heroin they lose their ability to control their use and are left with very intense impulses (cravings) for repeated use.

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