Although the signs and symptoms vary from person to person, the patterns of heroin abuse become more noticeable as the addiction worsens. If you suspect someone you care about is struggling with opioid use, it’s recommended that you seek the help of a professional to identify the problem. Beginning treatment as soon as possible for heroin addiction is essential to preserving an individual’s health, wellness and safety.
HOW HEROIN ADDICTION WORKS
Heroin is a semi-synthetic opiate that binds to opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors are responsible for controlling pain, relaxation and more. Normally, your brain activates these receptors in response to painful stimuli, such as a broken bone or a bee sting. When we are injured, endorphins are released that bind to opioid receptors, reducing the sensation of pain and managing stress levels. When an individual consumes heroin, the brain is flooded with chemicals that mimic our body’s natural opioids, binding to the same receptors and blocking the electric impulses that signal pain. In addition to blocking pain, opioids also trigger additional effects such as euphoria, a general feeling of warmth and a sense of well-being. At the same time, side effects such as constipation and slowed respiration occur. Heroin’s effects on breathing can lead to a deadly overdose, slowing (or stopping) it enough to prevent the brain from receiving an adequate amount of oxygen. This can cause permanent brain damage, coma or death.
Opioids also trigger the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward centers. Your brain thinks that the source of this influx of dopamine is a highly rewarding, essential behavior, so it signals for you to repeat the experience. Over time, intense cravings develop that often lead to addiction. When opioids are used continuously, they also begin to affect the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Heroin decreases the activity of a group of neurons responsible for things like wakefulness, blood pressure, stress levels and more. These neurons still want to do their job, however, so they compensate for the dampening effects of heroin by increasing their level of activity. When opioids are present, they offset this heightened activity; when opioids aren’t present, the neurons continue to fire extensively and trigger uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, muscle cramps and diarrhea. It takes time for your brain to readjust to functioning without opioids and these symptoms usually persist for a week or more. The effects of withdrawal are what makes it so difficult to escape from the cycle of heroin abuse without professional intervention.