Heroin Addiction Explained

May 1, 2017 89 6 No Comments


What is Heroin Addiction?

Heroin addiction is characterized by compulsive drug seeking, drug abuse, tolerance, and dependence. To understand why this occurs, we must first understand what heroin does to the brain. The brain being the product of evolution, rewards us when we accomplish tasks that ensures our evolutionary survival. These survivals include eating, reproducing or escaping from danger and it does this through the release of neurotransmitters such as endorphins and dopamine, giving us a feeling of euphoria. These neurotransmitters also cause us to remember the action vividly, so we would repeat these action to ensure our survival. Unfortunately, this response is also what drives addiction.

We have discovered ways to trick the brain into triggering these reward pathways. One of the most addictive ways is the use of drugs like opioids, such as heroin and morphine. These drugs have a similar structure to endorphins, a neurotransmitter usually released when we exercise, under stress, or in physical pain. Heroin binds to receptors in our brain, meant for endorphins, triggering a reward pathway, giving the user a sense of euphoria. This initial high lasts only minutes, but the peaceful sensation can last for hours.

While it may seem like what I have just described is the most amazing sensation ever, before you run out to try some heroin, find out what follows the euphoria. Repeated use of heroin would alert the brain to reduce the production of endorphins, since an outside source is being provided. It also shuts down receptors to reduce the reaction. With the vivid memory of the euphoria, the user eventually has to take in higher doses of heroin, chasing after a high that can’t be reached.

What If I just try heroin once?

So some people might be thinking, “well if I only try it once, it should be fine?”. Unfortunately, this is how most addictions start. No one sets out to be an addict. Once someone is exposed to the substance, there are three major factors contributing to how vulnerable the user is to developing an addiction.

  1. Environmental factors: conditioning, social connection, external stressor and the kind of stress it causes, all contribute to the chance of addiction
  2. Drug-induced Factors: Changes in the body and brain that are caused by the drug, changing the behavior of the user. 
  3. Genetic Factors: How the genes variant produce receptors and enzymes that process and metabolizes opiates can greatly differ between individuals. This means people experience the drug very differently and in turn have very different reactions to the substance. Research attributes that up to 60% of addiction to opiates to genetics.

With so many risk factors that can lead someone down the path of compulsive drug seeking behavior, it’s very difficult to predict the chances of addiction after self exposure to the substance. The best way to avoid risk factors is still to never get exposed to those risks.

Levran, O., Londono, D., O’Hara, K., Nielsen, D. A., Peles, E., Rotrosen, J., … & Adelson, M. (2008). Genetic susceptibility to heroin addiction; a candidate-gene association study. Genes, brain, and behavior, 7(7), 720.

Yuferov, V., Levran, O., Proudnikov, D., Nielsen, D. A., & Kreek, M. J. (2010). Search for Genetic Markers and Functional Variants Involved in the Development of Opiate and Cocaine Addiction, and Treatment. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1187, 184–207.

Liked it? Take a second to support Austin Armstrong on Patreon!