The Mental Effects of Opioid Abuse - Cover

The Mental Effects of Opioid Abuse

KLAS has begun conducting research into the IT surrounding the opioid crisis. As we delve deeper into that subject, we feel it’s helpful to understand what exactly opioid abuse looks like. This post is guest-authored by Holly Holloway, from MedMark Treatment Centers.

What are the Mental Effects of Extended Heroin Use?

Heroin is a very potent opiate that is a modified version of the medical drug morphine, a controlled narcotic. Opiates are generally taken for pain relief and can be highly addictive, often leading heroin users to require increasingly larger doses over a short period of time. The rapid psychological and physical dependence that heroin use fuels can have lasting effects on the human body. With extended heroin use, these mental effects can quickly result in a situation where the user will reach out for medical substance abuse treatment in order to regain their health and overcome their dependency.

Long-term memory loss

The mental repercussions of prolonged use of this drug can severely obstruct the hippocampus, or memory control bank, of the brain. The harm heroin causes is so powerful, that it can do just as much damage to the brain as physical damages like concussions or traumatic brain injuries. Opioid receptors in the brain are continually over-stimulated with every use which can lead to dependency and brain cells in the hippocampus to die. Heroin impairs the brain’s ability to repair these cells, and they begin to die off at a rate that is too fast for the brain to catch up. After prolonged heroin use, the effects on memory will start to become noticeable like difficulty making new memories, loss of long-term memories, lost knowledge of basic personal facts, and frequent blackouts. 

Issues with decision-making

Prolonged heroin use can severely affect the brain’s cognitive and conative abilities. Learning and reasoning fall under the cognitive process of the brain and involve understanding new things, performing new tasks and even the ability to perform mundane old tasks. The brain will begin to struggle with simple logic and reasoning, often times leading to misguided ideas and resolutions to simple problems. When coupled with the degradation of the conative area of the brain that controls tendencies and instincts, the lack of impulse control can lead to the brain’s sole purpose to revolve around heroin use. This kind of damage to the brain may not be completely reversible after many years of use. However, the sooner someone with heroin dependency seeks treatment, the better the chances of harm reduction.

Problems with self-control

Once the body becomes dependent on heroin, it can quickly lead to the loss of self-control that is both physical and behavioral. Some people who are experiencing this loss of self-control feel completely incapable of managing their own behavior due to the neurological damage that has been done by the drug. Simple emotions or thoughts become difficult to deal with, often causing the user to become distraught or unable to cope. These people often need immediate medical intervention in order to release the control the substance has over their physical body and mind. Others experience loss of self-control due to extreme cravings for the pleasurable effects heroin delivers to brain receptors. While they may be able to control their actual physical functions, their desire to give into cravings may be so overwhelming that they are unable to think clearly. The brain will begin prioritizing the effects of heroin on everything else, no matter how much harm it is inflicting on the body.

Mood disorders       

There is a distinct and clear link between heroin use, depression, and anxiety disorders. While often times the link is due to preexisting mood disorders that led to substance abuse, the effects of heroin on the functions of the brain can increase depressive symptoms severely. Self-medication with various substances is one of the most leading causes of addiction, but relief is very short-lived while high. Once the body has learned to depend on heroin for help, the instance of withdrawal can feel like an awful sickness, leading to heightened use. This can begin the cycle of addiction that is very common with opiates, causing people to find themselves in a pattern of use. Along with depression, instances of anxiety and paranoia are also common especially with long-term use of drugs like heroin. Anxiety can also occur due to fears of being caught, not being able to obtain their required dosage, or financial factors that go along with feeding an addiction.

Emotional confusion

While opiates are often used for physical pain and are very effective in doing so, the recreational misuse of opiates like heroin is often used to numb emotional pain. This factor alone is one of the biggest reasons many people fall into opiate addiction even once they’ve attempted recovery. Many times, past users cannot match the euphoria they felt while high and their emotions are dulled unless they are able to use heroin, becoming the leading cause of relapse. On the other hand, the powerful ability of opiates to numb negative emotions is the driving reason for abuse. The emotionally numbing effect heroin has can lessen the brain’s natural ability to deal with organic feelings. Managing sadness, happiness, anger and fear can become tasking and, after prolonged use, almost alien to the brain. Those who begin recovery are recommended, and in some instances required, to see a counselor to regain abilities to deal with their emotions while sober.

Hormonal imbalance

Because heroin changes the make-up of the brain, it can negatively impact hormonal systems in the body, causing long-lasting damage. Since hormones are the body’s own chemicals produced and released by endocrine glands, this system is impacted by everything that is put in the body, including food, drugs, and alcohol. Hormonal balance can quickly be disrupted by the destructive spiral of addiction causing mood irregularities as well as physical ailments affecting major organs in the body. Once hormones are impaired, this can lead to a domino effect of other health problems that create additional stress on the body while developing and fighting a chemical dependency.   

Heroin addiction is a serious condition with significant damaging effects on the body that can cause long-term harm. Successful recovery is possible with the help of medical personnel at a treatment facility, therapy, a solid support system, and peer group. Many people have been able to turn their backs on heroin and live healthy and fulfilling lives. Taking the first step to recovery is an important decision and can change your life for the better.


Source: MedlinePlus
About the Author: Holly is the Digital Content Coordinator for MedMark Treatment Centers. She works to help spread awareness and end the stigma of addiction.