The brain can experience multiple neurological changes because of long-term opioid abuse, including heroin addiction. Many of these changes are permanent. While some changes can be temporary, with repeated drug abuse, even the temporary impacts can do permanent damage to the brain’s structure and functioning.
Ways That Heroin Addiction Can Damage the Brain
Heroin addiction can cause the physical structure of the brain to change, and most of these alterations are not reversible. Heroin, like other opiates, can alter the brain’s ability to make decisions and regulate one’s behavior. These impacts make the person more likely to continue to abuse the drug, causing more brain damage, in a vicious cycle.
Some of the most common types of brain alterations from heroin addiction are described below:
- The grey matter of the brain can develop physical abnormalities from heroin use. Damage to grey matter can be debilitating since this part of the brain takes information from our sensory organs and processes it. Not surprisingly, heroin addicts often suffer from delusions, hallucinations, and other disorders involving the processing of sensory information.
- Grey matter governs the central nervous system. When the grey matter sustains damage from heroin addiction, a person can lose control over the ability to think, interpret the world around him, and control their body movement. Central nervous system malfunction can result in paralysis, tingling, weakness, and many other adverse consequences.
- Many heroin addicts develop deterioration of the white matter. The white matter in the brain connects the different regions of the brain and allows them to communicate with each other. Opioid abuse can damage the white matter and cause toxic leukoencephalopathy, a disease for which there is no treatment or cure. This condition causes dementia, slurred speech, and the inability to maintain attention.
- The hippocampus area of the brain can develop lesions, resulting in unusual amnesia in people who abuse opiates. Also, the hippocampus is the region of the brain that produces new brain cells to replace the ones we lose every day. If damaged, the brain could sustain systemic deterioration from the lack of replacement brain cells.
- Some brain damage looks and acts like Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages. A person who injects opioids has triple the likelihood of having this type of brain damage as compared to non-users of opiates.
- Autopsies of 100 people who had been intravenous (IV) heroin addicts showed physical brain abnormalities in 38 of the subjects. The lesions could have been the cause of severe mental disturbances in those individuals. Twenty-five of the 38 people had lesions of hypoxic or ischemic origin, meaning from a lack of oxygen.
How Quickly Brain Damage Can Happen During Heroin Abuse
Heroin is highly addictive, and an individual can quickly become a chronic heroin abuser. Soon after a person starts misusing heroin, brain disintegration develops. The heroin addict’s brain can show damage similar to that of an elderly Alzheimer’s patient when the heroin user is in their twenties.
Whether the heroin user injects or smokes the drug, the brain can deteriorate into a spongy state. This can cause spastic attacks, overall physical weakness, and permanent hand tremors. Non-fatal heroin overdoses often involve short periods of oxygen deprivation to the brain, sufficient to cause cognitive decline.
Even when a heroin user does not overdose, injecting heroin tends to create a temporary drop in brain oxygen levels that can last up to 30 minutes. These episodes will have a cumulative effect, causing hypoxic damage to the brain and other organs over time.
Heroin users often experience sleep apnea, a condition in which a person stops breathing repeatedly while asleep. Sleep apnea can cause a lack of oxygen to the brain, compounding the damage.
Head injuries from falls are common among heroin users, as well. These injuries can directly damage the brain and cause harm from the lack of oxygen to the brain while the person is unconscious from the blow to the head.
Heroin addiction is a complex medical issue that needs professional attention. Talk with your doctor about your treatment options and make sure that the facility you select is licensed and certified and always has a doctor and other medical professionals on-site.
If you or a loved one suffered harm because of someone’s carelessness, a personal injury lawyer can help you pursue compensation for your losses. At Pintas & Mullins, we handle severe injury cases and complex civil litigation. You will receive personal attention. We will fight hard to get you all the damages you deserve.
You will not have to pay up-front legal fees. We take personal injury cases on a contingent-fee basis, which means that our fees will come out of the settlement or award at the end.
Call Pintas & Mullins today at 888-808-5977 to set up a free consultation. There is no obligation.