According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the brain during heroin withdrawal may lose white brain matter that is needed to control behavior, make decisions, and respond appropriately to stress. This damage may be long-term because heroin may alter both the structure and function of the brain during withdrawal. Teenagers are at greater risk for impaired brain function because their central nervous system is not fully developed.
How Opioids Change the Brain During Heroin Withdrawal
Heroin users sniff, snort, smoke, or inject the drug to get a feeling of euphoria. This rush of pleasure occurs because heroin enters the brain and rapidly binds to certain receptors. These receptors are used whenever we feel pain or pleasure. They also control heart rate, sleep, and breathing.
Why Heroin Is Highly Addictive
Our brains are designed to reward life-sustaining or pleasant activities. When we are hungry, for example, we feel satiated after eating a meal. Heroin tricks brain functions into replicating this pleasurable feeling. This is what makes withdrawal from heroin so difficult and why many addicts struggle with sobriety. The addiction to heroin becomes so powerful that the person who uses the drug no longer cares about anything except getting high.
Long-term heroin addiction changes both the brain’s physiological structure and its biochemistry. Individuals often suffer from anxiety and depression during heroin withdrawal and beyond. Their judgement and decision-making are immature or flawed. Sadly, heroin is so addictive that many users never achieve sobriety.
Other Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
It can be dangerous when a heroin user abruptly stops using the drug. The physical and mental symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea, often severe
- Abdominal pain
- Uncontrollable leg movement
- Intense muscle and bone pain
- Dilated pupils
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Alternating cold flashes and heavy sweating
- Extreme craving for heroin
It is usually safer for heroin users to withdraw from the drug with the help of a drug detoxification center or healthcare provider.
Getting Help During Heroin Withdrawal
There are several options for users who are ready to seek recovery. The first step is choosing the best method of detoxification. According to the NIDA, there are 14,500 drug treatment centers and programs nationwide.
Typically, the longer the person has used heroin, the more difficult and dangerous it is for them to withdraw from it. We suggest talking to your healthcare provider to see which of the following heroin withdrawal methods is best for you:
- Residential detoxification and treatment with 24/7 monitored care
- Outpatient treatment center
- Home visits
- Behavioral therapy
- Case management
In some situations, a person can receive help from a combination of several types of drug withdrawal and treatment programs.
How the Brain Recovers After Heroin Withdrawal
Opioids can alter the brain during heroin withdrawal. It is difficult to determine if the brain fully recovers during or after heroin withdrawal. Some of the factors that affect recovery include:
- Age of the person when he or she began using
- How long the person has been using heroin
- Medical conditions associated with long-time heroin use, such as hepatitis, anemia, tuberculous, or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Number of relapses before achieving sobriety
- Damage the brain sustained due to lack of oxygen during previous overdoses
Prescribed Opioids Are Just as Dangerous to the Brain During Withdrawal
Heroin is an illegal form of opioids, but legally obtained prescription opioids can also affect the brain. The most well-known prescription opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin®) and hydrocodone (Vicodin®). Like heroin, prescription opioids are highly addictive.
People who become addicted to prescription opioids may also lose white brain matter. Hid or her judgement may be impaired, and he or she typically have unhealthy or inappropriate responses to stressful situations.
Opioid Overdoses Have Reached Epidemic Proportions
There were a record-breaking 47,000 deaths from overdose in 2017, according to NIDA. Nearly 40 percent of these fatal overdoses were from oxycodone and other prescription opioids.
Prescription opioids can be effective for pain relief after major surgery, but patients must be closely watched. Doctors who do not perform due diligence may be held accountable if a patient overdoses or suffers irreversible brain damage during withdrawal.
Our Law Firm Accepts Complex Personal Injury Cases
Brain injury or damage due to what happens to the brain during heroin withdrawal may be the result of a medical error or negligence. It may be possible that you or your family could recover compensation for medical bills, lost income, treatment center expenses, and other damages.
The law firm of Newsome | Melton limits our practice to helping those affected by medical malpractice, defective drugs, product liability, class action lawsuits, and wrongful death. For more information, please call 888-808-5977.