Search For A Cure
Research, Scientific Breakthroughs, & Caregiver Tips
What Causes Heroin Addiction?
When someone uses heroin, the drug binds with parts of cells that are specifically sensitive to opioids. The opioid receptors are present in cells throughout the body, but the drug’s most irresistible effects come from their interaction with opioid receptors in the brain. When heroin affects these cells, the level of a chemical called dopamine increases in the brain. Elevated dopamine levels produce good feelings associated with the drug’s high.
The pleasurable effects of dopamine disappear when the drug isn’t present, so the user is driven to seek out more of the drug. As the use of the drug continues, the brain becomes less sensitive to its effects, triggering the need for higher doses to achieve the same result. Eventually, changes in the user’s brain chemistry become so pronounced that abstinence from the drug produces physical withdrawal symptoms.
In addition to the drug’s physical addictiveness, some factors increase the likelihood that a given individual will abuse or become dependent on heroin. These risk factors include:
- Family or individual history of drug use or abuse
- Tobacco use
- Poverty or unemployment
- First drug use at a young age
- Criminal history
- Depression, anxiety, or other mental illness
- Exposure to environments where drug use is prevalent
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