Like any addiction to any substance, heroin use can cause long-term damage to the body’s major organs, especially the brain. Even with the potential risks of the drug known to the general public, many individuals still find themselves using it. By learning about the short- and long-term effects of heroin use and addiction on the brain, our hope at the Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is to deter people from using the drug. We hope that those who are struggling with heroin addiction get help through our heroin treatment programs. No matter how long you have struggled, there is always hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Effects on the Brain

Heroin is an opiate that comes from the opium poppy. In the early 20th century, it was banned from medicinal use because of its highly addictive qualities. Your body produces natural opioids when you experience pain, but these do not last for an extended time. This is why doctors had commonly prescribe synthetic opioids for extreme pain. 

Heroin binds itself to the opioid receptors in your brain, causing it to release dopamine. This causes the “high” many people describe when using heroin, which is usually a mixture of feeling no pain, relaxed, peaceful and overall calm. Over time, your body will build a tolerance to the drug, causing your brain to not produce the natural opiates on its own. The more heroin you consume over an extended period, the less natural opioids will be produced in your brain. Your brain learns to rely on heroin to produce dopamine, serotonin and neurotransmitters, resulting in feelings of depression, sadness and hopelessness when you do not use the drug. 

Can Heroin Cause Severe Brain Damage?

Heroin rewires the brain’s reward system, causing a person to become addicted to the drug. It can also influence a person’s breathing due to the brain’s opioid receptors being connected with the function of breathing. Over time, a person that uses copious amounts of heroin will find themselves breathing more shallow, irregular breaths. This causes depressed breathing, causing the body, specifically the brain, to receive less oxygen. Without sufficient oxygen, the brain cannot function properly, causing other body systems to work improperly. This can lead to organ damage throughout the body. Heroin can also cause memory loss similar to dementia in individuals who have used it for an extended period. This is because heroin can cause inflammation in the brain and build up specific proteins, causing memory loss.

Can the Impacts on Your Brain from Heroin Use Be Treated?

There have not been sufficient studies to test if treatment for heroin addiction can reverse the impacts of the drug on the brain. However, because addiction is a chronic disease, it is a known fact that this aspect cannot be cured. This means that your brain’s reward system is challenging to change once it has suffered the consequences of substance use. The other effects of heroin use on the brain can be improved over time with treatment and sobriety. While there is no cure, your body will heal over time if you decide to get sober and maintain your sobriety.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Reversing brain damage due to heroin is not guaranteed but there are treatments available to help you get back to a normal, functioning lifestyle. The best route to take when you want to heal from the effects of heroin addiction on your brain and body is to detox and then go to a treatment facility. Rehab is a great way to heal both the physical and psychological consequences of addiction and teach you new coping mechanisms not to feel the need to use heroin when experiencing negative emotions or situations.

The Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford offers a medical detox program and residential treatment programs to help you heal from heroin dependency and addiction. Here, you will find treatment that is respectful, professional and clinically driven. Throughout your stay at Pinelands, you will notice the effects that sobriety and focusing on your mental health will have on you.


The effects of heroin addiction can be devastating, especially on the brain. Over time, brain damage can take many forms because of heroin addiction. This can include rewiring the brain’s reward system, depressed breathing resulting in organ damage, and even a form of memory loss similar to dementia. These effects can be frightening, but there is hope. By going to a treatment center such as Pinelands Recovery Center at Medford, you can heal both the physical and psychological impacts of addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin addiction, call us today at (877) 557-5372 to take the first step towards healing.