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The Effects of Heroin on a Person’s Brain and Body: a Literature Review

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Running Head: EFFECTS OF HEROIN ON A PERSON The Effects of Heroin on a Person’s Brain and Body: A Literature Review Heather Huber Walden University Psych 8226-04 Biopsychology Dr. John Redmon August 18, 2010 Abstract This literature review looks at the detrimental effects of heroin. Since many heroin users often become addicted, it is important to look at its ramifications.

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Beginning with a brief history of the substance, then discussing treatment programs for those who have problems with heroin abuse, this paper helps to better understand logical reasons that heroin is an illegal substance.

The Effects of Heroin on a Person’s Brain and Body: A Literature Review Heroin, also known as diacetylmorphine, is an illegal drug in the United States and many other countries. Heroin has devastating results on the brain and body. This paper looks at heroin’s history, its consequences on the brain and body, addiction possibilities, and available options for treatment for heroin abusers. What is Heroin? Chemical make-up Breaking down the parts of the word, diacetylmorphine, di means two, acetyl is a radical derived from acetic acid, and morphine is a drug derived from the opium poppy plant used to relieve pain.

Heroin, on the street, is generally not pure. Drug dealers often add other things in the drug to stretch their dollar (Furst, 2000). The term for adding things to a drug is called cutting it. According to Furst, easily attainable items, such as lactose and milk sugar, can cut heroin. Quinine, a psychoactive drug that enhances the heroin high, is also a common choice. History Upon researching the history of heroin, very few research articles were located. Many tend to focus on its results in present day life.

Unfortunately, this inequity of information in Walden University’s academic databases, the internet provided much of the information regarding the history of heroin. Using vigilant discernment and precise judgment, the following information appeared relevant and valuable in understanding the path of heroin. Heinrich Dreser, an employee of the Bayer Company (the same as today’s Bayer Asprin), first discovered heroin in 1895 by diluting morphine (PBS, 1998).

It was later that heroin was advertised and sold as an over-the-counter medication. Acknowledged for having the pain relieving effects of morphine, without the side effects and addictions, heroin became the new choice for pain relief. Unfortunately, a researcher in Bayer laboratories unethically withheld the truth of this information (HeroinAbuse. Net, 2007; PBS, 1998). The use, abuse, and addiction to heroin grew in the United States, and around the world, throughout the early 1900s.

Access to heroin on the streets, despite its illegal status, became easier and soon it became a headliner when American celebrities (Janis Joplin, John Belushi, and Kurt Cobain, to name a few) overdosed and died due to use of the drug and its mixture with other illegal substances (PBS, 1998). Today, heroin is still illegal, but is prominent in the lives of many who use or know someone who uses. Effects of Heroin on the Brain Drugs become illegal usually due to the negative consequences.

Franken, Stam, Hendriks, and van den Brink (2004) found that heroin can have a negative result on the brain by limiting and exciting different areas leading the long time abuser to have negative characteristics similar to both Alzheimer’s patients and individuals with multiple sclerosis (dementia and brain lesions, respectively). While their study shared a lot about long-term users of heroin, it failed to present information regarding limited-use of heroin users. It is valuable information to know how heroin use affects both groups. The difference between users and abusers will be discussed in the addiction section of this paper. Li, et al. 2005) discovered major disruptions in the cerebral cortex and central nervous system when they autopsied accidental deaths of heroin addicts. While it is challenging to study the definitive effects of heroin on the brain in patients while alive, postmortem patients provide valuable information regarding the effects of heroin use on the brain. While traces of heroin were found throughout the brain, they discovered a larger amount in the hippocampus and the basal ganglia (Li, et al. , 2005). These heroin cells left lesions in the brain, which could have lead to decreased blood flow to the organs and even death (Li, et al. , 2005).

It is clear that the brain is affected by the use of heroin, next we will look at the effects of heroin on the body. Effects of Heroin on the Body Heroin affects vision. Firth (2005) studied its effects. Many heroin users reported double vision (diplopia); the author thought it was important to see whether it was a temporary or permanent condition. Eye exercises or specially made glasses corrected the majority of diplopic conditions. Shao, et al. (2006), tested and found that those with the DRD4 VNTR long repeat allele were more likely to crave heroin after seeing heroin related stimuli, than with the similar DRD4 VNTR short repeat allele.

This type of research provides information to future researchers to study this particular allele and perhaps find a “cure” for heroin addiction. While this may not be the only part of the human body that shows addiction tendencies towards heroin, it is a stepping-stone towards a future of understanding heroin addiction and maybe generalizes that information towards addictions to any substance. Addiction Addiction, in general, has been viewed from many different angles. Many influences encourage one to begin using a substance.

O’Brien (2003) states that when discussing addition agent variable, there are three categories to take into consideration. First, agent variables include the onset and duration of the high, and price of the substance. Second, host variables include a risk-taking personality, likeliness of the person to get high, hereditary influences, and a desire to self-medicate. Lastly, environmental variables include peer pressure, and the use of a substance by a role model. These three groups of variables are important to take into consideration when identifying and analyzing an addiction.

Viewing addiction from two perspectives, it is in one’s brain, or addiction is a chronic disease (O’Brien, 2003). Research has found that brain mapping is different in the brain of an addict than it is in the brain of a non-addict. Applying the disease approach to addiction, relapses are common and cannot be helped. The philosophy resembles the thoughts such as “would you punish a diabetic for having a sugar crash? ” Many times the ideas behind addiction are challenging for people to comprehend when they have not had an addiction themselves or seen another person go through it.

It is important for researchers to study addiction so that we can better understand it and help those who are addicted to substances. According to the DSM-IV-TR (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), an addiction to heroin would be classified as an opioid dependence. The characteristics of a person who is dependent upon heroin (a member of the opioid family) include the use of the drug without a prescription, self-medicating, obsession with obtaining the drug, high tolerance for the drug, and withdrawal symptoms when use is abruptly ended.

Chiang, et al. (2006), looked at the likelihood of relapse for heroin users and found that of their 166 heroin abusers, approximately 80% of them relapsed in the five-year study. This is a larger percentage and ties into the idea of heroin addiction being a chronic disease that affects an individual throughout their life. Treatment With relapse having such prevalence in the life of heroin abusers trying to abstain, finding a successful treatment program is an important task. Blanken, et al. 2005), found significant success in programs that utilized a mix of heroin and methadone as a treatment to curb withdrawal symptoms, over those that used only methadone. One may question the help of using an addictive substance to treat an addiction, but it is similar to the idea of weaning a child off breast milk by slowly introducing bottles alongside the breast. While it takes some time for the weaning process, it decreases the likelihood of relapse. Gossop, Stewart, and Marsden (2006) found that participants in a methadone treatment program, who received drug related counseling, were less likely to elapse than those who received generic or no counseling. This is important information for clinics that have methadone treatments programs because they can use the research to enhance their programs to better fit their patients and help in their treatments. Research (Marissen, et al. , 2006) has found that in-patient patients, who showed interest towards heroin related cues, were more likely to relapse after treatment, than those who did not show interest in the cues. The next steps for future research may include assessing whether the desire for heroin makes treatment more difficult.

Whether an addict has a problem in their brain, or whether they have a chronic disease, heroin use and abuse is a grave topic for consideration (O’Brien, 2003). From the characteristics that push a person to first try heroin, to the nagging need for the high of just one more hit, the drug is a dangerous chemical that can have serious repercussions on both the brain and the body. Researcher need to continue their work in examining heroin as a chemical, drug, and addictive substance in order to assist in the best treatment for its use. With continued research, there may be a cure for heroin addiction, or even addiction itself.

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Recidivism among male subjects incarcerated for illicit drug use in Taiwan. Psychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, 60, 444-451. Firth, A. Y. (2005). Heroin and diplopia. Addiction, 100, 46-50. Franken, I. H. A. , Stam, C. J. , Hendriks, V. M. , & van den Brink, W. (2004). Electroencephalographic power and coherence analyses suggest altered brain function in abstinent male heroin-dependent patients. Neuropsychobiology, 49, 105-110. Gossop, M. , Stewart, D. , & Marsden, J. (2006). Effectiveness of drug and alcohol counseling during methadone treatment: content, frequency, and duration of counseling and association with substance use outcomes.

Addiction, 101, 404-412. HeroinAbuse. Net. (2007). History of heroin. [Website]. Retrieved July 8, 2010, from http://www. heroinabuse. net/heroin_history. php Li, L. , Lu, G. , Yao, H. , Zhao, Y. , Feng, Z. , & Yew, D. T. (2005). Postmortem changes in the central nervous system and adrenal medulla of the heroin addicts. International Journal of Neuroscience, 115, 1443-1449. Marissen, M. A. E. , Franken, I. H. A. , Waters, A. J. , Blanken, P. , van den Brink, W. , & Hendriks, V. M. (2006). Attentional bias predicts heroin relapse following treatment. Addiction, 9, 1306-1312. National Kidney Foundation. (2008).

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