Why Is Heroin So Addictive?
“If pain is a fist, heroin dives into it, opens it up and relaxes you. It feels so beautiful. It feels like a cuddle, like comfort, like being in your mother’s arms. It’s so sweet and perfect.”
~ Russell Brand
Brand’s heroin addiction isn’t surprising, because the drug is considered one of the most-addictive substances on the planet. In fact, approximately 1 in 4 people who even try heroin eventually get hooked.
Whenever a person performs some activity that is necessary to survival, such as sex or eating, their brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to reward, pleasure, learning, and motivation. When such actions are performed, the person is rewarded a flood of dopamine that makes them feel pleasure. Soon, they learn to repeat the behavior. The pleasurable reward is their motivation.
Heroin use triggers a similar action/reward response, but the dopamine rush is faster, stronger, and longer. Although it can also be snorted or injected, smoking heroin – Russell Brand’s preferred method – allows the drug to reach the brain in a matter of seconds, where up to 10 times the natural amount of dopamine is instantly released.
While that initial heroin rush only lasts for a few minutes, the high will last for the next several hours.
But over time and with repeated use, this artificial overstimulation disrupts the brain’s reward system. The dopamine response is reduced, and it takes more and more of the drug to achieve the same pleasurable effects. This is known as drug tolerance.
Eventually, the body shuts down natural dopamine production, and the person is unable to feel pleasure or motivation unless the drug is present. But this also means that they are drug dependent, and when it isn’t available, they experience harshly-uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.