More than 5 million people ages 12 and older reported using heroin in their lifetime, and 828,000 reported using it in the past year, according to results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

About 329,000 people aged 12 or older were current heroin users in 2015, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Two of the primary effects heroin has on the brain are tolerance and dependence.

The brain will get accustomed to the drug and its effects despite how destructive it is to physical health and cognition. Once the brain and body begin to tolerate heroin, it will need a higher dosage to achieve previous results, which leads to dependence or addiction. Dependence is when the brain needs the drug to avoid unpleasant physical withdrawals.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, studies have shown that heroin use can lead to the deterioration of white matter in the brain, which affects decision-making skills, the ability to regulate behavior, and response to stressful circumstances.

In addition, long-term heroin use can exacerbate mental illness. Depression is thought to placate the effects of heroin, but using the drug actually worsens symptoms like suicidal thoughts, anxiety, low energy, and negative mood swings. Extended heroin use can even change the physical structure of the brain, resulting in chemical imbalances that can… (continue reading)