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What Causes Heroin Addiction

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Last updated: 10/8/2018
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Heroin addiction is caused by abusing the drug regularly. When someone does this, addiction can develop very quickly, along with tolerance, dependence, and drug-seeking behavior. However, this is not the only reason addiction to heroin occurs..

Heroin Addiction and the Brain

Because it is commonly either injected or smoked, heroin reaches the brain very quickly and causes changes to the way the brain works, making it highly addictive. According to the NIDA, “Regular heroin use changes the functioning of the brain.” At first, taking the drug is a voluntary action, but then the changes the substance makes to the brain quickly cause it to become involuntary.

Tolerance and dependence both develop as a result of changes made to the brain by heroin. These affect the possibility of addiction and make it more likely to occur. Tolerance causes the individual to need more and more of the drug each time in order to feel its effects, and dependence causes the person to not feel normal without the drug.

Because of these changes that frequent heroin abuse makes to the brain, it becomes increasingly more likely that the person will develop heroin addiction. Addiction takes away the person’s ability to choose to abuse the drug. Still, some people are more likely to develop heroin addiction because of other factors.

Other Factors that Cause Heroin Addiction

The NIDA states that vulnerability must be taken into account as another important factor in the cause of heroin addiction. “Vulnerability is a product of the interaction of a person’s biology (including their genes), environment, and age.” These aspects of vulnerability can be very complex and difficult to be looked at individually. Here are some of the factors that may or may not cause a person to be more vulnerable to heroin addiction:

Heroin Addiction

Addiction results in part from the effect of heroin on the brain.

  • Whether they have abused other drugs
  • Whether substance abuse runs in their family
  • Whether they are younger or older
  • Whether they have experienced a history of violence or abuse
  • Whether they have struggled with depression, a mood disorder, or another type of mental disorder at some point in their lives
  • Whether they live in an environment where heroin is easy to obtain and abuse
  • Whether they have a high or low income
  • Whether they lead stressful lives and how they cope with stress

Many of these factors can cause a person to be more or less likely to become addicted to heroin. Yes, the person must abuse the drug and continue to abuse it in order to become addicted, but someone who (for example) has a history of substance abuse either personally or in their family is more likely to become addicted to the drug after that first try.

There are many factors that contribute to heroin addiction. The strongest cause of the addiction is, of course, the way the drug works on the brain and changes its functioning. But certain factors can leave a person more likely to become addicted to heroin, depending on their environments, genetics, and personal experiences.

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