Heroin psychology A2

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Basics

  • Synthetic opiate (man made drug)
  • Chemically altered form of morphine
  • Pain relief (analgesic)
  • Most commonly injected but can be taken in many other ways
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Mode of action

  • Heroin is an opiate so attaches to opioid receptors (mu-opioid) which endorphins usually use
  • Mimic endorphins so heroin is an agonist. Endorphins are inhibitory neurotransmiters which block pain receptors
  • When heroin attaches to mu-opioid recptors, GABA is released
  • This then stimulates dopamine in parts of the brain
  • The key area of the brain which is affected is the nucleas accumbens (part of the brain's reward system)
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Short term effects

  • Massive release of endorphins causes pain relief, relaxation and euphoria
  • It is a depressant, so as a result, breating slows and becomes more shallow, heart rate slows and you feel sleepy
  • Peripheral blood vessels dilate so you feel warm, flushed and sweaty
  • Initial feelings of nausea are supressed
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Biological dependence

  • Biological dependence develops quickly
  • Brain gets used to heroin quickly
  • A first time user has very mild withdrawal symptoms
  • Regular user has to take heroin to avoid extreme withdrawal symptoms which makes heroin taking a vicious cycle
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Tolerance

  • Pain killing effects and euphoria develop tolerance very quickly
  • Dosage size increases rapidly to maintain effects (tenfold in 4 months)
  • A regular heroin user takes enough heroin to kill a non user
  • As tolerance increases, cross tolerance to other opioids also increase
  • Low sex drive
  • Dogestive system slows down=constipation
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Psychological dependence

  • Dependency gets worse -user can't cope without a fix
  • Becomes less satisfied with other aspects of life over time
  • Obsessed with getting the next fix
  • Becomes agitated, confused, anxious, restless and paranoid
  • These symptoms are all relieved with more heroin
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Withdrawal symptoms

  • Occurs 6-12 hours after the last fix
  • The peak of withdrawal symptoms lasts for 25-72 hours
  • Usually over within a week
  • Symptoms relate to the level of addiction
  • Symptoms include pain, nausea, sweating, diarrhoea, extreme anxiety, depression and psychotic episodes
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