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Overdoses have passed car crashes and gun violence to become the leading cause of death for Americans under The epidemic has killed more people than H.

Funerals for young people have become common. Every 11 minutes, another life is lost. Some people are more susceptible to addiction than others. But nobody is immune. For many, opioids like heroin entice by bestowing an immediate sense of tranquility, only to trap the user in a vicious cycle that essentially rewires the brain. Some turn to heroin because prescription painkillers are tough to get. Fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin, has snaked its way into other drugs like cocaine, Xanax and MDMA, widening the epidemic. To understand what goes through the minds and bodies of opioid users, The New York Times spent months interviewing users, family members and addiction experts.

Using their insights, we created a visual representation of how the strong lure of these powerful drugs can hijack the brain. We invite you to share your experiences at the end of the page.

Drugs and the Brain | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, call HELP. Just intense relief from suffering. A drug like heroin creates a tidal wave in the reward circuits of the brain. To an outsider, it looks as though you have passed out. You may remember this exact moment for years to come: where you were, what you wore, what you saw and what you heard.

You may chase this feeling for years. As the high wears off, the brain regains its balance — but not for everyone. But the brain rewires little by little with each use. But even a thousand more doses will never bring back the experience of that first time. The brain balances its own endorphins like a thermostat.

When an external source keeps flooding the brain, it throws that system off. Stress and irritability creep in, so you take more opioids to cope.

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Soon, nothing else in life provides any satisfaction. The pleasure and reward cycles flip: You get less pleasure from the drug, but want it all the more. The more you seek and take the drug, the more the brain adapts to the drug and demands more. It hurts to comb your hair. It hurts to shave. You have no energy. You feel weak.

You feel a sense of desperation. You have constant impending doom and anxiety, because you realize that with one pack of dope you can change how you feel within a matter of 10 seconds. The final trap of addiction is laid when you muster the courage to stop. You may not even realize you are physically dependent until you experience withdrawal for the first time. There might be crippling pain, vomiting, insomnia, spasms, hot and cold flashes, goosebumps, congestion and tears. All this on top of debilitating anxiety and depression. These harsh symptoms can make quitting seem impossible.

You wake up, and your whole life is just based around it. People with some mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia, may experience anhedonia as part of their disease. Typically too small to see with the naked eye, it consists of watery fluid surrounded by a membrane or wall. Animals are made of anywhere from thousands to trillions of cells, depending on their size.

Addicted Brain: Dopamine and Substance Abuse

Some organisms, such as yeasts, molds, bacteria and some algae, are composed of only one cell. For example, water is a chemical made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. Its chemical symbol is H 2 O.

Chemical can also be an adjective that describes properties of materials that are the result of various reactions between different compounds. People often take heroin as a narcotic — something that dulls the senses, relieves pain and makes them sleepy or unmotivated to do anything other than lay in a slump.

Molecules can be made of single types of atoms or of different types. For example, the oxygen in the air is made of two oxygen atoms O 2 , but water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom H 2 O. This chemical travels across the space between two cells, and then binds to molecules on a neighboring cell to transmit a message.

Neurotransmitters are released from neurons, and can bind to neurons or to other types of cell, including those that make up muscles or glands. It also is highly addictive, making it hard for smokers to give us their use of cigarettes. The chemical is also a poison, sometimes used as a pesticide to kill insects and even some invasive snakes or frogs.

That second molecule can turn on some special activity by the cell. It produces dopamine, a brain signaling chemical, which plays an important role in helping people initiate movements. Cells within a tissue work as a unit to perform a particular function in living organisms. Different organs of the human body, for instance, often are made from many different types of tissues. And brain tissue will be very different from bone or heart tissue. It plays an important role in thinking, motivation, emotions and addiction. The sun may be setting on silicon.

The first computer chips made from carbon nanotubes one pictured are here. Youth Climate Summit. Scientists and science communicators must do a better job of combatting fake news about climate change and climate engineering on YouTube, says one researcher.


Vaping is the single apparent common denominator among cases of severe lung injury. It showed up mostly in teens and young adults across the United States. Over a season of college football, head hits that were too small to cause concussions were still linked to adverse changes in the brain stems of players. A baby mannequin wears an invention designed to help sick babies breathe. Called NeoVest, it does away with the traditional mask and breathing tubes that get in the way of a baby feeding and bonding with its parents.

I was powerless over my addiction.

It consumed me. It owned me. I was a slave to it. Corey Waller, starts as the brain struggles to rebalance, as drugs overwhelm it with dopamine. Nora Volkow has been imaging the brains of people with and without addiction, to search for changes that occur with drug use.

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NORA VOLKOW National Institute on Drug Abuse : We systematically were investigating individuals addicted to different classes of drugs, and we found that a common change across all of the different types of drug addictions was a reduction in the levels of dopamine D2 receptors. Fewer receptors means the brain is starving for dopamine.