June 22, 2005
Drug Abusers Suffer Accelerated Brain Aging

Abuse opiates, age your brain.

Young drug abusers are up to three times more likely to suffer brain damage than those who don't use drugs, according to research published online by Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology.

The brains of 34 intravenous drug abusers, who had mainly used heroin and methadone, were examined after death and compared with 16 young people who had not used drugs.

This revealed that the drug abusers sustained a level of brain damage normally only seen in much older people and similar to the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

"Our study shows evidence of an increased risk of brain damage associated with heroin and methadone use, which may be highest in the young, when individuals are most likely to acquire the habit" says co-author Jeanne Bell Professor of Neuropathology at the University of Edinburgh.

Damaged nerve cells were identified in the key areas of the brain involved in learning, memory and emotional well-being.

"We found that the brains of these young drug abusers showed significantly higher levels of two key proteins associated with brain damage" adds Professor Bell.

"In a previous study we found out that drug abuse causes low grade inflammation in the brain. Taken together, the two studies suggest that intravenous opiate abuse may be linked to premature ageing of the brain."

The 34 documented drug users had a history of opiate abuse mainly heroin and methadone but were HIV negative and had no history of head injury. The 16 control cases had no history of drug abuse or neurological impairment.

The average age in these two groups was only 26 years and included drug abusers as young as 17.

Toxic proteins were found in the brain cells of drug abusers.

Tau protein, which in its soluble form is essential for communication and transport within brain cells, had become insoluble in some cells, causing nerve cell damage and death in selected areas of the brain.

Other nerve cells showed an accumulation of the amyloid precursor protein, which suggests that protein transport had been disrupted and the nerve cell functions affected.

"This study shows that drug abuse can lead to a build up of proteins which cause severe nerve cell damage and death in essential parts of the brain. This is very worrying as there are strong indications that drug use in the UK, in particular opiates like heroin and methadone, has continued to rise in recent years" says Professor Bell.

If you damage your brain with drugs now you will have to wait for decades before stem cell therapies can fix all the damage. Whatever you become after the future damage repair will be someone else different than who you were before you damaged your brain in the first place.

Also see my post "Partial Recovery From Methamphetamine-Induced Brain Damage" and be sure to read the comments by some of the ex-meth users who describe the symptoms of their own brain damage.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 June 22 12:32 PM  Brain Addiction

Lei said at June 24, 2005 10:37 AM:

Why is it that the things that make us feel good are always so bad for us? I'm only assuming that drugs feel good because I don't have any firsthand knowledge.

druggie said at June 26, 2005 4:54 PM:

How well-controlled is this study (e.g. did they control for education, IQ, effects of dirty (or even clean) needles, etc)? I have heard of stimulants, depressants/GABAergics, and dissociative anaesthetics (especially PCP, but also ketamine and DXM when used very heavily) causing brain damage, but I have never heard of opiates causing brain damage.

And yes...drugs are a blast, especially if you stumble upon the right(wrong?) drug. And yes I am speaking from personal experience.

remo wiliams said at July 13, 2005 5:18 AM:

Great articles. Im agaisnt drug use, but it wont be "several decades " for brain repair. This is coming within 15 years --give or take a few.

Tammy Nix said at December 30, 2005 9:22 AM:

Is this really a new revelation?!! I have known for years that I was damaging my brain!!
EVERYTHING can have an adverse reaction to us. Moderation is the key.
I think this article is very elementary. Get in those laboratories and find out how to undo all the damage we have done! Now that would be worth reading. Quit giving us all this old information and come up with something new and exciting!
Make us a drug which will give us the euphoria we seek day after day. Give us hope.....we do not need the same old crap rewritten every 3 or 4 years.
Life is tough! Invent something to make it easier to deal with.

Em said at September 2, 2008 7:33 PM:

This article terrifies me. I am 27 years old and am now 7 months clean and sober after about four years of heavy opiate use, and although I did not use needles, I DID frequently snort my drug of choice. (I also periodically abused cocaine.) Since quitting drugs, drinking, and even smoking cigarettes, I've noticed that I have been having a lot of serious memory and coordination problems. (I'm extremely clumsy and forgetful nowadays!) Everyone keeps telling me that this is only Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome and it should go away, but I have my doubts. Perhaps I'm expecting too much too soon, and I just need to be patient and wait for my brain to fully recover...but after reading this article, I'm beginning to wonder if there is any hope for me at all. And for the record, I have always been a straight A student, considered very intelligent by my peers, and a fast learner...even when I was on drugs. I have always been musically inclined and an avid reader. Now I fear that I'm not going to be able to keep up and remember new material at school when I go back next semester. I can't finish a book anymore, because I have no attention span. I have to ask my boss and my co-workers the same questions over and over again at work. It makes me want to cry! The only thing that HASN'T changed is my musical ability. Perhaps the creative part of the brain hasn't been affected as much? I don't mean to ramble here, and I don't really have much of a point I guess...I just wondered if anyone else here could relate and if there's any sort of hope beyond waiting for stem cell research to come through. Are there any supplements that might be helpful? Am I totally screwed???

Randall Parker said at September 2, 2008 7:49 PM:


Eat salmon for the omega 3 fatty acids or take fish oil pills. I say salmon because it is one of the lowest mercury fish. Though the pills will work as well.

Also, read my Brain Nutrition category archive.

proud sister of recovering addict said at June 7, 2010 7:20 AM:

my sister who was on heroin(her drug of choice) and meth for over 13 years and methadone for 6 is now 1 year clean she is on fish oils tablets and has started taking antidepressants and for the first time since i was little i can finally see her being the sister i used to know, and i can finally have the normal conversations again, and i never ever thought i would see that happen. I mentioned that to her a few days ago and it made her day so never give up on thinking you wont get better ive seen it first hand and am so proud of her.

beholder said at February 10, 2011 6:51 PM:

Ok, I am a drug user , i do reset now and then . Every one can do a reset , you only need the right stuff for that. Em try ibogaine it resets every cell of your body , by that i mean this stuff energizes/boost your mitochondria to work harder for you without any side effects and in terms to recover from the damage . You will significantly feel better . Ibo metabolites do work and after for around 3 to 6 months. The biochemical pathway is not well established but is believed that the secondary metabolites have stronger after effect and act slowly by reliesing their action from the adipose tissue. The part for the mitochodria is well established. In conjunction with a balanced diet you will recover at no time. Any questions you can e-mail me at grigoriadis9@hotmail.com

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