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Article Summary

A Guide To Heroin Addiction

Heroin is so addictive that even one dose can push you to addiction. Most of the people who are hooked to the drug start by experimenting thinking that they will stop it. However, they soon find that it is nearly impossible to quit the habit.

If you are a heroin addict, or you suspect that a loved one might be, the chances are high that the first time you tried, you felt repelled and nauseous. After some time, you give it another go, and the drug starts clinging to your body in ways you never imagined possible.

Understanding Heroin

Made from morphine, heroin ranks among the most addictive of opioids. This natural substance is made from the seed pod of different opium poppy plants, which are grown in Colombia and Mexico, as well as Southwest and South East Asia.

In appearance, heroin can be a brown or white powder. However, some varieties look like black and sticky (referred to as black tar heroin). The drug is also referred to as smack, hell dust, horse, and big H.

As a fast-acting opiate, when heroin is injected, it will cause an immediate surge of euphoria in a matter of seconds. However, if you use the drug in any other way, the surge will take some time, and won't be quite as sharp.

Minutes after you take heroin, your mouth will dry up, and your skin will flush. Similarly, the drug will constrict your pupils, and you will feel dopey and heavy. With time, you will start fading in and out of consciousness. In some instances, users have been known to nod off after taking the drug.

The drug might also slow down your breathing, which is how a heroin overdose causes death.

After you get up from the heroin rush, your thinking will be blurry, and you might lose some of your memory. Further, the drug will deplete your ability to control yourself and make coherent decisions.

As an illegal drug, heroin is extremely addictive. The substance is created using opium from poppies before they get refined into morphine. After that, the morphine will be processed chemically to create heroin.

In spite of the growing negative reputation on account of the many risks it poses, heroin is still only of the most commonly abused of all illegal drugs within the US, and beyond.

The addiction potential associated with this substance means that the slope between abuse, use, and addiction can prove to be slippery. As such, you might want to understand that before you shift from dependence to addiction, there will be a period during which you will use the drug regularly.

Over time, your body will get used to the effects heroin causes, which means that you will need even more of the opiate to achieve these effects you desire. Soon after that, your dependence will hit a level where you can only be described as a heroin addict.

Heroin Uses

As mentioned above, heroin is marketed and used in a variety of forms - solid black chunks, black sticky substance, and brown or white powder. These different types of heroin can be snorted, smoked, or injected into the muscle, and the skin, or into the veins.

Irrespective of how you use it, the opiate will deliver the potent effects it is known for quite fast. Since it is difficult to gauge the strength of a street drug from one batch to the other, the risk of a heroin overdose is always a possibility.

Most people use and abuse heroin to achieve the immediate pleasure it elicits. These pleasurable feelings include, but are not limited to:

  • A rush, or a surge of pleasure
  • A warm and calm feeling
  • Heaviness and slowness in the legs and arms
  • A heightened sense of confidence and well-being

Every year, new users get hooked to heroin. Consider the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) statistics below concerning the drug:

  • In the span between 2002 to 2012, heroin use increased by over 50%
  • Close to 670,000 respondents reported to using the drug in 2012
  • The total number of people meeting the basic criteria for a diagnosis of dependence and abuse doubled during the 2002-2012 period

That said, most prescription medications - including Vicodin and Oxycontin - create effects that are quite similar to heroin. Recent research also suggests that the abuse of these drugs acts as a leeway to eventual heroin abuse. It is not surprising, therefore, that close to 80% of the heroin addicts in America (including those undergoing treatment) report to starting out by misusing prescription opioids.

Although prescription opioid abuse is one of the factors leading to heroin abuse, only a small percentage of those who misuse prescription painkillers will switch to heroin. In fact, a recent survey showed that less than 4% of the total numbers of people who abuse prescription painkillers start abusing heroin in 5 years or less. This data suggests that the abuse of prescription opiates is just one of the factors that might lead to heroin use and abuse.

Heroin Effects

The three most likely outcomes arising from heroin use include tolerance, dependence, and addiction. In several cases, tolerance is typically marked by needing more of the drug, in a higher purity, or through another method of delivery to achieve the same effect.

When you are dependent on heroin, your body will need more of the drug to start feeling normal. If you don't get your hands on the opiate, you will start suffering from the various withdrawal symptoms of the drug.

Last but not least, once you become addicted to heroin, you will increase the amount of energy and effort you typically used to getting your hands on the drug and eventually using it. This will continue happening even after you realize that the drug is causing inherent problems in your life.

The effects of heroin addiction will occur because after you use the drug, its opiate molecules will interact with the opioid receptors in the brain and body. These receptors play a crucial role in maintaining such basic functions as breathing and blood pressure, as well as creating rewarding feelings and modifying your pain.

Some of the negative social effects that heroin abuse has been linked to include legal issues, financial issues, and losing your job. The drug also causes many negative health consequences, including but not limited to:

  • An increased risk of contracting such infectious diseases as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS
  • Permanent mental health issues, including personality changes and depression
  • Reproductive problems, such as inconsistent menstrual cycles and sexual dysfunction
  • Damage to the tissues in the nose, as well as to the septum, due to constantly snorting the drug
If you use heroin while pregnant, you will place your body as well as your child at a heightened risk of low birth weight, miscarriage, and NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome). The last means that you will give birth to a child who is naturally dependent on the drug, and who will suffer withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin Side Effects

The side effects arising from heroin addiction and abuse will vary as the problem progresses. If you are dependent on another substance, heroin will also profoundly aggravate the side effects you will feel.

After you take heroin, you will immediately experience a rush followed by the drying up of your mouth, warm flushes on the skin, as well as heavy limbs. Since this drug is illegal, it follows that there is no way to calibrate the exact dosage the human body can handle. This will typically be followed by severe itching, vomiting, and nausea.

Some of the physical side effects you will feel in the short term include:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Cloudy mental functioning
  • Reduced pain arising from emotional challenges and physical problems
  • Uncontrollable itching, resulting in compulsive skin picking and scratching (due to itchy blood)

That said, heroin dependence and addiction also leads to some serious medical side effects. These side effects might eventually, directly or indirectly, cause death. They include:

  • Health problems, including the infection of the heart valves and lining
  • Acquiring infectious diseases after sharing needles, including Hepatitis B and C, and HIV
  • Pulmonary diseases, such as chronic pneumonia
  • Blood clots
  • The death of tissue caused by impurities and collapsed veins
  • Bacterial infections
  • Liver disease
  • Rheumatologic problems, such as arthritis
  • Seizures

Heroin Addictive Qualities

If you are addicted to heroin, you will compulsively look for and use the drug. This will be caused by the molecular and neurochemical changes heroin creates inside the brain.

Due to the level of addictiveness, the American government has classified this drug as a Schedule I narcotic, meaning that it cannot be used legally. Understanding the addictive properties of the substance will help you understand how to control and subjugate it.

Heroin Overdose

Any heroin user can overdose on it. Overdose will usually happen when the user takes so much of the drug that it creates a life-threatening reaction, or leads to death. In recent years, these overdoses have been on the rise.

When you overdose on this opiate, your breathing will either stop or slow down. This will reduce the volume of oxygen flowing to the brain (a condition that is medically referred to as hypoxia).

Hypoxia comes with both long and short term effects on the brain and affects the nervous system. For instance, it can permanently damage your brain and cause you to sink into a coma.

The levels of toxicity will depend on how pure the drug was, as well as any other pre-existing addictions.

Some of the signs of an overdose include:

  • Blue nails and/or lips
  • Disorientation
  • Shallow or difficulty breathing
  • Delirium
  • Constricted pupils
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Low blood pressure
  • Drowsiness
  • Weak pulse
  • Coma

If you feel yourself reacting to heroin, or you know someone who has, seek immediate medicate attention.

Heroin Withdrawal

Trying to quit heroin will create such painful withdrawal symptoms that most users have no option but to continue using. However, you should keep in mind that heroin addicts have a higher likelihood (6 to 20 times) of dying in comparison to people who do not use it.

That said, most users stick to the drug because they enjoy the pain relief it provides, as well as because they are afraid of suffering from the withdrawal symptoms associated with this opiate.

These symptoms will appear a couple of hours after you stop using the drug, and will include:

  • Vomiting
  • Severe bone and muscle aches
  • Runny nose
  • Profuse sweating, even while idle or in a cold environment
  • Nausea
  • Intense limb cramps, causing you to kick around
  • Insomnia
  • Fever
  • Feeling heavy
  • Diarrhea
  • Crying
  • Craving the drug intensely
  • Cold sweats
  • Chills

If you experience any or all of the above withdrawal symptoms after long term dependence on the drug, you will also be at risk of contracting serious complication or even dying. This is especially so if you also suffering from other existing medical conditions and addictions.

Heroin Dangers

Most heroin addicts are oblivious to the dangers the drug possess on their lives and general well-being. For instance, you never know what the dose you bought was mixed with, or if it will lead to an overdose or certain death.

Recent studies affirm that after five years of continued use, the average user has a 90% risk of contracting hepatitis C. If you take the drug intravenously, you also carry a high risk of contracting and transmitting HIV (and a variety of other diseases) after sharing needles.

Signs And Symptoms Of Heroin Abuse

Some of the signs and symptoms of heroin abuse include:

a) Paraphernalia
  • Burnt spoons
  • Tiny baggies
  • Whitish or tan powdery residue
  • Dark sticky residue
  • Small glass pipes
  • Syringes
  • Rubber tubing
b) Appearance
  • Tiny pupils
  • Sleepy eyes
  • Tendency to sleep and nod off
  • Slow breathing
  • Flushed skin
  • Runny nose
c) Actions
  • Vomiting
  • Scratching
  • Slurred speech
  • Complaining of constipation
  • Complaining of nausea
  • Neglected grooming
  • Failure to eat
  • Covering the arms with long sleeves

Treatment For Heroin Addiction

Anyone seeking treatment for heroin addiction, as well as their families and loved ones, should understand that the typical withdrawal symptoms are not deadly. However, they can prove to be extremely uncomfortable and dangerous.

As such, most addicts will have a hard time trying to quit - which is why they will soon go back to the drug to escape the pain and suffering caused by the sudden withdrawal.

The best solution to heroin addiction, therefore, lies in a wholesome treatment of the condition as supervised by a qualified medical team and conducted in the right facilities, and programs.

In most cases, you will start with detox treatment before you transition to a more comprehensive rehab program to continue your recovery. After that, you will receive community support, outpatient services, and drug, alcohol, and mental health counseling until you recover fully and get back to normal, everyday society.

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