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Article Summary

How Addictive is Heroin?

Heroin is one of the most addictive of all intoxicating substances. It is due to its addictive potential, in fact, that the United States - as well as many other countries across the world - have banned this substance.

If you develop a substance use disorder, also known as an opioid use disorder, after abusing heroin, you will find yourself struggling with a severe medical disorder. Ongoing use of this substance could also cause changes to your brain. Read on to find out more:

Understanding Heroin

Heroin is classified as an opioid, which means that it is a narcotic. Its scientific name is diacetylmorphine - because it is derived from morphine (a substance that occurs in the opium poppy plant).

When you start using this drug, you will do so because of the pleasurable effects that it causes. This is because heroin affects the various parts of your brain that are responsible for controlling relaxation and pleasure. Taking this drug can also reduce your coughing.

The DEA - the Drug Enforcement Administration - now classifies heroin as a schedule I drug. This means that it does not have any legal medical uses but comes with a high risk of substance abuse and addiction.

Heroin will lead to addiction because it acts on the motivation and reward pathways of the brain. Once you are addicted to it, you will increasingly have a difficult time failing to abuse it because doing so will cause you to suffer adverse, painful, and sometimes near-fatal withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin is like many other opioids in the sense that abusing it will lead to many changes in the ways in which your body and brain work. These changes will include impaired reasoning, cravings for the substance, as well as withdrawal symptoms when you stop abusing it.

In many cases, you will only start abusing heroin after developing an opioid use disorder involving other medications like hydrocodone. This is because this drug is cheap and widely available across the United States - unlike most opioid prescription medications. After you have made the switch from these prescriptions to heroin, you will increasingly find that it is difficult to switch back.

On the streets, heroin is known by a wide variety of names among drug users, peddlers, traffickers, and others involved in its trade. They use these street names to avoid detection by law enforcement officials and other authorities. The names include:

  • Black Tar
  • Boy
  • Horse
  • Skag
  • Smack

As we mentioned earlier, heroin is widely available and relatively affordable. It is these characteristics that make it far more appealing that most prescription opioid medications. Once you have become addicted to it, however, you will find that it is increasingly becoming difficult for you to go without the drug. This is because doing so will lead to the development of various adverse withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin Abuse

Heroin works like any other opioid in the sense that it can be effective at pain relief. However, this is not the main reason why many people start abusing this drug. In fact, you might be tempted to be among these people because of the drowsiness, relaxation, and peace that the drug causes. The substance is also effective at providing relief - albeit in the short term - from depression, anxiety, and stress.

You can also use other opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone to achieve similar effects. However, these opioids tend to be far more expensive and harder to get unless you have a valid prescription from a doctor.

One of the reasons why you might find yourself abusing heroin is because you would have an easier time doing so. You do not have to get a legal prescription to acquire this substance. Instead, you just have to know where to go and the people to contact to be able to get your hands on it.

Over time, you will continue abusing heroin while attempting to get as much pleasure as you can from every batch of the drug. If you swallow it, for instance, some of it will be metabolized. This means that it might get out of your system before it has reached your brain. As a direct result, you are not going to experience the full dose of the substance.

Due to this, you may start taking heroin in other ways - some of which are dangerous or downright deadly - to ensure that a larger dose of it reaches your brain. Some of these ways include but are not limited to:

  • Injecting (known as slamming or shooting)
  • Smoking (known as chasing the dragon)
  • Snorting (or insufflation)

Snorting, in particular, will deliver larger doses of the drug to your brain. Further, it can ensure that heroin reaches your brain much faster than if you had just decided to swallow it. On the other hand, smoking is a fast way to get this drug into your brain.

However, research studies have shown that shooting the drug - or injecting it directly into the blood stream - is the most effective way to abuse it. Even so, this route of administration is rather dangerous because it will ensure that the drug - in its full dose - gets to your brain.

That said, most heroin users often start by swallowing the drug before proceeding to snorting or smoking it. After developing an opioid use disorder and living with it for several weeks or months, however, they will make the transition to intravenous use.

Heroin Effects

The side effects of heroin abuse are about as well known as the pleasurable effects that the drug causes. Even so, you always need to remember that the drug comes with a high risk of substance abuse and addiction, various painful symptoms of withdrawal, and a high potential for death through a drug overdose.

Some of the effects, as well as the signs and symptoms of heroin abuse include:

  • Inability to focus
  • Lapsing between consciousness and unconsciousness
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Decreased respiration
  • Low blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dry mouth
  • Heart damage
  • Heart disease
  • Circulatory system problems
  • Collapsed veins (particularly if you have been taking the drug intravenously)
  • Lung problems
  • Pneumonia
  • Cognitive loss and damage
  • Memory loss
  • Moodiness
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Criminal activity
  • Dishonesty
  • Mood swings
  • Nosebleeds
  • Paraphernalia, such as foil, spoons, and syringes
  • Track marks
  • Weight loss

Heroin Withdrawal

If you have been abusing heroin for a long time, you might get to a point where you develop tolerance. This means that you would have to take this drug in higher doses or more frequently than you used to before you can experience its pleasurable effects.

Ongoing substance abuse, on the other hand, will lead to the development of dependence. Once you get to this point, you will no longer be able to stop taking heroin unless you are enrolled in an addiction treatment and rehabilitation program.

This is because stopping heroin use will cause you to experience some adverse withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms might turn out to be painful, uncomfortable, or even fatal in some instances. They include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea

Heroin Overdose

If you take too much of the substance in a relatively short time period, there is a high risk that there might be an excess of heroin in your system - much more than your body can handle. When this happens, you would be said to be overdosing on the drug. This condition will be accompanied by the following adverse symptoms:

  • Bluish tint to the lips and fingernails
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Death
  • Delirium
  • Discolored tongue
  • Dry mouth
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Shallow breathing
  • Sleepiness
  • Stomach cramping or spasms
  • Stopped breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Weak pulse

Heroin overdose is a serious condition, and one that can lead to sudden death. For this reason, it is recommended that you call 911 or your local poisons control center as soon as you realize that you are - or someone else is - overdosing.

Facts on Heroin Addiction

Today, most people assume that heroin is a drug for the impoverished - one that is only abused by particular demographics in the United States. However, this is far from the truth.

In fact, people from every walk of life often abuse heroin and end up struggling with an opioid use disorder as a result. Consider the following facts and statistics on heroin use and addiction to understand just how serious this problem has become:

  • According to JAMA Psychiatry, white Americans were the largest percentage of the population abusing heroin from 2001 to 2013
  • In 2015, the NSDUH - the National Survey on Drug Use and Health - reported that more than 5.1 million Americans abused this drug
  • JAMA Psychiatry reported that people between the ages of 18 and 29 as well as those aged between 30 and 44 had the highest risk of heroin use and abuse
  • NIDA - the National Institute on Drug Abuse - reported that deaths linked to a heroin overdose increased by more than 6 times from 2002 to 2015 in the country
  • The Atlantic reported that the use of this drug by people with private insurance, those in a higher income bracket, as well as women had been on a rise

Understanding Heroin Addiction

But how long does it take to develop an opioid use disorder? Essentially, there are certain circumstances in which you might develop heroin addiction faster than usual. However, it would typically take you a couple of uses - as well as turning these uses into a regular habit - before you become addicted.

The process of addiction will happen once you start using the drug over and over again for the sole purpose of experiencing its pleasurable and euphoric effects. Once you have taking it a couple of times, you might realize that the dose you were taking no longer enables you to experience the effects that you desire. This is known as the development of tolerance.

Once you reach this point, you will increasingly find yourself using heroin in higher doses or more frequently than you used to. Only by so doing will you be able to experience its pleasurable effects.

Although heroin addiction is yet to be fully understood, you can be sure that the effects of the drug on the chemical pathways of the brain will increase your risk of developing tolerance, psychological and physical dependence, as well as an opioid use disorder.

This is because heroin works by disrupting the use and behavior of certain chemicals that occur naturally in your brain. As a result, your brain will eventually become dependent on the substance. Without taking heroin, your brain might not even be able to function normally.

Once you have become dependent, you will no longer be able to control your use of the drug - including but not limited to how often you use or how much of the substance you take at any given time. After this happens, you could be said to be addicted to heroin.

Getting Help

As you can see, heroin is one of the most addictive of all opioids that you can start abusing. If you have already developed an opioid use disorder due to abusing this drug, it is recommended that you seek help.

There are different types of addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs available that can get you back on the road to sobriety. These programs include both inpatient and outpatient drug rehabs, and they are all effective in dealing with cases of substance abuse and addiction.

These programs will provide you with the following rehabilitation services, and more to ensure that you overcome your heroin use disorder and achieve a state of full recovery:

  • 12-step group programs
  • Alternative therapies
  • Behavioral therapies
  • Dual diagnosis treatment
  • Exercise programs
  • Experiential therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Medically supported detox
  • Motivational therapies
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Peer support

The important thing is to ensure that you check into an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment facility so that you can receive a thorough assessment as well as recommendations on the best forms of help for your heroin abuse and addiction.












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