Aspects of Heroin Addiction
Heroin is a highly addictive drug created from morphine of poppy plants, and there are various types available from pure white to black tar heroin. It is usually taken via three primary methods, and it is a commonly abused drug with many consequences. Short-term and long-lasting physical side effects result from using the drug, and many of these effects can be life-threatening. There are also serious social consequences that affect one’s relationships and lifestyle when addicted. For those suffering from heroin addiction, there are effective treatment options available.
Heroin Abuse and Addiction
Heroin Use by the Numbers
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 600,000 Americans willingly reported having used heroin within the previous year. The greatest increases in use occur with young adults aged 18 to 25. In 2012, over 150,000 people reported having used the drug for the first time. In 2006, this number was only a fraction of that at 90,000. Use has declined among teenagers in comparison. In the decade from 2002 to 2012, the number of people meeting DSM-IV criteria for heroin dependence doubled to reach over 450,000.
Taking the Drug
Upon administering the drug, users feel a sudden rush of pleasure. The intensity of this sensation depends on upon how much of the drug is taken at one time, the type of heroin used and how it is administered. Heroin is usually made by injecting, smoking or snorting. The method of taking the drug affects how quickly it travels through the bloodstream to the brain, and intravenous use is the fastest and most intense route. Heroin is very addictive because of its ability to enter the mind quickly, and the changes it causes in the brain have physiological effects on the user. The addiction causes drug-seeking behaviors and further physical problems.
Living With Addiction
Many users addicted to heroin develop serious complications after prolonged exposure to the substance. Some people are more susceptible to developing lung problems such as pneumonia or tuberculosis, and others suffer from mood disorders including depression. Snorting the drug can damage nasal passages, and injecting it can lead to infections and collapsed veins. Those that share needles put themselves at risk of contracting viruses such as hepatitis or HIV. There are dangerous effects beyond the typical responses of the body and mind when taking heroin, but numerous treatment options exist for those living with heroin addiction.
Effects of Heroin Use
Repeated heroin use leads to dependence and eventually addiction. Some other physical concerns develop even before full addiction occurs and persist long after. Some people may experience weight loss, constant running of the nose or loss of menstrual cycle. Administering heroin intravenously can cause its physical effects including infections at the injection site or bruises and scabs caused by constant picking of the skin. Like many drugs, long-term heroin use changes the way the brain operates. This leads to hormonal and neurological imbalances that can cause further damage to the body while also damaging the mind.
Studies have concluded that heroin use can contribute to the deterioration of the white matter of the brain. This degradation may affect the ability to control behavior, capacity to make decisions and the way one responds to stress. Heroin binds to and activates mu-opioid receptors in the brain and trigger the release of dopamine. When receptors in the brain are stimulated with external substances, natural neurotransmitters become less likely have their intended effect on the brain leading to disruptions of emotion and mood.
With drug addiction comes drug-seeking behavior and the noticeable changes in the user’s everyday life. These changes may have an effect on one’s social relationships with family, friends, and co-workers, and this can lead to disruption in daily patterns. Typical behaviors of heroin users in social situations include:
- Avoiding Direct Eye Contact
- Frequent Lying
- Frequent Slurred Speech
- Decline in Hygiene or Appearance
- Decrease in Self-Esteem
- Decreased Performance at School or Work
- Increased Sleeping
- Hostility Toward Friends and Family
- Loss of Motivation for Goal/Loss of Interest for Hobbies
- Stealing Valuable Items
- Wearing Long Sleeves or Pants Even in Warm Weather
Heroin users may also possess drug paraphernalia or other related items including:
- Burned Spoons
- Needles/Syringes without Medical Need
- Rubber Tubing
- Small Zip Bags Containing Powder or Residue
Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal
The symptoms of withdrawal for any drug are often the very opposite of the physiological changes that occur once a person becomes dependent. Standard drug withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Dilated Pupils
- Racing Heart
With heroin, withdrawal effects are more accurate for the drug because withdrawal responses differ for different types of substances. The early effects of withdrawal from heroin may include:
- Aching Muscles
- False Sensations on Skin
- Over-production of Tears
- Runny Nose
As the body becomes more dependent and goes longer without the drug, the symptoms may elevate to include:
- Abdominal Pains
- Dilated Pupils
Once the habit becomes severe, it can disrupt every aspect of an individual’s life. Finding and using the drug takes over as the top priority each day. Inpatient drug treatment is one of the most reliable methods of overcoming addiction. It separates the user from sources of the drug while exposing the individual to others that suffer the same consequences that come with heroin use. This form of treatment also relieves the user of everyday stressors that may trigger use and provides care specific to the drug.