Heroin is an illegal drug that is normally injected or inhaled by users even though you can smoke. The way in which the drug, from the family of opiates, is taken has little to do with its potential for addiction. The fact is that repeated use leads to addiction, even if needles are used or not.
A person who is a heroin addict continues to use the drug, even though he experiences negative consequences in his life as a result. Addicts are not able to choose whether they will take heroin or not. Instead, they experience a “need” that becomes a driving force in their lives.
What is heroin addiction?
Heroin and other opiates, such as prescription pain relievers, have a very addictive quality in large part because they mimic the brain’s natural processes of creating pleasure. Opioids access and alter the same components that are involved in the production of pleasure and pain elimination: for example they affect the pleasure center of the brain and alter opioid receptors, dopamine and endorphins. This very rewarding process also affects an individual’s cognitive process – how we think and feel about pain and pleasure, adding a complicated layer to the risk of addiction.
The chronic use of heroin and other opioids has the effect of producing more and more opioid receptors (receptors that help create the sensation of pleasure or pain) to meet the needs of the opioid system flood. At the same time the body begins to believe that it no longer needs to produce its own chemicals that create the sensation of pleasure or to reduce pain. This is the point where we say that a person is physically dependent on the drug. The body can no longer function at its normal level without the drug. This dependence leads to painful and often frightening withdrawals when trying not to use the drug and the body begins the process of finding a way to live without the additional chemicals to which it has become accustomed.
Heroin and other opioids can be injected, smoked, used as a suppository or can be ingested. They are the depressors of the central nervous system and have several short-term effects, such as: euphoria, sedation, pain and anxiety reduction, respiratory complications and nausea. In addition, there are physical risk effects associated with opiates and heroin addiction and these include: HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, skin infections, bacterial or viral infections, collapsed veins, lung infections and death from overdose.
The signs of heroin dependence
Heroin addicts have similar experiences when they start relying on the drug, including:
- Cravings between periods of use
- Think about the last time you had euphoria and how the next euphoria
- Focus on where and when they can get the next dose
- Financial difficulties and erratic behavior
- Marks around the injection points
The causes of heroin dependence
Heroin is a very effective analgesic that works as a depressant of the central nervous system of the body. Its use affects the way the nerves in the spinal cord communicate pain sensations to the brain. Shortly after the drug is inhaled or injected, an intense feeling of pleasure is created. Heroin works in the pleasure centers of the brain, affecting the level of dopamine it produces.
Effects of heroin use
Along with the euphoria that appears shortly after use, heroin addicts also experience these effects:
- Decreased ability to cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Dry mouth
- Heaviness in the limbs
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Less anxiety
- Severe itching
The complications and effects of long-term heroin abuse
Heroin users also run the risk of having a number of health problems, including:
- The risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis C from the use of needles
- Increased risk of miscarriage
- Increased tolerance over time and the need to consume more of the drug to achieve the same effect
- Overdose and death
Help and treatment for heroin addiction
People who want to stop using heroin do better when they are well motivated to do so. The motivation may come from the person who is addicted to heroin or due to the participation of friends or family. When someone detoxifies heroin, they will experience a series of withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Muscle pains
Withdrawal symptoms appear a few hours after the person stops using heroin, the most problematic period being within 24-72 hours. Withdrawal symptoms may be present for a week after the last time the addict used the drug. Ideally, this step in the treatment of heroin is performed under the supervision of a doctor. People who have consumed for a long time should avoid trying to stop using suddenly, since a sudden stop could be fatal. The process of quitting is painful and dangerous, so addicts do not stop heroin for many years and can cause death.
Heroin recovery and rehabilitation
After successfully passing through the drug detoxification phase, a rehabilitation program is needed. You want to stop using heroin successfully, forever. Individual and group therapy is used in drug rehabilitation centers to help people who are trying to overcome a heroin addiction get to the root of the problem, understand the problem, and think of strategies to avoid the use of the drug once again. 12-step programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous can also be helpful.