The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 948 000 Americans used heroin in the year preceding 2016, and this is only the use that was reported. Young adults are particularly susceptible to this trend and usage appears to be on the rise in that age group.
Though heroin is typically less accessible than other drugs, there are still far too many people in all age brackets becoming addicted and ruining their lives. So, what is heroin exactly, how can you tell that someone’s using it and what are the withdrawal symptoms? Read on for more information.
Heroin is a drug derived from morphine, a naturally occurring substance in the poppy plant. On the street, people typically purchase heroin as a white or brown powder that may be cut with other substances. Pure heroin is difficult to obtain in most parts of the USA.
The CDC reports that between 2015-2016, drug overdose rates rose by over 21% and that heroin-related deaths, in particular, rose by 19%. The recent upswing in heroin overdoses across the US and beyond may very well be due to the addition of the deadly substance fentanyl.
Users take heroin by smoking, snorting, or injecting, with injecting being the most potent format and the most popular way of taking it. Once someone takes a “hit” and heroin hits the brain, the user experiences a powerful rush of dopamine, the “happiness” neurotransmitter in our brain, and resulting euphoria. The intensity of the rush typically depends on how much is taken but can also be related to the purity of the substance.
This dopamine hit can bring an extremely intense temporary feeling of comfort and happiness to users, which is what makes the drug so addictive.
Signs of Heroin Addiction
Heroin is quite a dangerous drug because unlike some other drugs; it is possible to acquire a severe physical dependence on the drug. A physical dependence is different than an addiction. Addiction is simply characterized by an inability to stop using a substance to the point where it interferes with normal life. Physical dependence, on the other hand, refers to a high tolerance level and severe withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using the drug.
In other words, it’s not just that a person feels psychologically like they require the drug to cope, their body actually needs the substance to continue functioning at a “normal” level. Physical dependence often comes hand-in-hand with addiction.
Side Effects of Heroin Addiction
Side effects of heroin will vary depending on a person’s mental health, tolerance, weight, and the volume and purity of the drug in question. Sometimes drugs are cut with various substances such as fentanyl or even harmless substances such as baking soda, which makes them more or less effective. It’s often impossible to tell what street drugs are cut with, which is why heroin use can be so dangerous.
In the short term, the results of using heroin include an initial euphoric rush accompanied by a certain heaviness. This rush, along with a feeling of being in a trance, will typically last for a few hours. Users often describe a feeling of “no pain,” which makes sense since heroin is derived from morphine.
Physically people will have warm skin and be extremely relaxed, sometimes even to the point where they may fall asleep in strange places. They may also exhibit nausea and vomiting which is accompanied by a loss of appetite.
The dangers of long-term heroin usage are vast and varied. Some of the most severe results for chronic users include collapsed veins, depression, anxiety, constipation, heart problems, hepatitis, HIV, kidney and liver problems, miscarriages, and a general lack of ability to self-regulate with regards to mood and behavior.
Withdrawal Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
Withdrawal symptoms of heroin can be particularly severe especially after a person has developed a physical dependency. And although the initial symptoms are only extremely severe for about a week maximum, there are plenty of longer-term residual effects that can cause a person to relapse.
Depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, and cravings are probably the most common and basic ongoing symptoms to expect. These will usually subside over time, though they may also be treated concurrently if diagnosed as a part of a more serious disease such as bipolar disorder or ADD.
On a physical level, however, initial withdrawal symptoms can be extremely painful, including muscle cramps, severe stomach pain and upset, nausea, a runny nose, repetitive yawning, sweating, extreme cravings, and shaking. On a mental level, people typically experience a high level of fatigue, mood swings, and insomnia, just to name a few possible reactions.
These withdrawal symptoms are the main reason why so many people fail to quit heroin “cold turkey.” As they start to experience discomfort, they go back to the drug looking to find relief. This is the primary reason why heroin detox should be completed with the help of medical professionals.
Treating Heroin Addiction
Treatment of heroin addiction typically involves drugs like methadone, naloxone or other types of medication, which help patients to manage the often-severe withdrawal symptoms that can accompany cession. Inpatient programs in treatment centers are one of the most effective options as medical supervision is necessary, but in less severe cases, outpatient programs may also be effective.
The first step in recovery will be detoxification, and the rest of the treatment will likely involve a combination of medical monitoring, medications, and counseling.
It’s almost always possible to recover from heroin addiction. The important thing is that you get help fast before the disease takes a toll on your long-term health. There are numerous options available for those looking to find recovery from heroin addiction. However, the most successful options include detox followed by inpatient rehab.