Learn About Heroin
Made from poppy plant resin and synthesized from morphine, heroin is a highly addictive and illegal opiate that can be injected, smoked or sniffed by users. Commonly seen in the form of white to dark brown powder or as a black sticky substance, heroin is often combined with fillers that can include other harmful drugs, poisons, starches, or sugar.
When used, heroin delivers a high that produces immediate effects on the body. Potentially lasting for hours, heroin abusers describe feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and detachment from surroundings when under the influence. And while the high is perceived as pleasant by users, the withdrawal from heroin is painful. To avoid the withdrawal symptoms, heroin addicts often increase the frequency and amount of their use over time. Prolonged heroin use leads to serious health risks. Risks, if left untreated, that can ultimately lead to overdose or even death.
With the number of users almost doubling since the mid-2000s, heroin use is on the rise. Moreover, the number of heroin-related deaths increased by 45% towards the beginning of the 2010s.
Causes and Risk Factors of Heroin
The specific causes of heroin addiction can vary from person to person. However, research has shown that a combination of dynamics can play into why a person becomes a heroin addict. Some of these causes may include:
Genetic: Researchers believe that genetics contribute to whether or not a person is susceptible to drug addiction. Moreover, there are certain personality traits that could render a person vulnerable to developing a substance abuse problem.
Physical: Because heroin quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier, a heroin addict’s brain functioning is at risk of impairment. The ability to process information, communicate effectively, and regulate impulses are all hindered when a person uses heroin. These hindrances put the addict at risk of compromising his or her safety and the safety of others.
Environmental: People with early exposure to drug addiction are at risk of learning that drug abuse is a way to cope with stress. Additionally, and for those without this exposure, traumatic life events can trigger a person to turn to drugs as a means of managing stress.
- Family history of substance abuse
- Lack of support system
- Low self-esteem
- History of trauma
- Preexisting mental health disorder
- Increased stress levels
Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
Depending on the severity of a person’s addiction to heroin, there are a variety of signs and symptoms that can manifest in a person using heroin. A person abusing heroin may present with some, or all, of the following symptoms:
- Increased isolation from friends and family
- Lying about use of drugs
- Unexplained hostility
- Wearing long sleeves and pants in warmer weather (so as not to rouse suspicion)
- Unclear speech
- Desperate need for money
- Track marks at injection sites
- Nausea, vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Weight loss
- Runny nose
- Inability to communicate effectively
- Poor problem solving
- Decrease in good decision-making
- Lack of impulse control
- Depressive symptoms
- Irregular mood
Effects of Heroin
There are several serious effects of long term heroin use that can occur. In addition to the toll heroin takes on an addict’s physical well-being, heroin can take hold of every other aspect of a person’s life. Some of these long-term effects can include:
- Interaction with the legal system
- Loss of employment
- Social isolation
- Financial ruin
- Exposure to infectious diseases – HIV/AIDS, HCV
- Damage to vital organs
Because drug use alters a person’s brain chemistry, addiction to drugs can render a person more susceptible to other mental disorders. These disorders can include:
- Depressive disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Other substance abuse disorders
Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose
Withdrawal from Heroin: Heroin withdrawal is known to be painful for addicts. So painful, that the symptoms are enough to keep addicts from recovering from addiction. Without medical intervention, withdrawal from heroin can be fatal. With the possibility of withdrawal occurring only a few hours after taking heroin, the following symptoms may be experienced:
- Cravings for heroin
- Involuntary muscle movements
- Nausea, vomiting
- Inability to rest or sleep
Overdose from Heroin:
Heroin overdose occurs when a person consumes too much heroin at one time, is exposed to a purity level of the drug that the person is not accustomed to, or when a dosage of heroin contains other toxic chemicals or drugs. Unfortunately, if a person is overdosing and medical attention is not sought, death could be the result. Labored breathing, seizures, muscle spasms, weak pulse, coma, and spasms of the gastrointestinal tract are all indicators of an overdose. In the event that these occur, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible so as to prevent further damage to the addict’s health or death.
Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin Addiction
What are the causes of heroin addiction?
While there is no single cause for heroin addiction, you may be more likely to abuse the drug if you spend time with other heroin users, possess certain heritable personality traits, have an untreated mental illness, or have close relatives who also struggle with addiction.
What are the effects of heroin addiction?
A heroin addiction will damage your mind and body in many ways, and can cause the following effects:
- Damage to kidneys, liver, and heart
- Mood swings and cognitive impairments
- Legal problems
- Strained or ruined relationships
- Substandard performance in school and/or at work
What are the symptoms of heroin addiction?
If a person has been abusing heroin, he or she will likely exhibit many of the following symptoms:
- Uncharacteristic drop in performance at school or work
- Sores, scabs, and other evidence of injections
- Lack of ability to concentrate or focus
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Drastic mood swings
Does heroin cause seizures?
Yes. It is possible to experience seizures as an effect of using heroin. You may also experience many other damages to your health if you continue to abuse this drug.
What makes heroin addictive?
Heroin is classified as an opioid substance. These types of drugs are highly addictive because of the way they affect the pleasure sensors in the brain. Unfortunately, one will typically build up a tolerance to heroin over time, which will cause him or her to have to abuse larger doses of heroin more frequently in order to achieve the same effects.
What are the characteristics of heroin addicts?
Heroin addicts can come from all walks of life. However, those who abuse this drug will show some similar signs and symptoms, such as declining physical and mental health, an inability to maintain healthy relationships, legal and/or financial troubles, and more.
Where can I get help for heroin addiction?
Heroin addiction can be effectively treated at a variety of mental health centers, hospitals, and clinics throughout the country. Consult a mental health professional for a referral to a quality treatment program in your area.