Heroin is often sold as a powder in tiny bags. It’s readily available in most metropolitan areas, and often, it’s relatively inexpensive. Users who buy heroin can sniff or snort the powder, or they can heat up the powder to a liquid form and inject the substance directly into their veins. Heroin is derived from opium, and it was originally created to treat pain in people with severe injuries. Over time, it’s become a popular drug for addicts.
Once heroin enters the bloodstream and crosses into the brain, it’s converted into dopamine. Normally, the brain uses dopamine as a sort of courier, carrying messages from one place to another. When the brain is flooded with dopamine, however, it releases other chemicals in one burst. Often, the user experiences this rush of chemicals as a flooding of euphoric, pleasurable feelings. The user may begin to experience this euphoria mere seconds after the drug enters the system. The skin flushes, the user feels happy and the sensation of pain decreases or disappears altogether. The user then feels sleepy and sedated, and can begin to move incredibly slowly.
For drug users, heroin is incredibly appealing. Finding a drug that works, and that is cheap and easy to find, isn’t always easy. Heroin seems to fit the bill on all counts. That doesn’t mean heroin is safe to use. In fact, heroin remains one of the most addictive, and one of the most dangerous, drugs available on the market today. Unfortunately, even though the dangers of heroin use are quite clear, people still continue
to use the drugs in large numbers. Heroin use in this country is on the rise, and many people are getting help for their addiction.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin was listed as the primary drug of abuse for large portions of people who entered treatment programs in 21 cities in 2003. While it might be encouraging to consider that so many addicts are getting the help they need, it is discouraging to think that so many people are dealing with heroin addiction in this country.
At Michael’s House, we provide both inpatient and outpatient treatments for addiction. If you or someone you know is dealing with a heroin problem, we urge you to call us today. The treatments we provide truly can make a difference, and help your loved one avoid some of the dangers of heroin use.
At times, drug dealers add these substances in order to enhance the efficacy of the heroin, deepening and changing the effects of the drugs in subtle ways. At other times, drug dealers add these substances because they are inexpensive and additions allow dealers to make their stash of drugs stretch a bit further. People who use heroin face the real risk of overdose. Heroin that is sold on the street is often cut with other substances including:
Dealers aren’t required to give samples, nor are they required to be truthful about what is contained in the drugs they sell. This means users often have no idea how strong their heroin is until they use it, and they may be placing poisons directly into their bloodstream. This makes overdose a real and present danger for heroin users. Experienced users who buy from different dealers face no protection from overdose, as each dose could contain different ingredients.
People who use heroin, even once, are at risk for medical problems. As stated, it’s very difficult to determine how strong heroin is, so people could end up taking a higher dose of the drug than intended, and they could face severe medical problems as a result.
Heroin tends to slow the central nervous system, making even routine body functions slow and sluggish. People who use heroin may seem sleepy or dull, and they may not be able to react quickly to events happening around them. Heroin may also slow the person’s heart rate and breathing, and in some cases, heroin may stop these functions altogether.
Those who use heroin even once also run the risk of developing an addiction. Some people might be more susceptible to addiction than others. A study published in Genes, Brain and Behavior suggests that addiction to heroin might be, in part, an inherited condition. Addicts studied tended to have the same sorts of genetic discrepancies. More studies on this are needed, of course, but it does suggest that people with certain genetic markers play with fire when they experiment with drugs.
People who use heroin over a long period of time face mental health challenges. A study published in the journal European Psychiatry found that people who used heroin over a long period of time had high rates of mental illness. Of the people studied, 68.6 percent were depressed, 56.4 percent were aggressive and 26.3 percent were suicidal. It’s possible that these people had no signs of mental illness before they began taking heroin, but the drug began to influence their mental illness and make the condition worse. It’s also possible that the people took heroin to deal with mental illness conditions they already had. In either case, people with heroin addiction and mental illnesses often need specialized treatments in order to deal with both conditions. Otherwise, the people may not feel real relief.
People who inject heroin for long periods face particular health issues, including:
- Collapsed veins
- Blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C
- Bacterial infections
People who share needles or use the same needle for multiple injections may be at particular risk.
All people who use heroin are at risk for heart infections, arthritis and withdrawal symptoms between doses. Withdrawal symptoms can include constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, cold sweats, involuntary leg movements and a desperate craving for the drug. While these symptoms may not sound severe, they can be incredibly uncomfortable, and some users return to the drug in order to make the symptoms stop.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 200,000 people addicted to heroin move through the justice system each year. It’s important to mention that heroin is an illegal substance in the United States, and most states have strict penalties that kick in when people use or sell heroin. Many people are arrested due to their addiction. Even if they kick the habit in prison, they may still face employment discrimination upon release, as their arrest record will be one of the first things potential employers ask about.
Some addiction treatment programs suggest that a user must “hit bottom” before he or she will agree to get treatment for addiction. For some people, being arrested and serving time on a drug charge qualifies as a bottom. However, since the effects of an arrest and conviction can persist for years, it’s ideal to get the addict help long before law enforcement becomes involved.
The Role of Rehab
To truly heal, an addict often must step out of normal life for a time and tackle addiction with both medications and counseling. It’s the best way to provide relief. Since addiction causes so many chemical changes in the brain, it’s often difficult for the heroin addict to simply stop using alone. As soon as the last dose leaves the system, the addict is craving the drug once more and the body is calling out for the drugs. In addition, the addict might be consorting with friends and family members who use heroin, and their actions may encourage the addict to begin again.
Unfortunately, many heroin addicts don’t get the help they need. According to the NIH, only 20 percent of heroin addicts seek or get help to deal with their addiction. This makes sense when you consider that an addict is in the throes of a serious medical condition. Addiction makes it impossible for the addict to step back, take stock and make serious changes. It’s just not something people are often able to do. Here’s where families and friends can help. In most cases, the addict’s behavior is obvious and the people who love the addict can see the problem clearly. The addict might:
- Ask for money
- Display track marks
- Seem sedated or extremely sleepy most of the time
- Giggle, laugh and act silly
- Spend time with people who also use drugs
The addict might progress to stealing in order to fuel the habit, or the addict might end up in the hospital or a jail cell because of the behavior.
When loved ones suspect a heroin addiction, an intervention is in order. Here, family members can talk to the addict about the behavior, and outline treatment programs that can help. The family might hire an addiction specialist to help pull together this intervention and make sure they stay on topic. The family might also consider writing letters to the addict, outlining their fears and feelings, so the addict has something to refer to when relapse seems to beckon.
At the end of the intervention, the addict should be taken to a treatment facility for help.