Heroin is an illegal drug used by millions of addicts across the world. It is derived from the resin of poppy plants, just like opium and morphine. Heroin is a refined, highly addictive, version of morphine that gives users a temporary, but immediate, rush of euphoria. Users sometimes compare the sensation to that of slipping into a hot tub after being extremely cold. The rush does not last long, and withdrawal symptoms are, at times, immediate. Although heroin is described as having unexplainable sensations of elation, addicts are quick to blame it for taking over their lives and stealing their souls.
Heroin Addiction and The Brain
Once the brain recognizes the heroin, it is turned into morphine and quickly coheres to the opioid receptors which are found naturally within the brain. What short-term physical signs are most common once heroin is ingested? Symptoms include skin flush (turning red), dry mouth, and extremities begin feeling heavy. Soon after, nausea, vomiting, and severe itching over the entire body accompany the initial symptoms previously listed.
Finally, in the hours that follow ingestion, an abuser becomes extremely lethargic and functionality is slowed by the depressing effect that the heroin has had on the central nervous system. A user’s heart rate will also significantly slow to dangerous near-death levels. Unfortunately, on the street where amounts and purity of heroin are rarely ever accurate, overdosing is a continuously increasing crisis as well.
Why is heroin addiction so dangerous, and what is it doing to me?
Heroin can either be injected, smoked, or inhaled and abusers love the immediate “rush” sensation that ensues upon them following initial intake. Unfortunately, this drug affects the barrier between the blood and brain. Heroin is one the most addictive drugs as its results are felt quickly, but on the other hand, it rapidly attacks the brain.
The Life Cycle of Heroin Addiction
Ultimately, addiction becomes one of the most devastating long-term effects of using heroin. It may have only started with a few simple “rush” experiences; however, this pleasure attained over and over again can become an abuser’s one motivating factor to live and compulsive behaviors take over. The more that heroin is used, an abuser begins to build a tolerance and as brain functionality continues to change, so does the everyday behaviors of the person. This building tolerance leads directly to physical dependence and higher doses are needed to maintain a constant level of functionality within the body. If use was abruptly stopped, an addict’s body would quickly go into shock.
After weeks and months of injecting or inhaling heroin at a regular or increasing pace, severe withdrawal symptoms can very quickly occur in only a matter of hours from the time heroin was last used. An individual suffering through withdrawal will quickly think that death is “knocking at his door.” However, to the average or fairly healthy adult, withdrawal should never be considered fatal. It should be noted, however, that fatalities can occur to the unborn children of pregnant addicts suffering through severe withdrawal symptoms. Otherwise, withdrawal symptoms include the “cold turkey” concept or goose bumps, involuntary leg spasms or movement, irritability with the inability to hold still, persistent diarrhea, vomiting, pain of the muscles and bones, insomnia, and cold flashes. The worst of these withdrawalsymptoms occur within the first 24 to 72 hours of going “cold turkey”, but can occur on a lesser scale up to a week. It is rare, but does happen, where symptoms will last over a matter of a few months while the body works to detoxify itself of the drugs and toxins that are still trying to get out and restore the body back to a healthy state.
What are the long-term health complications that can affect a heroin user?
Following the use and abuse of heroin, an addict’s body will automatically work to restore itself; however, there are severe medical consequences that affect vital organs and other parts of the body. Common consequences include scarred or collapsed veins, severe bacterial infections attacking blood vessels, the heart, and its valves, other infections causing abscesses or damage to other soft-tissues in the body, and well-known diseases of the liver and kidney. Pneumonia and tuberculosis, and various forms of these illnesses, are examples of the long-term lung damage and complications that can also target a recovering addict.
Heroin found on the street, unfortunately, often hosts many additives that will deter the body’s ability to heal itself as substances in these additives are unnatural and will not dissolve quickly or even at all. The inability of the additives to dissolve quickly attacks vital organs –lungs, liver, brain, and kidneys – by clogging the blood vessels leading to them. When these blood vessels become clogged, the organs are more prone to increased infection or cell deterioration. Inappropriate use and sharing of heroin fluids and injection equipment, more serious consequences might be severe infections and viruses that include, but are not limited too, hepatitis B and C, HIV/AIDS, and other blood borne pathogen viruses that will remain with an addict or recovered addict for the rest of his or her life.
How do I find the best treatment option?
There is no rehabilitation center that can promise any addict will achieve or maintain long-term sobriety. Any facility or organization that makes such a promise is not being honest about the nature of addiction. Every client is unique, and each must be treated as an individual, with the understanding that an effective form of treatment for one patient may not be equally beneficial to another. But with patience and commitment to rehabilitation, lasting sobriety can be attained by anyone.
The most commonly advised form of treatment for those struggling with an addiction to heroin are cognitive behavioral therapy and drug replacement therapy. Rehab for heroin users can be a lengthy journey, because it is such an addictive substance, however rehabilitation is worth the investment.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, we want you to know recovery is always possible. You need to contact the best treatment centers for your individual situation.