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Heroin Addiction

What You Need To Know About Heroin Addiction

Heroin is one of the United States most commonly abused street drug. It is categorized as an illicit drug that causes adverse effects on its users. Heroin gains its popularity in recreational use from its ability to make users feel “euphoric high.” Unfortunately, its widespread use comes with hard consequences with thousands dying from a heroin overdose every year. This piece will focus on educating about heroin, common signs of addiction, effects, overdose, and addiction treatment.

What is Heroin?

It is an illicit drug derived from the broader loop of drugs known as opioids. On the streets, heroin is found through nicknames such as horse, smack, and dope. It is derived from the opium poppy plant particularly after retrieving morphine. While heroin might have been used in the early 1900s as a medication to treat coughs, today it has been listed as illegal. Its high potential in causing addiction, abuse and in severe cases, death, makes it an illicit drug in the medical world.

Opiates—drugs such as codeine, morphine, and heroin that are derived from the poppy plant or synthesized to emulate its effects—are commonly used in medicine as powerful painkillers. They reduce pain by directly attaching to receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral parts of a person’s nervous system, blocking pain signals to the brain, and thereby reducing a person’s feelings of pain; they are so powerful that they are usually only looked to as suppressors of the most severe levels of pain. They have a number of common side effects including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, sedation, physical dependence, tolerance, and respiratory depression; some of these side effects can lead to death, especially if excessive amounts the drugs are taken.

Overdosing on these potent painkillers is relatively easy, and the sedative effect that is commonly described as “euphoric” has led to widespread abuse; an estimated thirteen and a half million people abuse opiates. Of those people, nearly seventy percent specifically abuse the opiate heroin. In the United States alone, 3.7 million people have abused heroin in their lifetimes, and 314,000 of these people have used the drug in the past year. The primary abusers are individuals over the age of 26, but in recent years the number of heroin users between the ages of 12 and 17 has spiked by over 300 percent; those are just the abuse statistics for heroin, but here are the deadly facts: in 2001, heroin caused deadly overdoses in 1,901 people; in 2009, that number spiked to nearly 3,500; that doesn’t include deaths due to long term medical complications caused by heroin.

Due to its limited potential medicinal benefits, and its high risk of addiction, permanent bodily damage, and death, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has designated heroin as an illegal schedule 1 drug, or a drug that, according to the United States Department of Justice, has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

It is becoming increasingly obvious that despite diligent efforts from awareness programs and law enforcement agencies that heroin is a growing problem; there are an overwhelming number of factors contributing to the spread of this epidemic, but there is hope, even for those who have been stricken by a severe addiction to the drug. In this article, we have detailed the methods by which relieving a person of heroin addiction is achievable.

Why do people abuse heroin?

Heroin is known for its pain-relieving abilities among its users. However, most people use heroin for its drowsy, high, relaxed and peaceful effects. It may also cause short-term relief from depression, stress and anxiety. Unlike other opioids that require a doctor’s prescription, heroin is found in the streets which most users have more accessibility to than other opioids.

How is it used?

People feed their bodies heroin in various ways depending on how intense they want to feel the effects. Snorting is common where a large portion of the drug gets delivered to the brain. Smoking and injections are also known to be fast ways to get the drug working.

What are the signs and symptoms of heroin addiction?

Your loved one may exhibit these signs in terms of behavior, physical, psycho-social or cognitive symptoms.

Behavioral symptoms
  • Unexplained possession of syringes, foils, and needles.
  • Reduced participation in previously thought hobbies.
  • Constant lying and deceptive acts.
Physical signs
  • Dry mouth
  • Persistent runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Irregular sleeping patterns
  • Irregular heart rates
  • Sores and needle marks on the arms
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Frequent unexplained fatigue
Cognitive signs
  • Impaired judgment
  • Lack of concentration
  • Frequent episodes of confusion and disorientation
Psycho-social symptoms
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Isolation and withdrawal from friends and family

What are the Effects of Heroin Addiction?

If the addiction is left untreated for a prolonged time, the effects become dangerous. Usually, this happens because the drug causes a significant impact on how an individual makes decisions under the influence. It may lead to financial distress, overdose, death, joblessness, suicidal attempts and strained relationships.


Treatment for heroin addiction involves detoxifying the body,
stopping its use and finding ways to recover while preventing relapse.
Depending on how heavy a patient
uses heroin, they will start to feel the urge of retaining heroin in their bodies about six to twelve hours after last use.

The first stage of detox will have patients going through withdrawal symptoms that range from mild to moderate. They include:

  • Nausea
  • Cramping
  • Cold sweats
  • Body aches

As the detoxifying phases progress, the patient will experience:

  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Aggressiveness
  • Physical tremor
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of focus and concentration
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Intense craving for heroin
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Anxiety

Doctors may administer some medications depending on the severity of
the withdrawal symptoms that should help with easing the effects. They

  • Methadone which reduces withdrawal symptoms and changes how the brain responds to pain making the detoxifying process bearable.
  • Buprenorphine counters the effects of heroin.
  • Naltrexone helps manage the craving of heroin.

Why Professional Treatment is Vital

Some side effects of the withdrawal process can be too severe and at
times fatal. Professional help ensures that the patient gets monitored
and additional medication to counter the impacts are administered. Also,
there is a high probability of relapse if the patient isn’t monitored.
Relapse often occurs when a patient tries to escape the adverse effects
of the withdrawal symptoms and also as a way to give in to the cravings.

Heroin addiction treatment is better coupled with rehabilitation to
help with emotional and psychological recovery of a patient. Coupling
rehabilitation and detox significantly reduce heroin dependency giving
an individual the chance to recover fully.

Do you suspect that a loved one has been struggling with heroin
addiction? You could help save their lives by taking action and getting
the right information about the condition. A significant percentage of
fatal cases can be avoided if managed early and if the patients are
given moral support throughout the recovery process.

The First Step Is Knowing Your Enemy

One of the most poignant principles of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is
that before going into battle, a person should know as much as they can
about their enemy so that they can circumvent their strengths and take
advantage of their weaknesses; heroin is the enemy of people, and Sun
Tzu’s principle can be applied by anyone going into battle to free
themselves from an addiction to heroin.

Heroin Facts Versus Myths

There are a number of heroin-related myths that prevent people from pursuing adequate treatment for themselves, or heroin-addicted friends and family. Some of these myths are:

  • Heroin is less dangerous when inhaled
    • The truth about this is that heroin is just as deadly and addictive no matter how it enters the body. In fact, it is often more dangerous when smoked or snorted, because the act does not seem as aesthetically dangerous as injection of the drug into the bloodstream.
  • Heroin is only abused by people over 30, so you don’t have to worry about the younger folk in your family using heroin
    • The average age of heroin abusers are in fact 21 years old, and many of these abusers are under the age of 13. If it appears as though someone close to you is abusing heroin, don’t ignore it. They need your help.
  • You can’t seek the aid of a rehab facility until you have hit “rock bottom”
    • Although many heroin abusers don’t bother to seek out aid until they can overtly see the destruction it causes in their lives, rehabilitation facilities help people at all levels of heroin addiction.
  • As long as you control the dosage, you don’t have to worry about overdosing
    • The purity of heroin is so varied that it is impossible to determine how much you are ingesting from any dose; a dose of the same size as the last one you took could have triple the amount of heroin, for example.
  • Abstaining from use is an adequate treatment for heroin addiction
    • While the desired end result is to never use heroin again, the drug is so strong that trying to quit on your own usually results in failure; it can also have dangerous consequences, as those with the most powerful addictions may experience organ failure or even death as a result of trying to quit without professional help.

Ways Heroin Overdoses Occur

There are a couple of ways that heroin overdoses can happen, and here is how:

  • Blood clotting – Heroin does not dissolve in the blood, so matter how much or little enters the bloodstream, it can clump up and cause deadly blood clots in the brain, heart, and other vital organs.
  • Asphyxiation – As a breathing suppressant, heroin can force people into breathless periods of sleep or comas, essentially strangling its victims to death.
  • Heroin can also cause extreme vomiting; sometimes the vomit is inhaled to flood the lungs and prevent breathing.

How Heroin Destroys the Body Long Term

Heroin is not just a fast killer that causes quick, violent overdose deaths. Abuse can lead to a number of deadly or disconcerting disorders such as:

  • Lung disease
    • Heroin suppresses coughing and can lead to hyperventilation; this can lead to the contraction of deadly lung diseases.
  • Sexual dormancy
    • Heroin is known to reduce the sex drive in both men and women; it can also lead to erectile dysfunction.
  • Deadly physical dependence
    • People’s bodies can become so addicted to heroin that they develop a level of physical dependence that makes ceasing use without a gradual weaning process deadly.
  • Organ damage
    • Heroin doesn’t only affect breathing; constant interaction with the brain, heart, liver, lungs, and other organs has degenerative effects that can lead to severe damage or total organ failure. The damages caused often require long term medical treatment or organ transplants.
  • Destruction of the nasal lining
    • Heroin is a very abrasive substance, so repeated inhalation of the drug strips the nasal lining, increasing the susceptibility to airborne diseases.
  • Abscesses of the skin
    • Injecting heroin can lead to abscesses—inflammations of the skin resulting from infection—that can lead to the infection of internal organs.
  • Collapsed veins
    • Even a single injection can result in a collapsed vein, and collapsed veins may or may not recover; if they do not, victims suffer a permanent reduction in blood circulation.

Heroin Can Be Defeated

Although heroin is highly addictive and has many ways to destroy the body, addiction to the deadly drug can be beaten. The biggest weakness that heroin has is that breaking addiction is very possible; in fact, as many as 6 out of every 10 rehabilitation center patients never experience a single relapse.

Treatment For Heroin Addiction

Now that heroin’s many strengths and its huge weakness is known, it is important to know how to attack that weakness without being overcome by its strengths.

DIY Treatment is Not the Answer

Self-treatment for heroin addiction has the highest failure rate of any approach, regardless of the techniques used. Also, some of these attempts result in death due to the shock of trying to stop abusing the drug improperly. The fact remains that professional doctors and nurses have the medical knowledge and resources available that can help people safely and permanently end their addiction to heroin.

Most Common Types of Professional Treatment

  • Medication treatment
    • Medication treatment of heroin treatment allows for weaning of the addiction without the dangerous risks of abuse.
    • Often required for more severe cases of heroin addiction.
    • The centers will often use an opiate substitute, such as methadone—which is similar to, but less dangerous than heroin—to help wean people off of the drug.
  • Behavioral treatment
    • This encompasses a combination of professional therapy, family therapy, and motivational incentives.
    • For less extreme cases of heroin addiction, this is often the primary or only method of treatment.
    • Behavioral treatment rehab methods are often used in conjunction with medication treatments for moderate to severe cases of addiction.

Regardless of what approach is used, it is imperative that heroin addicts seek professional help; it cannot be stressed enough that do-it-yourself recovery from heroin addiction is extremely ineffective, and much more dangerous than professional methods.

Heroin Abuse Prevention

Public and private institutions are striving for a reduction in heroin abuse through drug awareness programs, and heroin is an oft mentioned drug in these programs; many of them start in elementary school and continue throughout grade school education. Proponents of these sorts of programs cite their success through the numerous alternatives to drug abuse that they create for people.

As heroin abuse continues to infect our homes, it is important that the people fight back, and that proper solutions to abuse and prevention resources are sought out. The only ones who can stop heroin abuse are us.

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