Heroin, an opioid made from morphine, is an extremely addictive substance. Heroin use has risen significantly in the past decade, with about 475,000 heroin users (aged 12 or older) in 2016. It is an illegal drug and classified as a Schedule I substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Despite the dangers associated with its use, the number of overdoses and deaths has increased in recent years.
Heroin users often feel a sense of euphoria or rush that is usually followed by a state of sleep and wakefulness. When awake, a person may feel confused and suffer from poor memory, decision-making and self-control abilities. Some of the common names of heroin in street parlance are Horse, Black Tar, Hell dust, Junk, Smack and Thunder. Typically sold as a white or brownish powder, or as a black sticky substance, heroin can be injected, smoked or snorted.
Heroin users, over a period of time, develop tolerance to the drug and crave for larger doses to achieve the same state of ‘bliss’ which they experienced when they first began using it. The drug is often injected intravenously, increasing the risk for blood-borne communicable diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Chronic users may also suffer from liver and kidney disease, abscesses, pneumonia and infection of the heart lining and valves.
Perils of addiction
Perhaps the most noticeable effects of heroin abuse are its consequences on one’s behavior and interpersonal relationships. Heroin binds itself to various opioid receptors, especially the ones that promote feelings of pain and pleasure, sleep and breathing. Because of this, the user’s reward system is considerably affected, often leading to loss of motivation and apathy toward once enjoyable activities and relationships. This can make intervention and recovery difficult for heroin users.
A fast-acting opiate, regular heroin usage leads to tolerance of the drug and uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior despite the consequences. This soon turns into physical dependence and addiction.
When the body is depleted of the drug, it can lead to physical withdrawal symptoms. Though they are not life-threatening, they can be extremely uncomfortable. The length of the withdrawal depends on the dosage, frequency and duration of heroin abuse. The discomfort further compels individuals to use the drug just to relieve the withdrawal symptoms, resulting in a vicious cycle of misuse and addiction. Withdrawal symptoms include diarrhea, bone pain, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and headaches. A medically supervised detox program at well-equipped heroin detox centers can help manage the discomfort, overcome addiction and reduce a chance of relapse.