A Brief Introduction to Heroin and Heroin Addiction
Charles Romney Alder Wright, an English chemist, experimented with combining morphine and various acids. These experiments resulted in the discovery of diamorphine or “heroin.”
This drug was first employed in the United States as a pain reliever. Often it was used in cough syrup, and as an anesthetic during childbirth and surgeries. Ironically, in the same way morphine was used to treat opium addiction – only to be found more addictive than its predecessor – heroin was used to treat morphine addiction, until its potency was discovered.
Due to its powerful effects, misuse rose rapidly and caused a wide range of problems in the United States. The country made the drug illegal in 1924, and it has remained that way ever since.
Short-term Consequences of Heroin Abuse
Interestingly, most first time heroin users will never use a second time. This could be for a variety of reasons ranging from the sensation not being appealing or the individual simply doesn’t have the brain wiring conducive of that which is an addict. Vomiting is commonplace among users, as is constipation. Additionally, heroin use commonly causes a reduction in sexual function and ability to climax.
Now that heroin is illegal, it’s only available on the streets from illegal dealers. These drug dealers routinely mix heroin with other drugs, a number of which are incredibly dangerous. As a result of this, coming across pure heroin is highly unlikely. It’s essentially impossible to determine what a drug has been cut with, therefore opening the door to an even greater range of harmful effects that injecting the drug can cause.
Long-Term Consequences of Heroin Abuse
Long-term use of heroin effects nearly every biological system in the human body. Some of these systems include the neuron pathways and hormones that regulate the body’s functions.
Studies have indicated that extended heroin use may lead to the degeneration of white matter in the brain. This impacts the ability for your brain to operate. Resulting in profound indecisiveness, impaired inhibitions, and altering the way a person reacts to emotional turmoil.
As an addict’s tolerance builds, they require larger amounts of the drug to achieve the desired euphoria. Once an addict reaches the point of physical addiction they will experience extreme withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop.
One reason for this is that putting heroin into your body for an extended period results in the repression of dopamine. The body decreases the chemical’s natural production over time when it has received it artificially. This explains the debilitating depression and lacking the ability to feel joy commonly associated with stopping use.
Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction often starts with a legal prescription for pain medication from a physician. The pain killer use develops into abuse and the need for larger and more powerful drugs to get a similar effect. This process alters the state of the brain on a fundamental level, and full blown addiction follows. Being cheaper and more easily accessible than prescription medications, it’s no wonder that the heroin problem in America has reached epidemic proportions.
The use of opiates or heroin results in an influx in the brain’s “feel good” mechanism. This is what gives addicts the feeling of being “high”. Today we’ve seen the stereotypical image of an addict dramatically change, with everyone from students, teachers, and well established professionals turning to heroin to alleviate underlying emotional turmoil.
The longer a person uses the more they perceive the drug as a need. As a result, with their decision making and self-restraint instincts compromised addicts will do just about anything to obtain the drug. In other words, this often leads to destroying relationships and lives. Those who administer the substance either intravenously or nasally are at an even greater risk due to the quickness these methods transport heroin in to the bloodstream.
There are a large number of behaviors that can indicate someone you know is suffering from a dependence on heroin. These include:
Physical Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
- Easily exhausted after minimal exercise
- Cotton mouth
- Constricted pupils
- Swings from alert to unconscious
- Inability to stand upright
- Itchy skin
- Sudden drop in weight
- Upset stomach
- Difficulty speaking clearly
- Small red dots on the arms and feet from injecting
- Poor nutrition
- Wounds from picking at the skin
Psychological Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
- Shifts in personality
- Confused demeanor
- Difficulty focusing
- Elated mood
- Difficulty remembering things
- Uncharacteristically indecisive
- Lack of emotion
Behavioral Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
- Changes in habits
- Problems controlling oneself
- Life centered around obtaining the drug
- Shady behaviors, lying
- Can’t show up for important aspects of life
- Ineffectiveness as work
- Persists in using drugs despite negative effects
- Theft and larceny
Additional Information on Heroin Addiction and the US Opioid Epidemic
Everyday in the United States 130 people die as a result of taking heroin or opioid medications. That equals out to roughly one person every ten minutes. Between 1999 and 2016, the total number of overdose fatalities related to opioids increased five-fold.
In other words, 350,000 United States citizens have lost their lives to heroin and its counterparts. The first epidemic came during the late 1990’s with prescription medication. At the time pharmaceutical companies, like Purdue Pharmaceuticals, paid for studies making bogus claims that patients wouldn’t become dependent on opioid medications.
Physicians used these studies to justify the increasing numbers of opioid prescriptions, leading to their eventual abuse. From 1997 to 2002 opioids saw the following increases in their number of prescriptions: morphine increased by 73%, Hydromorphone by 96%, Fentanyl by 226%, and Oxycodone by 402%. As of 2016, over eleven million individuals reported having abused their opioid pain medication. Two million of these people reported that it was their first time doing so.
That same year, the number of United States citizens who lived with an active pain medication dependence reached 2.1 million. These people, many of whom rely entirely on prescription opioids, will eventually build a tolerance to the pharmaceuticals. It is a common occurrence that these individuals will look for a cheaper, more powerful alternative, heroin. In fact, seventy-five percent of heroin addicts began their addiction on prescription pain medication.
Trying to Quit
Most heroin addicts continue use because of the painful reactions their bodies go through when they stop the drug. An individual suffering from withdrawals may experience wild shifts in mood, pain throughout the body (particularly in the muscles), as well as bouts of nausea and throwing up.
In addition to this is the unpleasant experience withdrawal also includes hot and cold sweats, along with flu like symptoms such as shivers. At this point the addict will mostly sleep, and when they are awake they will intensely desire to use heroin.
Withdrawal can be dangerous, and if the case is severe enough the addict may experience convulsions, distressing heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and is at a higher risk of stroke.
Symptoms will occur shortly after the last use of the drug, and will become most intense from 24 to 72 hours. Eventually, the effects of withdrawal will decrease over time. This may be a week, or in extreme cases could take up to a month.
What are the Options?
Since heroin addiction has such an intense physical component, behavior modification must be accompanied by the use of medicine. Heroin users will likely be prescribed medication during the initial stages of detoxification. These medications will help to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with withdrawal. When the effects of withdrawal have diminished, a doctor may prescribe alternative medicines. This is referred to as Medication Assisted Treatment, and is hailed as one of the top treatment options. These may include:
Methadone or other agonists produce a lower intensity, slower acting euphoria. This allows the heroin user to taper off instead of going cold turkey. Methadone in particular is rarely used by rehabilitation facilities, and must be obtained through a Methadone clinic.
Partial agonists such as buprenorphine have shown to be effective at reducing the desire for heroin without producing the “high” that comes with Methadone. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants may prescribe this form of medication.
Antagonist medications are used to hinder the body’s uptake of opioids, thereby neutralizing their effect. In other words, this means that if the addict returns to using they will not experience the effects of the high. This removes some of the attraction and impulsive relapse. Oftentimes this medication is given once a month, decreasing the need for oversight regarding whether or not the patient is properly using their treatment.
Helping Someone with Heroin Addiction
Overcoming heroin addiction, like addiction in any form, can be difficult. Stopping cold turkey is one of the most dangerous, and unsuccessful, routes you can take. Detoxification is required as the beginning measure when treating opioid dependence. The detoxification process may take up to a week. Following detox, a one to three-month in-patient residential program is advised as the best way to ensure success. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to heroin click here to see the treatment options that we have available.
We’re here to assist you as best we can. We believe that anyone who makes a mistake with heroin addiction deserves another chance to live a better life. To contact us for more information, please feel free to contact us via phone at 833-LA-REHAB. You can also reach us via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org as well. We look forward to helping you and/or your loved one get back to having a productive and happy life without having to depend on heroin.