Heroin addiction affects millions of people worldwide with estimates ranging from 150,000 to nearly 900,000 in the United States alone. Heroin is a powerful depressant opiate that is highly addictive, and produces a euphoric rush, which has been frequently reported as the greatest feeling in the world by users and addicts alike. While heroin does produce a rush of euphoria unlike any natural reward, it comes at a very high cost to users and addicts.
Beginnings of Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction can develop like any other addiction, after chronic use of the drug. Once tolerance begins to build, more of the drug is needed to achieve the same levels of euphoria and pleasure. As this happens, the brain reduces its own production of the natural chemical, dopamine, which is largely responsible for these feelings. Once a user no longer has his or her own natural means of feeling pleasure, the reliance on heroin increases, and this is how dependence begins.
Heroin is unique in its production of both psychological and physical dependence in users. Once heroin addiction has developed, if an individual drastically reduces, or stops his or her use of the drug, withdrawal symptoms can begin in as little as 6 hours after the last dose, although this time depends on the frequency with which he/she used heroin regularly. While most people do not strive to develop a heroin addiction, once addicted, heroin is one of the hardest drugs from which to abstain.
The way in which an individual may first start using heroin can vary as drastically as individual personalities, but there are a few common paths to heroin use and consequential addiction, which include:
- If an individual has been abusing painkillers, and gets to the point at which he or she finds it more difficult to obtain or abuse the drugs, heroin is often the next step, as opposed to stopping his or her abuse of drugs. In fact, some reports show a sharp increase in heroin use since the abuse-deterrent reformulation of OxyContin in 2010.
Additionally, heroin is known as the ultimate opiate high, so many individuals who abuse painkillers may seek out heroin in an attempt to achieve a better high.
- The overwhelming majority of addicts have some sort of underlying issue, trauma, and/or grievance with which they are trying to cope through drugs. In these circumstances, individuals do not usually use heroin their first time using drugs, but gradually work their way up to it, and are most often offered heroin by a friend. For people in these situations, heroin addiction has the fastest onset, as many have reported heroin as the “it” they were looking for to cope with their pain in life.
- For some people, heroin addiction can develop as a result of curiosity or peer pressure. While rare, some individuals simply want to know what all the buzz is about regarding heroin’s effects. Although this is not the thinking of most people, the majority of those who fall within this category were already using other drugs, and likely looking for a different or better high in heroin.
Regardless of the origin of heroin use, once heroin addiction has developed, the addicted individual finds him or herself trapped in a cycle of getting heroin, using it to feel okay, using more to get high, and going back through the same hustle to get more heroin. This back and forth consumes the life of heroin addicts, making way for the horrific destruction created by heroin addiction.
Dangers of Heroin Addiction
Addictions of every kind are very dangerous, and heroin is no different. In fact, heroin addiction is notorious for being one of the most dangerous and unsightly of all addictions. The life of a heroin addict revolves around having enough heroin to get by, and using it to feel good, and slide through life. Since heroin addiction changes the way an individual thinks and prioritizes his or her life, heroin is a top concern, and an addict will do anything to avoid withdrawal from heroin and the continuation of his or her addiction.
One of the most common horrors known to heroin addicts is the transition to intravenous injection of heroin from smoking or snorting the drug. Many people are adverse to needles, and claim to never be able to shoot up (use heroin intravenously). However, once an addict begins to feel sick from withdrawal (referred to as dope sick), and needs to get heroin immediately, the most intense effect from the drug is through intravenous injection, and eventually, that is how the majority of heroin addicts use the drug. When using heroin intravenously, addicts are at constant risk for a number of dangerous consequences such as:
- Infection from abscesses on the skin at injection points
- Collapsed veins
- contraction of Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS from shared or dirty needles
- Blood clots
In addition to the dangers of using needles to shoot up heroin, are the behavioral problems associated with heroin addiction. These behaviors are generally related to the things addicts will do to obtain more drugs to fuel their heroin addiction. In most cases, individuals find themselves doing things that they never though they would do, and remain unfathomable to their loved ones. Some of the behaviors in which heroin addicts will engage can be:
- Theft and robbery to pawn or sell stolen items for money to buy more heroin
- Participating in criminal activity for the purposes of obtaining valuables or money for more heroin. Sometimes the criminal activities are done on behalf of a dealer for payment in heroin.
- Sexual favors for dealers or prostitution to get money for more heroin
- Fraud or forgery against one’s loved ones or employers to finance heroin addiction
- Scavenging and panhandling on the street to pull together enough money to purchase more heroin
Often, these types of behaviors and activities are things that many people only see in movies or read about in books, but when a heroin addict finds him or herself in these situations, he/she is likely not proud, but still trapped in heroin addiction and unable to see their way out.
Why is Heroin Addiction So Hard to Overcome?
Any addiction is very difficult to overcome, but heroin is particularly difficult because it produces both psychological and physical dependence, and they both result in traumatic withdrawal symptoms for the addict. While these withdrawal symptoms are not dangerous or life threatening, they can be very severe, leading an addict to feel he or she has no other choice than to use again to feel better. Some of the symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:
- Cold sweats
- High blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle pain and spasms
- Abdominal pain
- High fever
- Intense cravings
- Severe agitation
In addition to the symptoms of the full onset of heroin addiction withdrawal are the initial signs of the impending withdrawal, which are a warning of what is to come. While relatively mild, a heroin addict can begin to experience autonomic nervous system responses like yawning and sneezing just 1-2 hours before full withdrawal begins.
Heroin withdrawal and detox can last from 5-14 days, depending on the severity and length of the addiction, but the craving for heroin fades at a much slower rate. It may take several weeks or months of sobriety before an addict’s brain can rebound and begin producing dopamine at a normal rate again. Until such time that the brain of an addict can recover and he or she has been sober for a substantial amount of time, relapse and a return to heroin addiction is always a significant risk.
Rehab For Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction is dangerous and has many consequences that can be dire for the addict and his or her loved ones, but this horrible affliction can be treated with an effective addiction rehab program. It is important to understand that there is most likely an underlying issue behind every heroin addiction, and rehab programs aim to discover and address that issue with the addict. This is a very important step since heroin use has most likely been the coping mechanism for the addict through whatever his or her struggles in life may have been. Addiction rehab programs vary widely in the methods of addiction treatment offered, based on individual needs, preferences, and belief systems.
If you, or a loved one are struggling with heroin addiction, please call us now and speak with a trained counselor about the nature of the heroin addiction, and they will talk with you to help you narrow down the plethora of options in addiction treatment from which to choose. It is essential to make an informed decision when choosing the addiction rehab that will best relate to you, or your addicted loved one. Comfort and acceptance with a rehab program will help ensure maintained sobriety and recovery from heroin addiction. Heroin addiction will not wait to destroy another life, so please don’t wait to save your’s. Call now.