Heroin is an opioid drug derived from morphine, which is sourced from poppy seeds. Like all opioids, heroin works by binding itself to the brain’s opioid receptors, causing feelings of euphoria, or a “high.” Because heroin is extremely dangerous, it is illegal in all forms. Heroin is not available as a legitimate medication. Instead, those who use heroin obtain it via illicit means.
Why do people Become Addicted to Heroin?
All opioid drugs are highly addictive. When they bind to the brain’s opioid receptors, they help send a message to the brain to release a chemical called dopamine, which causes feelings of happiness. Dopamine is usually a good thing. It encourages humans to do healthy things such as eating or exercising. However, heroin causes the brain to flood itself with too much dopamine, so it eventually loses its sensitivity. Eventually, people who use heroin and other opioids start to rely on the drugs to produce the same feeling of happiness. As the addicted person gets used to the dopamine rush, he or she can become dependent, needing the drug to even feel normal.
“People who regularly use heroin often develop a tolerance, which means that they need higher and/or more frequent doses of the drug to get the desired effects.”
National Institute on Drug Abuse
The opioid epidemic contributed to the prevalence of heroin addiction. In the late 90s, drug manufacturers led doctors and pharmacies to believe that opioids were not addictive. As a result, doctors often prescribed opioids as pain medication. By the time the collective culture started to realize how addictive opioids actually are, the US found itself in the middle of an addiction crisis. Doctors now use much more caution when prescribing opioids, but many people have started turning to heroin instead.
Because heroin is so addictive, giving up the drug can feel impossible. Sufferers of substance abuse disorders may feel trapped in a drug addiction spiral. The addictive factor isn’t the only danger to heroin, however. Heroin is especially dangerous when injected. Injection is one of the most popular methods of doing heroin, and this method carries a major risk of its users contracting infectious diseases such as Hepatitis or HIV. Furthermore, heroin users can die from overdose. Heroin can impact a person’s heart and breathing rate. During an overdose, one’s breathing may slow to the point of oxygen deprivation, which can cause death. Other risks include collapsed veins from injections, sexual dysfunction, mental health problems, and many others.
"Heroin and other opiates account for 18% of drug treatment admissions in the United States."
Treatment Options for Heroin Addiction
Treatment for heroin addiction usually comes in the following order:
- Intervention, which involves friends, family, and often a mental health professional who gently but firmly confront the addicted person.
- Detox, or the process of eliminating the drugs from the person’s system.
- Continued Treatment, which could take place in either an in-patient or out-patient facility.
During the detox phase, the addicted person will experience symptoms of heroin withdrawal. These withdrawal symptoms will be uncomfortable and even painful. They may include emotional problems, stomach problems, teary eyes, and chills, among many other types of symptoms. To help ease the person through the detox process, a doctor might prescribe medication that will help with withdrawal symptoms. Medication can temporarily replace heroin in a safe way, providing the patient with some comfort as he or she slowly tapers off the medication.