Heroin is a highly addictive, illegal drug. It is used by millions of addicts around the world who are unable to overcome the urge to continue taking this drug every day of their lives—knowing that if they stop, they will face the horror of withdrawal.
Heroin (like opium and morphine) is made from the resin of poppy plants. Milky, sap-like opium is first removed from the pod of the poppy flower. This opium is refined to make morphine, then further refined into different forms of heroin.
Most heroin is injected, creating additional risks for the user, who faces the danger of AIDS or other infection on top of the pain of addiction.
Regardless of a person’s inpatient or outpatient status, treatment is not complete without therapies to help control behavior and thought processes. The National Institute on Drug Abuse mentions Contingency Management (CM) therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as two examples of mental health interventions that seek to show individuals how they can navigate the outside world and remain sober. In 2009, the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs published the findings of a study that showed that 79 percent of patients who received CBT as part of their treatment reduced their rates of substance abuse to a greater extent than patients who received substance abuse treatment without CBT.
Short Term Effects of Heroin Use
This addictive nature of this substance is reinforced by its abilities in creating intensely pleasurable feelings. Heroin accomplishes this by binding to opioid receptors in the body. Once the chemical interaction has taken place, the affected nerve cells are prompted to release a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is a special molecule--and important in mediating feelings of pleasure that are rewarding to the user. It's these sensations of reward that can kickstart and later reinforce a growing addiction, as the user continually seeks to repeat the behavior - in this case, heroin use - that lead to them in the first place.
The short-term effects will deviate slightly based on the method of delivery into the system, but the most common immediate analgesic (pain-relieving) and central nervous system depressant effects are:
A "rush" which is a strong increase in euphoric feelings.
Feelings of being warm and flushed during the "rush."
Heavy sensation in the extremities.
Reduced sensation of pain.
The pleasurable feelings related to the "rush" will only be felt for a few minutes with more lasting feelings of sedation persisting for a few hours afterward. The duration of all effects will be dependent on the purity, dose, and route of administration--e.g., if the drug was snorted, smoked, or injected. Throughout the heroin high, the user may move between periods of being awake and asleep, referring to as "nodding."
The high from heroin will decrease with continued use, as the user becomes increasingly tolerant of the drug. The onset of tolerance frequently promotes ingestion of higher and higher amounts, which can easily result in overdose.
Essentially, it's never a safe time to use heroin--first time users overdose; veteran users overdose.
As people use heroin over time, the pleasurable short-term effects become overshadowed by numerous unwanted side effects of the substance. Frequently, this occurs because the body adapts to the heroin in the system and takes action to counterbalance the effects. The side effects of heroin use include:
Nausea and vomiting.
Miotic or constricted pupils.
Lower than normal body temperature.
Slowed heart rate.
Cyanotic (bluish) hands, feet, lips, etc.
The risk of death from overdose is a concern for people using heroin in the short or long term because dosing is impossible to measure due to difference in purity. Essentially, it's never a safe time to use heroin--first time users overdose; veteran users overdose.
Many of the complications and side effects are compounded by using other substances with heroin, especially others that depress the body like alcohol or sedatives. The combined effects can lead to dangerously slow breathing, lack of oxygen to the brain, heart problems, coma, and death.
Long Term Effects of Heroin Use
There is a wide range of effects from long-term heroin use. People with continued heroin use for long periods of time may experience:
Decreased dental health marked by damaged teeth and gum swelling.
Excoriated skin from scratching.
Increased susceptibility to disease from diminished immune system.
Weakness and sedation.
Poor appetite and malnutrition.
Decrease in sexual functioning.
Some of the largest risks of long-term heroin use are the potential for irreversible impact to the liver or kidneys from damage or infectious diseases. The brain can also be adversely affected due to lack of oxygen.
People using heroin frequently must contend with problems from abscesses, bacterial infections, and infections of the heart valves. Pregnant women that use heroin are at risk of miscarriage, and place their children at risk of communicable disease, as well as being addicted to the drug from birth.
Additionally, someone addicted to heroin will likely experience numerous personal consequences, such as financial issues, relationship turmoil, school or employment troubles, and legal penalties.
There is real hope for those addicted to heroin. With research-based, professional treatment, individuals can achieve stable, balanced lives in recovery. While that recovery is not always easy, with comprehensive care and aftercare support, it is within reach.
“There’s starting to be some increased awareness at the higher levels of government,” said Robert Lubran, director of SAMHSA’s division of pharmacologic therapies.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a warning last month about the heroin-fentanyl mix, a potent blend that has been traced to scores of overdoses and deaths in cities from Chicago to Philadelphia to St. Louis.