The Origins of a Heroin Addiction
Despite a widespread understanding of the risks of heroin use and abuse, heroin addictions can and still do occur. Heroin is an opiate and opiate addictions are a growing epidemic in the United States and around the world. Exploring how heroin addictions can start might help individuals avoid the development of addiction or learn how best to treat the disease.
Heroin Use, Abuse and Addiction
In just over a decade, heroin addiction has nearly doubled in the United States. Worse still, heroin-related overdose fatalities are up by nearly 300 percent. Clearly, this is a growing problem. Because of the highly addictive nature of heroin, use can rapidly become abuse, which can become addiction very quickly.
It is important to understand what heroin is, how it is made and how it is consumed. Heroin is a narcotic drug, and it is processed from the medical drug morphine. Morphine, in turn, is originally derived from the poppy plant.
Heroin is an opiate, which is a class of drug with particularly addictive properties. Not all who try or use heroin will become addicted, but as many as 23 percent do, after just a single use.
Heroin comes in several different forms and can be consumed in various ways. The most common form of heroin is a powder, which is typically white or brown. In powder form, heroin can be snorted or smoked. The powder is often cut with cheap and dangerous substances to increase the profit potential of heroin dealers.
Another form of heroin is called black tar and it is typically a dark or black substance that can be sticky or solid. There are more impurities in this form of heroin, but it is the most commonly used format for injecting heroin directly into the body.
When heroin and similar drugs are consumed, they can appear to the body and the brain like endorphins. Unlike the naturally produced endorphins from things like great food, sex or exercise, however, heroin’s version of endorphins are incredibly potent. This can overwhelm the pleasure receptors in the brain.
In this way, heroin use is worse that some other types of drugs. Not only will the body begin to crave and require heroin just in order to feel a baseline of pleasure, but it can’t desire pleasure from other sources. The natural endorphins in the body will feel meager next to the overwhelming sensations that heroin provides.
Prescription Drugs to Heroin Addiction
Not all heroin addictions start because individuals are looking for a new high or the next drug. In fact, nearly half of all heroin addicts were first addicted to prescription opioid medications. It is impossible to discuss the origins of heroin addiction without also addressing the rise of prescription medications.
Opioid medications are not inherently bad. However, they share a number of similarities with drugs like heroin. Both are made from morphine and both can become addictive in a very short amount of time.
Opioid prescription medications are often given to patients who are experiencing short-term acute pain. Legitimate uses for these drugs can include the pain immediately following a major injury, accident or surgery. However, opioid and narcotic drugs are not always administered properly.
In some cases, patients are ideal candidates for prescription medications that contain opiates. Rather than taking small doses for just a matter of days, however, patients might be given several weeks worth of the drug. Doctors might also over prescribe medications to help patients avoid pain. While it can sometimes be well-intentioned, if the result is addiction then the help clearly turns into harm.
After patients have legitimately taken opioid medications as prescribed by their doctors, they might have a challenging time trying to stop consumption. If doctors don’t help patients wean themselves off the drug, or explain why the process could be difficult, then patients are left to fend for themselves.
Trying to quit taking opiates is overwhelming, and some patients experience withdrawal symptoms. They might also feel as if the pain from the original accident or injury has come back worse than ever before. As a result, patients can go to extreme measures to procure more of their prescription medications.
Pain clinics exist around the country, allowing patients to come in and see a doctor, receive medication and pay cash. Far too many individuals go to several of these clinics in order to gain access to prescription narcotics, sometimes simply to stave off withdrawal symptoms.
As tolerance and addiction increase, individuals might need increasing amounts of prescription drugs just to function at their new “normal” level. Prescription drugs are expensive so many addicts look for alternatives. Heroin often is the cheapest available opioid drug. This is what causes so many individuals to start abusing heroin.
The Risks of a Heroin Addiction
Heroin abuse and addiction can lead to devastating effects. The physical side effects and the risk of overdose are the biggest concerns. However, heroin addiction can also lead to financial ruin, career collapse and broken relationships.
Even after a single use, heroin can lead to unfavorable side effects. Some of the most common short-term effects of heroin use include confusion, grogginess, nausea, dry mouth, itchy skin, a lowered body temperature, slowed respiration and an unusually low heart rate. If too much heroin is taken, then these effects can go to the extreme, slowing or completely stopping the respiratory or circulatory systems. In some cases, this can lead to fatalities.
In the long term, heroin addiction can also lead to severe constipation, swollen gums, malnutrition and reduced sexual drive. Chronic sleep problems are common, and so are severely reduced immune systems.
Heroin addiction can also render all other life responsibilities unimportant. Going to work, maintaining a career or attending classes all take a backseat to addiction. Similarly, sound financial and relationship decisions are unlikely, causing broken families and empty bank accounts.
Heroin addictions can develop in a myriad of ways. However addiction originates, those suffering from heroin addiction need immediate help in order to break free from this highly addictive opioid drug.