Heroin is a highly addictive illicit drug produced from morphine, a naturally occurring compound extracted from seed pods of certain varieties of poppy plants. It’s known as diacetylmorphine and has the chemical formula C21H23NO5. Usually, heroin is sold in the form of a white or brownish powder. The substance was used formerly as a sedative and analgesic. However, due to the dangers of addiction, its manufacturing and importation is now under the control of federal law in the United States.
Modes of Heroin Use
Most often, heroin is used by intravenous injection to deliver a quick and potent high. However, there’s a rising group of users who snort, smoke or sniff it to avoid the dangerous effects of sharing needles. Some sniff liquefied heroin through a nasal spray bottle, a method known as “shabanging.” Other users have been reported to combine heroin and cocaine by snorting alternative lines of both drugs or injecting both drugs simultaneously, a practice known as “speedballing.”
Most heroin users have a misconception that smoking or snorting the drug is less addictive than injecting it. However, heroin is a very addictive drug regardless of how it’s administered.
Heroin Abuse Statistics
In 2012, about 670,000 people reported using the drug in the past year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Young adults between the ages 18 to 25 showed the greatest increase in use. The number of first-time users was extremely high during this year, with 157,000 people starting to use the drug. This amount equates to almost twice the number of users in 2006 (90,000). On the contrary, there has been a declining rate of heroin use among teens aged 12 to 17. However in general, the number of people who met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition criteria for heroin dependence or abuse doubled from 214,023 to 467,300 in 2012.
The impact of heroin use is felt throughout the United States, as heroin is identified among the most significant drug abuse issues that affect numerous local areas from coast to coast.
Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use
Heroin ingestion causes a “downer” effect that quickly induces a state of euphoria and relaxation related to chemical changes in the brain’s pleasure centers. Similar to other opiates, use of heroin inhibits the brain’s ability to perceive pain. Abusers of heroin, especially those with a previous history of drug abuse, may at first be able to camouflage the signs and symptoms of their heroin habits. However, one may notice several signs of heroin abuse that are visible during and after heroin consumption. They include:
• Reduced anxiety
• Constricted pupils
• Heaviness in the limbs
• Labored breathing
• Shortness of breath
• Little ability to cough
• Dry mouth
• Drooping appearance
• Sudden changes in actions and behavior
• Episodes of being hyper-alert then suddenly nodding off
More definitive signs of heroin use include possessing paraphernalia used for preparing, injecting or consuming heroin, such as:
• Burned silver spoons
• Needles and syringes with no medical use
• Aluminum foil with burn marks
• Missing shoe laces (for tying the injection site)
• Burnt straws
• Plastic bags with a whitish powder residue
• Water pipes
Addiction to Heroin and Its Devastating Effects
The effects of heroin addiction include:
• Heart problems, such as infection of heart valves and the lining
• Infectious diseases that spread through sharing needles, such as HIV and hepatitis B and C
• Chronic pneumonia and other pulmonary diseases
• Tissue death or blood clots caused by collapsed veins or impurities
• Bacterial infections
• Arthritis and other rheumatoid problems
How Heroin Treatment and Recovery Efforts Can Save Your Life
Repeated heroin abuse can destroy your health, career and/or education, and ultimately cause death. However, there are several treatment options available to give you or your loved one good care and the greatest chances of recovery. You need to be educated about drug addiction to make the best choice of treatment. Heroin treatment consists of detoxification (detox), counseling therapy, medical intervention, and support groups. Each method contributes to giving a recovering addict a firm foundation for remaining sober, refusing the drug and to repossess control of her life.
The first step in heroin treatment is detox. It’s among the most significant and dangerous parts of the whole process. During detox, a patient stops using the drug and begins to ward off physical dependence on the substance. At this time, withdrawal symptoms occur and will increase to a point where many people turn back to the drug to stop the adverse effects. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, detox isn’t only a component of addiction treatment, but an important part of initiating inpatient or outpatient therapy.
Counseling is carried out by a therapist or an experienced counselor. Addicts gain from therapeutic sessions that involve learning about the causes of addiction, the triggers of the addiction and staying sober. Counseling is aimed at:
• Helping the patient in healing from previous trauma that may have caused the addiction
• Helping the patient recognize the situations that cause her to use the drug and then avoid such circumstances
• Helping the patient learn the reasons she started to use the drug and then determine how to prevent relapse
Sometimes addiction requires medical intervention with replacement medications to achieve successful recovery for the individual. This consists of around-the-clock monitoring to ensure the patient is safe while undergoing detox, and helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms. The most common medications for this purpose include:
Support groups are formed both within and outside of addiction treatment, and exist to help the patient understand she isn’t alone in her addiction. Recovering addicts meet to share their stories, provide hope and encourage sobriety among group participants. Support groups are an integral part of recovery and relapse prevention.
Heroin is a highly addictive drug that has detrimental effects on your health and can cause death. However, this addiction can be treated with positive results. If you or someone you know is a victim of heroin or any other drug addiction, call the hotline number 800-447-9081 as soon as you can to get help.