Heroin Addiction: How & Why Heroin Is Abused

One of the most important drug facts to know about heroin is that it is an opioid, which means it has many of the same effects on the brain as prescription painkillers. In fact, some people turn to heroin after their doctors stop providing them with legitimate prescriptions. While this makes heroin an opioid of last resort, that doesn’t make the opioid substance abuse problem any less severe. While many people turn to heroin out of desperation, they can come to prefer it over prescription drugs like Vicodin or Percocet, because it’s a much cheaper opioid.

The low cost of heroin and the easy accessibility of the street drug can help a heroin user feed his or her substance abuse problem. Heroin is an extremely addictive drug, compelling users to use the drug in larger doses with continued use. Over time, the user must use the drug more frequently as well, because even larger doses will wear off more quickly. This speeds up the substance abuse cycle until the user either experiences an overdose or seeks treatment.

Why Do People Abuse Heroin?

As an opioid, heroin is extremely efficient in alleviating pain. People suffering from severe injuries, and those who experience chronic pain from illness, can turn to the drug as a means of relieving pain. While this may be what draws them to the drug, their substance abuse problems start when they discover the euphoric side effects heroin produces.

As the drug is administered, the individual begins to feel drowsy and relaxed. It often provides a deeper sleep that may be uncommon for the individual. Heroin use can also alleviate the symptoms of some mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. These unintended effects may become more important to the user than managing his or her pain, though the individual may still cite pain as the primary reason for taking the drug.

While each type of opioid may have slightly different effects on the brain and pain management, hydrocodone and oxycodone most closely resembles heroin in terms of its effects and characteristics. Often, patients will use these prescription drugs even though they can cost up to triple the cost of street grade heroin. Eventually, doctors realize that a substance abuse problem is forming, so they discontinue writing prescriptions for the individual. The next step for the individual is to turn to illegal or illicit means of obtaining opioids, which is when they first try heroin.

Ultimately, the individual ends up addicted to heroin out of a physical need for the drug. The brain and body have become so accustomed to the drug that a sudden depriving of the drug can cause a shock to the person’s biological systems. Side effects and withdrawal symptoms are often very severe, creating health risks to the individual. Even if the user doesn’t succumb to a devastating relapse, the withdrawal symptoms may become life-threatening.

How is Heroin Abused?

If you’re unfamiliar with heroin use, you may wonder why it can’t be swallowed like other opioid drugs. It can be swallowed, but that’s not the preferred method for taking the drug. When heroin is swallowed, some of the drug is digested and passed through the system before it can have the intended effect. Since this results in the individual experiencing a minimized effect, it’s considered a waste of money.

While other methods of administering the drug are more dangerous, they do provide a much more intense effect. Injecting heroin is the most widely used method because the injection delivers the drug directly into the bloodstream. From there, the blood carries the heroin directly to the brain. Snorting or smoking the drug are additional methods of use, as they are also effective ways of getting the substance to the brain quickly.

What Does Heroin Do to the Body?

If you think you may know someone with an opioid abuse problem and you’re concerned that they may have turned to heroin, it’s important to know how to identify this type of problem. There are a few telltale signs that you should watch for in trying to understand your loved one’s problem. For instance, you may see track marks on the individual’s arms, where the drug has been repeatedly injected. They may also experience frequent and unexplained nose bleeds or weight loss.

The heroin user may also exhibit personality changes. Mood swings are especially common as a result of the highs and lows brought on by use of the drug. The individual will also seem more secretive, since he or she will be trying to hide or cover up their using.. Often, people turn to crime as a means of paying for their heroin . For the same reasons, the individual can become more dishonest, even when dealing with trusted loved ones. You might also find paraphernalia associated with heroin use, such as tin foil, spoons, and syringes.

There are instances in which an individual is aware that he or she has a heroin substance abuse problem. They may even try to quit using the drug on their own. In addition to severe withdrawal symptoms, intense cravings may compel them to start using again. You might spot someone attempting to quit heroin use as they experience the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Nervousness or agitation
  • Depression

A relapse is especially dangerous, since it often results in increased use of the drug. Using too much heroin within a shorter time span often results in a life-threatening drug overdose. An overdose can be identified by some common symptoms, such as falling unconscious. The individual will also have a weak pulse and their breathing may be shallow or irregular. An overdose is a medical emergency and, if you suspect one, calling 9-1-1 immediately is imperative. The individual can be saved, if naloxone and CPR are administered within a short amount of time. As with any emergency medical condition, time plays an important factor in recovery.

If you or someone close to you is struggling with heroin addiction or abuse, contact St John’s Recovery Place at your earliest convenience. Their admissions counselors can answer your questions and tell you what to expect from a treatment plan. Although quitting heroin use is a challenge, help from the professional and caring staff at St John’s Recovery Place can maximize the chances for a successful recovery.

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