Heroin, a highly addictive recreational drug, belongs to the class of opioids (narcotic analgesics). Also known as diamorphine, it’s one of the most widely abused drugs worldwide. Although, being a drug of abuse, Heroin has a very important medicinal use. So, what is heroin and is it so addictive?
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive illegal substance. Its commonly sold as a powder with colors ranging from white to dark brown. The difference in color denotes the impurities in the processing of the drug or the addition of other products like powdered milk, starches, sugars or quinine. Heroin is controlled under sections I and IV of the single conventions on the narcotic drugs and it is prohibited to sell or possess it without a license.
Where Does Heroin Come From?
Heroin, like majority of illegal substances, originates in plants. It is processed from morphine, a natural substance that’s extracted from various species of the poppy plant grown. Poppy plants are grown abundantly in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico and Columbia. After the plant is extracted, the process of creating heroin begins.
Administration Routes Of Heroin
- Via injection: also known as, ‘shooting up’, ‘slamming’, ‘banging’, or ‘mainlining’, this is the most commonly used method. Being the most common, it also brings in great risk compared to other methods of administration, one of the majors being transmission of blood-borne diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis if multiple people use the same syringe. People most commonly inject heroin in the superficial veins of their arms but can later on opt for other veins like the femoral vein in groin. This can increase the risk of DVT.
- Ingestion (swallowing): this route is not very mundane because of its less powerful action. The reason being the first pass metabolism of the drug when it passes through the gastrointestinal tract.
- Snorting (insufflation)
- Smoking: quickest way of drug administration. It’s generally smoked in glass pipes.
- Suppository (anal insertion)
- Pessary (vaginal insertion)
A very common practice, known as speed balling, is mixing heroin with cocaine and injecting them together or snorting them together.
The Effects of Heroin
Heroin, like all other opiates is a central nervous system depressant. It is a drug that brings it consumers intense happiness and joy making it hard for the user to give it away once used. As soon as it enters our bloodstream, it travels up the brain and binds to the opiate receptors in the centers of the brain responsible for pain, pleasure, heart rate, breathing. This creates a euphoric effect that the user just can’t give up.
As soon as the user delivers the drug in their system, there will be analgesic action and the user will experience a so called ‘rush’. This rush is an intense increase in euphoria. Basic short term effects are as follows:
- The person will become drowsy and lethargic.
- Falling asleep. Also known as “nodding off”.
- Intense pleasure
- The user will also feel heavy, warm and flushed all over. These give the user a remarkable pleasurable experience. However, with time there can be unwanted adverse effects associated with heroin use such as miosis, dry mouth, itching, confusion, slow breathing rate, slow heart rate, nausea, vomiting, etc. Despite all these unwanted effects, the user doesn’t stop.
In the long run, heroin affects the body by disrupting the balance between the neuronal and hormonal chemicals. Heroin produces extensive degrees of tolerance and dependence. Furthermore, the user’s immune system becomes depressed and the person is prone to contracting a range of diseases. The user will experience a few of the following consequences of using heroin in the long term:
- Severe constipation.
- Feeling weak and sedated which will create a decreased libido and a decline in sexual performance.
- Mental health issues like depression and memory problems with continued use of the drug.
- Job Loss
- Potential HIV contraction
Why Is Heroin So Addictive?
Heroin is an exceptionally addictive drug. But why is it so addictive? It is because of its effect on the brain. Heroin targets the opiate receptors in the brain and affects the motivation and pleasure centers of the brain. This makes us desire more of the drug and to relive the euphoria associated with it. In the long run, persistent use of heroin affects the self-control and judgment areas in the brain. Resulting in making the user make poor judgements and craving the drug. Our brain also curtails the negative effects of heroin, while only making us remember the good experience with the hit. Eventually, the person becomes dependent on the drug.
Withdrawals and Overdose
Heroin is an extremely dangerous drug to withdrawal from. Most people will need medical detox. It is not recommended to try to get off of heroin without consulting a professional. Overdose from heroin is a common theme, unfortunately. Many people die each day from Heroin. So, please proceed with caution, and reach out if you or someone you know is struggling.
Withdrawal symptoms are opposite to the effects of drug. Withdrawal symptoms of heroin can be best described as a serious case of flu. These symptoms arise within 24 hours of the withdrawal of the drug lasting up to 10 days. Some of the withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin are as follows:
- Increased heart rate
- Abdominal pain
- Runny nose
- Muscle and bony aches
Furthermore, frequent heroin users develop something known as tolerance. Tolerance requires higher doses or more frequent dosing every time to get the same desired effect. One of the reasons proposed for tolerance is the down regulation of opiate receptors in the brain. Other reason could be increased metabolism of the drug by the hepatic enzyme system Cytochrome P450. Regardless, tolerance is an extremely debilitating process of heroin addiction.
Overdosing is a very dangerous and life-threatening consequence for heroin users. Overdose usually happen in addicts but may also happen in people trying it out for the first time. A person who has overdosed on heroin might have symptoms such as:
- Shallow, slow and difficult breathing
- Extremely small pupils (miosis)
- Low blood pressure and weak pulse
- Delirium and disorientation
Such users should be promptly identified and rushed to a nearby health clinic for their immediate treatment. FDA approved drug called naloxone is the major antidote for heroin in overdose settings.
Heroin addiction is extremely difficult and challenging for both the user and their loved ones. However, advancements in professional help have made it a tad bit easier to make sure the user does not relapse.
Professional treatment is associated with best outcomes. Detoxification is the process to cleanse the body of drug and prevent any future administration. This is best done in inpatient settings so that the patient is under 24 hours surveillance. Medical teams ensure the patient remains drug free. Doctors might also administer medicines to ease the withdrawal symptoms. Following detoxification, the patient can be referred to different rehab centers and support groups to help them keep away from the drug in future. Luckily, there are many drug rehabs near you. The family of the patient should also be counselled on how to deal with their loved one and support him during this difficult time.