Heroin is a semi-synthetic opiate derived from the opiate morphine. It is a commonly abused illicit drug found in the U.S. and elsewhere. Heroin addiction is a devastating disease that claims the lives of thousands of people each year, and due mainly to the opioid epidemic, in recent years, it’s been spiralizing out of control.
Many people abuse heroin in a last-ditch effort to feed their painkiller addiction. Government statistics have found that nearly 80% of those who use heroin did after becoming addicted to prescription opioids, such as oxycodone. To make matters worse, illicit fentanyl has made its way into the heroin drug supply and has effects that are even more potent and likely to result in an overdose. In fact, government statistics show that as many as 50% of all opioid overdoses are related to fentanyl.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin, also known as dope, smack, horse, or junk, can be found as a white or brown powder or a tacky substance (black tar heroin). As noted, heroin is an opiate, a natural derivative of the morphine from the opium poppy plant. It can induce feelings of happiness and pleasure, a mental state in which people can become addicted. However, the adverse effects of its abuse are too severe and harmful to ignore.
When heroin enters the brain, it changes back into morphine and binds to receptors responsible for pleasure, reward, and mood. It also affects areas in the brain stem, responsible for regulating bodily functions such as breathing and blood pressure. Heroin is commonly administered by snorting, smoking, or injecting.
Heroin is a very potent drug and the aforementioned ways in which it is used to facilitate a high that is experienced quickly and intensely. Because of the increase of supply and ease in obtaining it, people from many backgrounds use heroin. Prescription painkillers have become a gateway drug to heroin, so any person who has been prescribed a narcotic medication can become vulnerable to heroin abuse and addiction.
The opioid epidemic has nearly overtaken the U.S., and many people die from overdoses every single day. Due to the addictive potential of prescription opiates and opioids, people who are not able to finance their addiction may turn to heroin use because it produces an intense high for less money than prescription painkillers, and is also easily accessible.
Heroin is available most commonly found in powder form and a color that ranges from white to tan to brown. The variation in colors is related to the drug’s purity. The whiter it is, the purer and more potent it is in comparison with darker colors.
Conversely, some heroin is found as a solid, sticky, black substance known as black tar heroin. The purest forms of heroin are odor-free while the darker, less pure forms of heroin may have a smell similar to that of vinegar. If black tar and other impure forms of heroin are smoked, the smell will increase, and the scent of vinegar will be even stronger.
While pure heroin can be found on the black market, more often than not, it’s laced with adulterants and other drugs. Moreover, dealers add these substances to heroin so they can make a bigger profit. And although this process can diminish the amount of heroin used, it can also make consuming the product more dangerous, especially if it contains other drugs, such as fentanyl.
Some substances that heroin is commonly laced with include the following:
- Rat poison
- Baking soda
- Laundry detergent
- Talcum powder
While some of these adulterants are downright dangerous, such as rat poison, other “safer” ingredients may also threaten the health of the person using it. For example, caffeine combined with heroin can mask signs of an overdose, and prompt people who use it to believe it’s okay to use more. However, this can lead to permanent brain damage or death.
Now that many who become addicted to prescription painkillers are aware that heroin is less expensive, demand is high, and Mexican cartels have responded accordingly. And the risk of addiction, overdose, and death are also at an all-time high as dealers attempt to meet the demand by mixing heroin with other substances.
Heroin is believed by many experts to be among the most addictive drugs in the world. Overcoming addiction is not easy, but it is possible, especially when professional treatment is involved. That said, many people have struggled multiple times and relapsed after a period of abstinence. So why is overcoming heroin addiction, in particular, so challenging?
Heroin hijacks the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, essentially “rewiring” it to believe that heroin is an essential chemical and that it is needed to function normally. The addicted brain becomes singularly focused on getting high, no matter the cost—so much so that people go to extreme measures to experience this high.
Heroin works similarly to other opioids, in that it causes a flood of the feel-good chemical dopamine to release in the brain. However, the method of administration used to ingest heroin is a big reason why it has the potential to be more addictive. Moreover, unlike prescription painkillers, heroin is rarely swallowed. Drugs that are consumed orally are processed through the stomach and liver and are released into the bloodstream much more slowly than if they are snorted, smoked, or injected.
Following this experience, many people report feeling a compulsion to use the drug repeatedly, and this behavior progresses into heroin dependence rapidly. This condition, in addition to tolerance, are what drives and perpetuates further heroin abuse, and ultimately, addiction.
Heroin Detox and Withdrawal
Although rarely life-threatening, detoxing from heroin can be highly unpleasant and compel a person to use again to quell symptoms such as anxiety, depression, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and body aches and pains. Heroin also alters regions of the brain responsible for judgment and motivation, ensuring that the person who is addicted is highly-motivated to use, and their ability to make sound decisions regarding use is very impaired.
For this reason, people seeking recovery from heroin addiction are urged to undergo a medical detox in which they can be supervised to prevent relapse. Detox should be immediately followed by an intensive addiction treatment program that includes a variety of approaches clinically-proven to be beneficial for those who are in the process of recovery.
Getting Help for Heroin Addiction
Heroin abuse and addiction can be devastating, life-threatening problems that destroy a person’s health, well-being, and relationships. Fortunately, however, professional treatment is available for those seeking to recover once and for all.
Harmony Treatment and Wellness features comprehensive programs that include evidence-based services, such as psychotherapy, counseling, group support, and much, much more. Our caring, highly-trained staff are dedicated to providing individualized support and treatment to each client and provide them with the tools they need to recover fully and sustain long-lasting health and well-being.
If you or someone you love is battle heroin addiction, contact us today! Find out how we can help you achieve abstinence and experience the healthy, happy life you deserve!