Heroin is usually the last opioid that a person becomes addicted to. Many people are introduced to opioids through prescription drugs, such as Vicodin or Percocet. Once they switch to heroin, they almost never switch back.
The cheap cost and easy availability of heroin make it more appealing than prescription opioids. People who are addicted to the drug have to use it daily to avoid withdrawal. The longer that they use heroin, the more addicted they’ll become.
When people develop a heroin addiction, the drug becomes the center of their lives. Things that they used to cherish lose importance. They often believe that they’ll be addicted forever, and they can’t see a way to escape. But heroin treatment can help people rebuild their lives.
Heroin is an illicit substance that belongs to a class of drugs called opioids. These drugs are sometimes referred to as narcotics. Heroin sold on the street can have several nicknames, including smack, dope and horse. The scientific name for heroin, which is derived from morphine, is diacetylmorphine. Morphine occurs naturally in opium, the sap inside the seed of the opium poppy plant.
People use heroin to get high because heroin affects parts of the brain that control pleasure and relaxation. The drug can also reduce coughing. Bayer actually marketed heroin as medication to treat cough in the early 1900s. That’s how the drug became popularly known as heroin. Today, drug trafficking organizations in multiple countries smuggle several different types of heroin into the United States.
“Narcotics stimulate reward systems in the brain for some people. Heroin relieves stress, and it’s a lot cheaper and easier to get [than prescription drugs].”
Heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug today because the Drug Enforcement Administration has determined that it has no acceptable medical use and a high potential of causing abuse and addiction. Heroin causes addiction by changing the way the reward and motivation pathways in the brain work.
Like other opioids, heroin can relieve pain. But that’s not why most people use it. When it’s abused, heroin makes people feel peaceful, relaxed and drowsy. It can also cause short-term relief from stress, anxiety or depression.
Other opioids, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, can be abused to achieve the same effects. However, heroin costs less than prescription opioids. The same dose of a prescription drug may be three times as expensive as the cost of heroin on the street.
Many people abuse heroin because it is easier to abuse than other opioids. Legitimate medications require a doctor’s prescription, and many prescription drugs have chemical formulas that make them difficult to crush or melt.
People who are addicted to heroin may take the drug to prevent withdrawal rather than to get high. Heroin is more widely available today than in recent decades, according to the DEA’s 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment.
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People who use heroin want to want to get their money’s worth. If they swallow the drug, some of the heroin will be metabolized and leave the body before it reaches the brain. They won’t feel the full dose. People often take heroin in more dangerous ways so a larger dose of the drug reaches the brain.
Ways that people use heroin include:
Snorting heroin delivers a large portion of the drug to the brain. It also gets the drug to the brain more quickly than if heroin was swallowed. Smoking heroin is one of the fastest ways to get the drug to the brain, according to the Genetic Science Learning Center.
Shooting heroin is the most dangerous way to consume the drug because the full dose of the drug makes it to the brain. Most people start by smoking or snorting heroin, and they don’t transition to IV use until they’ve been addicted for several months or years.
Heroin’s side effects may be as well-known as its positive effects. The drug is notorious for its potential to cause addiction, its painful withdrawal symptoms and its ability to cause death by overdose.
Heroin overdoses require a different type of treatment than treatment for withdrawal or addiction. Heroin hotlines can help you find appropriate treatment options near you.
Heroin addiction is caused by physical, mental and environmental factors. Overcoming withdrawal does little to treat the mental and environmental factors. That’s why most people require professional treatment to quit using heroin and maintain recovery.
“Heroin causes such profound brain changes that the people caught up in this kind of madness are powerless and cannot help themselves. At this point it has become a real brain disease called addiction, and they need immediate treatment before it is too late.”
Heroin detox is one of the first steps toward recovery from addiction. This phase of treatment helps individuals overcome withdrawal symptoms in a safe environment.
Comprehensive rehab for addiction includes detox, medication, therapy, support groups and aftercare planning. Long-term residential care provides the best foundation for recovery.
Heroin addiction is a life-changing disease. It causes changes in the brain that require medical treatment. With treatment and support, thousands of people recover from heroin addiction each year.