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Heroin Dependency, Abuse, and The Road Recovery
December 5, 2017
Heroin seems a little bit like an intense drug to highlight, right? It seems like it’s the drug that only other people do, so many of us sort of brush it under the rug when we talk about addiction and sobriety.
Heroin, however, is sweeping the nation.
There is currently a heroin epidemic in the United States. Five years ago, 669,000 Americans reported taking heroin. This number has been on the rise since then and, in fact, has doubled among women in the US.
Its increased availability, shrinking costs, and increased purity have made heroin popular among all demographics. It is particularly popular among people aged 17-25, the years in which disposable income is most readily available.
So, yeah: heroin is a big deal in the US right now.
Whether you have tried heroin or not doesn’t change the fact that this is an important topic to be addressed immediately, loudly, and frequently.
Where Does Heroin Come From?
Heroin is extremely addictive and perhaps one of the oldest drugs to be abused throughout all of history. It is made from the resin of the poppy plant, or more specifically, from the sap-like opium that comes from the seeds and flower.
Heroin is usually sold as a white or brown powder. In order to make it more cost efficient, it is usually mixed with other substances, such as sugar or powdered milk. Pure heroin is a white powder that has a bitter taste that is mainly produced in South America and sometimes Southeast Asia.
Pure heroin can be taken in a way that doesn’t require injection. It can be snorted or smoked. For this reason, new users are attracted to it because they avoid the stigma of the needle.
“Black tar” heroin, the kind that most people first think of, is a form of the drug that comes in lumps and is taken by first dissolving it and then injecting it.
Why Is Heroin so Addictive?
Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs available. It is so dangerously addictive that The Drug Enforcement Administration categorizes it as a Schedule I substance. This means that it is very likely to be abused and it carries a great potential for physical and psychological addiction.
As an opioid, heroin blocks the feeling of pain. As a result, sedation or euphoria occurs when the drug connects to the opioid receptor cells in the brain. Within seconds of ingesting heroin, the entire body is free of all pain signals, both physical as well as emotional. As you can imagine, this feeling alone is highly addictive.
Heroin is a fast-moving drug that moves from the blood to the brain within a matter of seconds. It is metabolized very quickly with a half life of only about 3-8 minutes. Once it is broken down, it then circulates through your body for a few more hours.
The problem? The brain gets accustomed to this level of opioids, too.
Very rapidly, tolerance is achieved. When this occurs, the brain needs more of the drug to achieve the same high. Just as quickly as tolerance increases, dependency increases. As the brain begins to expect the constant flooding of opioids, it stops producing its own. Then, within a short time, the brain depends on external sources of the very natural opioid substance.
If you’re not sure if you or someone is dependent on heroin, then take a look at the behavior of the user. If the user is reaching for another dose of heroin simply to avoid feeling sick, restless, irritable, or shaky, then a chemical dependence on the drug is in full force.
When the user stops taking the drug, withdrawal symptoms begin. This state is characterized by symptoms that include the following:
Muscle and bone pain
As you go through withdrawal, your brain attempts to restore the former level of opioids by causing severe cravings for the drug. These cravings and the feelings of withdrawal make it very difficult for the addict to quit.
And so the loop of addiction begins.
With respect to heroin, the road from abuse to addiction is very short. When this happens, the drug tends to become the center of the addict’s life. Signs of addiction include the following:
- You continue to use the drug, despite health complications, loss of personal relationships, and legal trouble or financial problems.
- You get withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit or cut down on your drug use.
- You get severe cravings for the drug when you don’t have access to it.
- You relapse into use, no matter how much you wish to quit.
Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
The heroin withdrawal timeline follows the standard opiate withdrawal timeline. Withdrawal symptoms usually escalate for the first couple of days, peak between 48 to 72 hours. Some of the most intense symptoms will occur within the first few days of quitting. Though many people assume that the withdrawal experience is exclusive to long-time addicts, even just a few short weeks of abuse can bring about withdrawal symptoms.
The most common early withdrawal symptoms are:
Digestive issues, such as diarrhea
The worst of these symptoms will peak between 36 and 48 hours after last use, but may continue for up to a week. With each passing hour, the symptoms diminish. The whole process may take about a week, though residual nausea and anxiety may last for much longer.
Heroin withdrawal is a very painful thing to go through. If possible, a recovering addict should not go through withdrawal alone. For more serious withdrawal symptoms, hospitalization may be required. In such cases, clonidine is given, which significantly reduces the withdrawal symptoms.
While sobriety and detox is absolutely essential in order to recover from a heroin addiction, it is hardly the end goal. Ultimately, relapse prevention is the end goal as a relapse back into heroin can be fatal. Many addicts who relapse die upon the first use simply due to the fact that the body is not accustomed to the drug any longer, though the user anticipates that the dosage should be the same.
Heroin use is the big elephant in the room of addiction. It is everywhere, affecting millions of households each year, yet nobody wants to talk about it. Do yourself a favor and become familiar with this dangerous drug. The addiction recovery process is a long and winding one, but it is not too much to take on if you have the right knowledge, support, and commitment.