It is probably true that few people start using heroin in order to become addicted to it. Few of us would want to put ourselves into a position where something we were using made us totally dependent upon it; but every day, many do this exact same thing. There are over 4 million people who have experimented with heroin in the last year, and nearly one quarter of those people will become addicted.
Ignorance Is Not Bliss
Ignorance of what heroin can do and how it can affect the body contributes to the problem of addiction. There are many reasons why people begin to use heroin including peer pressure, depression and stress, abuse of prescription pain killers, and wanting to have a ‘good time’. People who begin to experiment with heroin often delude themselves into thinking that it will take a long time for them to become addicted, but this simply is not true – if someone uses heroin for 3 days on a steady basis, they will become addicted to it.
Heroin travels very quickly to the brain once it’s ingested and binds to receptors in the brain stem and in part of the brain that are associated with pleasure. When heroin binds to the pleasure center, the user will feel euphoric. However, binding to the brain stem can involve the parts of the brain that control breathing and blood pressure.
- Heroin is mistakenly assumed to be a drug that has to be taken intravenously. However, it can also be snorted or smoked, which will make it more attractive to those who are squeamish about sticking a needle into their body.
- No longer is heroin an older person’s drug – the use of heroin is growing in teens and people who are in their 20s.
- Most heroin addicts are ‘respectable’ people. Forget the image of the junkie lying in the gutter, those living in suburban areas are those most likely to be using heroin.
- Heroin is a very expensive habit to maintain. A low budget addiction can cost about $80 a day, with the cost rising to $250 a day or more. As the brain becomes numbed to the effects of heroin, more and more will be needed just to stabilize the addict’s condition as much as possible, let alone get high.
- The opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, is the source of heroin. The seed pod of the plant is slit and the sticky sap collected. After a rather complicated series of steps involving a witch’s brew of chemicals, the sap has been converted into heroin and is ready to be sold on the street.
- It is virtually impossible for a heroin addict to get pure heroin for use – it is always cut or diluted to make it go further, increasing the profit margin for the drug dealer. As recently as the 1990s, the amount of heroin actually in that little packet was very small, probably only about 10% of the substance being purchased. In order to increase market share and make it easier to smoke or snort, dealers have increased the amount of heroin to 50% or 60%, making the product even more dangerous. The uptick in the use of snorted or smoked heroin comes from the fear of contracting HIV or hepatitis from injected heroin.
- Heroin can kill fairly quickly by causing respiratory failure; the addict simply stops breathing. The purer the heroin being used, the greater the chance of this happening. Those who use heroin and alcohol at the same time increase their risk of this occurring even more as both of these substances suppress breathing.
- The heart is also put under a great deal of strain by heroin use and chronic addiction can lead to heart attack and cardiac arrest. Infections of the lining of the heart are common among addicts. Spiking blood pressure from the ‘rush’ can also trigger a heart attack.
- Although there is an initial rush of euphoria when heroin is used, this drug is actually a system depressant. This applies not only to the physical side of the user, such as problems with the liver, heart, or lungs, but also the mental side. Heroin addicts have a much greater chance of committing suicide than the general population as they tend to become depressed.
- In addition to the damage heroin causes to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, it will also result in chronic damage to the liver and kidneys, which often results in the failure of these organs.
Getting treatment is the only way to ultimately free the addict of heroin use. Withdrawal from heroin is unpleasant and should be conducted under medical supervision. In addition to detoxifying the body, the psychological needs of the recovering addict must be addressed to help prevent a relapse. Heroin becomes the center of the addict’s existence, but by seeking treatment, it is possible for the addict to begin to live a normal life once again.
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