What is heroin?
Opiates are naturally derived from the opium poppy. Their use dates back to 3400 B.C., being cultivated in Mesopotamia to relieve pain and produce euphoria. Today, opiates and opioids are one of the leading causes of deaths resulting from overdose. Many opioids are prescription painkillers. However, heroin is an illegal opioid found with no medical benefits.
According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:
- Roughly 475,000 Americans aged 12 and older report having used heroin in the past month
- Roughly 948,000 Americans report having used heroin in the past year
- Roughly 4,981,000 Americans report having used heroin at least once
Heroin is sold on the street. Common alternative terms include chasing the dragon, H, chine white, junk, and smack.
Is heroin addictive?
Heroin is known as one of the most addictive substances because of how it works in the brain. Heroin, like all other opioids, binds to natural opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in a euphoric feeling throughout the body and a decrease or elimination of physical pain.
Heroin produces a sensation of euphoria. However, it is associated with some of the worst withdrawal symptoms an individual can experience. Chasing the high and escaping withdrawal traps addicted individuals in a cycle of abuse. When someone stops using heroin, they will undergo excruciating withdrawal:
- Bone pain
- Stomach pain
- Mood swings
Withdrawals peak between 24–48 hours after the last dose of heroin, and subside after about a week. The withdrawal process is so terrible that many individuals are unable to give up using without medically assisted detoxification.
Numbing emotional pain with heroin
Heroin, in particular, creates a sense of euphoria, allowing individuals to feel comfortably numb and temporarily at ease. Over time this can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
How heroin affects the body
How long does heroin stay in your system?
- Height and weight
- Body fat content
- Quality of drug
- Metabolism rate
- Health of liver and kidneys
- State of hydration
Risks associated with heroin use
It is nearly impossible to tell what heroin is mixed or “cut” with, or how pure it is. Because of so many unknown factors, each use is life-threatening. An individual could overdose and die during their first experience with heroin or during their 70th experience.
Chronic heroin use changes the physical structure and physiology of the brain, creating long-term imbalances in neuronal and hormonal systems that are not easily reversed, if at all. Studies have shown some deterioration of the brain’s white matter due to heroin use, which affects decision-making abilities, the ability to regulate behavior, and responses to stressful situations. Injecting heroin over time can result in infections at the injection site, deep tissue infections, and blood-borne illnesses. Lung complications may result from smoking heroin and can include pneumonia and tuberculosis. Depression and antisocial personality disorder are common in chronic heroin users. Sexual dysfunction is increased after chronic use and for individuals who snort heroin; nasal mucosa can be damaged resulting in nosebleeds and septum defects.
- Excessive drowsiness
- Constricted pupils (meiosis)
- Slurred speech
- Respiratory depression (shallow and short breathing)
- Track marks on skin or fresh puncture wounds
- Weight loss
- Mood swings
- Frequent nose bleeds (if heroin is snorted)
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