Heroin is a powerful addictive drug sweeping the United States causing intense euphoria and strong physical dependence in its users. Heroin is processed from morphine; a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of certain varieties of poppy plants and appears as a white or brown powdery substance.
Heroin is highly addictive because it enters the brain rapidly and affects those regions of the brain responsible for producing physical dependence. This dangerous drug affects all decision-making, reaction time, the way one thinks, actions, and memory.
Heroin addicts, who use regularly, develop a tolerance. To get the same effect from the drug, the user must have higher doses, which in turn causes physical dependence and addiction. Despite the glamorization of heroin chic in films, fashion, and music, heroin use can have tragic consequences that extend far beyond its users. Fetal effects, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, violence, and crime are all linked to its use. Long-term effects of heroin use are also devastating to the body and mind.
The effect of heroin on the body is dependent on the method of administration. Heroin can be taken orally, which is metabolized into morphine before crossing the blood-brain barrier; snorted, which results in onset within 10 to 15 minutes; smoked, which has immediate effects; intravenously injected, which results in rush and euphoria within 7 to 8 seconds; and intramuscularly injected which takes longer but results in onset within 5 to 8 minutes. Finally, heroin can kill.
Of all reported drug abuse deaths, heroin is one of the top two most frequent. As with any drug addiction and physical dependency, withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced or stopped.
Withdrawal can occur anywhere from a few hours to 72 hours after the last dose and symptoms can include:
- Drug craving
- Muscle and bone pain
- Cold flashes
- Kicking movements
For the user trying to quit, medications and behavior therapies are the most common treatment options.
First, the medications Methadone and Buprenorphine have proven to be successful in treating heroin addiction. Methadone, a synthetic opiate, blocks the effects of heroin for about 24 hours. Buprenorphine is the most recent addition to the array of medications available for treating addiction to heroin and other opiates. This medication is different from methadone in that it offers less risk of addiction and can be dispensed in the privacy of a doctor's office. Other medications include naloxone and naltrexone, both of which block the effects of morphine, heroin, and other opiates.
In addition; there are many effective behavioral treatments available for heroin addiction. These can include residential and outpatient approaches. Contingency management therapy uses a voucher-based system, where patients earn "points" based on negative drug tests, which they can exchange for items that encourage healthful living. Cognitive-behavioral interventions are designed to help modify the patient’s thinking, expectancies, and behaviors and to increase skills in coping with various life stressors. Treatment can and should be integrated with support services to enable the heroin user to return to a stable and productive life.
In conclusion, heroin addiction is a terrible way of life but can be overcome with hard work, a support group, a drug rehabilitation program or center and pure determination.
Heroin abuse and addiction is continuing to increase in many areas throughout the United States so we thought it was important to do an update to this article called Heroin Addiction and Treatment - Updated 2011
- National Institute on Drug Abuse, Heroin Abuse and Addiction Research Report, May 2005.
- Heroin: Abuse and Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 1999. Internet: http://www.nida.nih.gov/ResearchReports/
- Mortality Data From the Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2002. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2002.
- Tschacher W, Haemmig R, Jacobshagen N. (2003). "Time series modeling of heroin and morphine drug action. Psychopharmacology.