Opioid drugs are some of the most potent, dangerous, and addictive drug substances currently in existence which makes drug addiction information even more important. All opioid drugs are derived from the resin in the seed pod of the Asian poppy plant. The milky, sap-like substance initially removed from the poppy plant is opium, which can be then further refined into other opioid drug substances, including morphine, heroin, and methadone.
Originally introduced to America through Chinese immigrants in the early 1800s, opium addiction became a major problem in the United States in the 1950s. The solution to this problem was not to eradicate the use of this extremely dangerous drug, but rather to create another drug substance to replace it – one that was supposed to be less potent and non-addictive in nature. Morphine was derived from opium and soon proved to be a bigger problem than opium. Once again, the solution to this problem was not to eradicate the use of opioid drugs, but rather to create yet another drug substance to replace morphine – one that was also believed to be less potent and non-addictive in nature. Heroin was derived from morphine and soon proved to be a bigger problem than morphine or opium. But this terrible tragedy didn’t stop there, because German scientists who were seeking to develop a surgical painkilling drug developed methadone, which began to be used as a less potent, non-addictive substitute to treat heroin addiction. Like its predecessors, methadone has also proven to be more addictive than the drug it was intended to replace, continuing the pattern of destruction that follows in the wake of all opioid drug use.
As is the case with any drug substance, heroin is most often used by an individual who has encountered some problem or difficulty in their life for which they have no other ready solution. Heroin cannot solve the problems for which it is taken, but the individual may feel that it effectively suppresses the symptoms of their problems and creates enough pleasant sensations to warrant its continued use.
Heroin is usually injected, snorted, or smoked, and while it most commonly appears as an off-white to dark brown powder, it may also be found as “black tar heroin” – a dark, sticky substance. Once heroin is ingested, it moves very quickly through the bloodstream to the brain, which is the primary reason why heroin is so highly addictive. According to a 2011 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over four million individuals in the United States had used heroin at least once in their lives, and roughly twenty-three percent of the individuals who tried heroin once had become dependent upon and addicted to this drug.
Once heroin enters the brain, it converts back into morphine. Morphine binds to opioid receptors in the brain that are responsible for the perception of pain, pleasure, and rewards. Morphine also binds to opioid receptors in the brainstem that are responsible for some of the critical and automatic functions of the body systems, including blood pressure and respiration. Heroin overdose can be fatal due to a marked suppression of breathing.
Individuals who take heroin normally do so in order to experience euphoria or an extended period of relaxation. However, heroin use can also result in a dry mouth, flushing of the skin, heaviness, and clouded mental functioning. Many heroin users experience periods of alternating wakefulness and sedation, and may suddenly nod off.
Like other drug substances, heroin use can alter the normal functioning of the brain and body systems. Over time, the body can become tolerant of heroin, and the user finds that they have to take greater quantities to experience the desired effects. Further heroin use can result in dependence, wherein the body has been so thoroughly and constantly interrupted in its normal functioning that it has grown to depend upon heroin in order to function “normally”. An individual who is suffering from heroin dependence will often find that they experience very uncomfortable and painful withdrawal symptoms when there is an insufficient quantity of heroin in their system to satisfy the body’s dependence upon the drug. Heroin dependence often drives the individual into addiction, wherein they continue to compulsively use heroin despite the many damaging effects it has had on their health, relationships, and life.
Effects of Heroin Use, Abuse, and Addiction
Heroin use, abuse, and addiction can cause a variety of health problems, including spontaneous abortion, collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, constipation, gastrointestinal cramping, liver or kidney disease, and pneumonia. Furthermore, an individual has no guarantee that the heroin they are purchasing is pure, and in many cases, street heroin is cut with other toxic substances that can clog the blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. Individuals who are experiencing heroin tolerance may attempt to generate a better “high” by mixing heroin with other potent drug substances, like cocaine, and can experience a fatal overdose after a single hit.
Individuals who suffer from heroin abuse, dependence, or addiction may want desperately to be free from the powerful grips of this drug but are unaware of how to become so. Some individuals decide that they would rather continue to use heroin and suffer ill health as a result than go through heroin withdrawals. There is no doubt that an individual suffering from heroin abuse and addiction needs professional help and treatment in order to successfully and permanently overcome this problem.
How to Treat Heroin Addiction
The successful treatment of any drug abuse and addiction problem involves addressing and resolving every single physical, mental and emotional cause and effect of drug use. Some of the very basic components of successful drug treatment include:
Detoxification. Regardless of the many causes and effects of drug use, it is essentially impossible to address and resolve them while the body is still suffering from the effects of drug abuse and addiction, especially if the drug in use is a powerful opioid like heroin. Some heroin withdrawal symptoms include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, cold flashes, uncontrolled kicking movements, and severe heroin cravings. No matter how determined an individual is to withdraw from heroin, heroin detoxification should never be attempted without the supervision of a medical professional. Heroin withdrawal symptoms are painful and sometimes life-threatening and can continue for days or even weeks at a time. Some detoxification facilities provide medications in order to assist with heroin withdrawals – including methadone – but one must remember that these medications are also drug substances, and may only succeed in switching an individual’s dependence and addiction to a different substance, rather than resolving these problems.
Counseling. The individual must address and resolve the root cause for their heroin use, recognize the damages that heroin use has caused for self and others, and take responsibility for repairing these damages. Counseling can help the individual do this by providing a safe, supportive environment in which they can dig through difficult emotions.
Life skills building. The individual who turned to heroin use in order to suppress some problem or difficulty in their life needs to build their confidence in resolving life problems without drugs. Life skills building can help the individual begin to establish a firm foundation for a healthy, happy future that is free from drugs.