26 Apr How Smoking Heroin Affects Your Life
How Heroin Works
The number of people using heroin has risen significantly over the past few years with approximately 669,000 Americans reporting heroin use in 2012, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 90,000 people were using heroin in 2006, a number which nearly doubled to 156,000 six years later. Heroin use is especially popular among people ages 18-25.
Heroin is a highly addictive, illicit drug extracted as morphine from a specific type of poppy plant. It’s mainly sold in the form of pure white powder and can either be snorted or smoked. One reason drug users typically find smoking heroin preferable over snorting is because it produces fewer traces of the drug in the blood than when snorted. The other main reason is there are additional dangers from needles used for injecting that many people would rather avoid.
For example, by injecting heroin into the system, a person runs the risk of exposure to diseases such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, in addition to other serious infections. Regardless of the way the drug is administered, any method of heroin use carries the same number of risks and maintains the same danger level.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 4 million Americans 12 years of age and older have used heroin at least once in their life, and it’s estimated that nearly 25 percent of those who use heroin become dependent on it.
Side Effects of Heroin
What makes heroin addictive? Due to the drug’s ability to create intense, euphoric feelings for the user, those who abuse heroin are constantly chasing the high they feel, no matter how short-lived it might be.
How does it work? Heroin binds to the body’s opioid receptors. The nerve cells affected by the chemical interaction causes dopamine to be released, which is responsible for the feel-good sensations that the user experiences. These amplified feelings cause the user to want more and more heroin. The binging that often occurs opens the door for addiction.
Heroin immediately affects the body with both short-term and long-term side effects. The most common types of symptoms include:
- reduced feelings of pain
The rush felt from heroin lasts a short time, approximately 30 minutes, while the sedated feelings continue a few hours after that. Depending on the purity, dose, and way the drug was taken, the duration of these effects will vary. The lethargy may cause the user to experience periods of being both asleep and awake; otherwise, referred to as “nodding” as a person goes through different phases of the high.
Side effects experienced once a high wears off last much longer and are increasingly uncomfortable for the person who has to experience them. They can include any of the following:
- Dry mouth;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Itchy skin;
- Sensitivity to light;
- Below average body temperature; and
- Slowed heart rate.
Some individuals might feel one or two of these symptoms, but others may experience all of the above. It’s not only side effects that one should worry about when smoking heroin. It also can lead to other dangerous medical conditions such as shortening of breath, heart and other cardiovascular problems, coma, and death.
Long-Term Effects of Heroin
For chronic users, heroin causes even more damage on a person’s health, appearance, behavior, and state of mind. Consistent heroin users may experience anything from insomnia to damaged teeth, to a decrease in sexual functioning. They might also suffer from malnutrition, chafed skin from scratching, and increased susceptibility to sickness or disease due to the immune system being weakened.
One of the biggest risks of long-term heroin use is the potential for irreversible impact to the liver, kidneys, and brain. Due to the hit the brain takes from every use of heroin, mental health issues may be revealed or magnified, such as depression, anxiety, memory problems, and social isolation.
This combination of long-term effects can cause people who are addicted to heroin to withdraw from their relationships, put their jobs in jeopardy, face financial difficulty, and run into trouble with the law. Smoking heroin intensely affects, and can quickly overtake, all aspects of a person’s life.
People who consider themselves “recreational” users might think they don’t have a problem with drug use since their experience with the drug is not as consistent as chronic users. However, the first time a person uses heroin, they put themselves at risk for becoming addicted.
It’s the allure of the high that makes smoking heroin dangerous because abusers want to use it again and again, not taking into account the permanent damage it does to their body and mind.
Drug dependency doesn’t only mean that a person chooses not to quit. It means that once a person is dependent on heroin, he or she will feel physically sick with a high level of discomfort when they don’t have heroin in their system. This happens since the body becomes accustomed to having the substance in the system. When it’s not there, it doesn’t know how to react. Yes, an addict craves the high, but they want their withdrawal symptoms to go away even more.
These symptoms can begin a few hours following the last use and can be severe, much like the kind of achy symptoms associated with the flu, such as intense sweating and shivering. A person going through withdrawal symptoms from heroin, which may last up to a week or longer, might also experience:
- Racing heartbeat;
- Muscle aches;
- Vomiting; and
When a person goes through withdrawal symptoms alone, there is a much higher chance of relapse. It’s best to seek help from a detox center who can be there to monitor the first few days, which are the hardest in the withdrawal phase. Professionals can then prescribe medicine to combat certain withdrawal symptoms and provide the positive reinforcement necessary to get through such a difficult and painful time.
The temptation to use is too strong if trying to quit by yourself. Focus on the help available to you and the options you have to recover.
Additional Risks Associated with Smoking Heroin can damage the lungs and increase the risk of bronchitis, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases. It can wreak havoc on the organs, especially the liver, heart, and brain. Heroin use clogs the blood vessels and leads to collapsed veins among a myriad of other health issues.
It’s the repeat pattern of use that can be the scariest risk connected with smoking heroin. Once addicted, the body adjusts to depending on the drug to survive. When a person tries to quit heroin use on their own, it’s difficult to overcome the withdrawal symptoms, which leaves the person in a vicious cycle of drug use.
Of course, problems only increase for a heroin addict who is pregnant. The pregnancy may result in a baby being born with birth defects including low birth weight, developmental delays, and potential addiction at birth.
A person who abuses drugs tends to neglect responsibilities and the ability to “do the right thing.” An addict often tries to hide the fact their drug problem, which leads to arguments, paranoid feelings, helplessness, and other behavioral barriers that affect how a person lives day-to-day.
According to statistics, heroin addicts start using in their early 20s. They become addicted through prescription painkillers since both heroin and prescription drugs like Oxycontin, an FDA-approved drug, are derived from a poppy plant with similar chemical structures that affect the brain the same way.
The drug in either form produces the same type of result, an increase in pleasurable feelings and relief from pain. The more the user takes it, the higher the tolerance to it becomes. When the prescription runs out, the person using it may still crave the drug and turn to heroin to ease their pain.
If a person is prescribed Oxycontin, Demerol, or Vicodin as a painkiller, it’s important to closely monitor and follow the dosage prescribed. When these drugs are taken in excessive amounts, by someone for whom the drugs aren’t prescribed, or combined with other drugs, the results could be fatal.
Heroin is a street drug. It’s illegal, unsafe, addictive, and damaging to the person using it. It is not regulated in doses and is not an approved painkiller. Each time a person uses heroin, the same dosage will be less and less effective.
The initial high of the first use can’t be reached, but the user will continuously try to achieve it by taking higher doses on a more frequent basis, a scary habit that can lead to an overdose. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time using heroin, your 10th, or 20th, anyone can accidentally overdose at any time.
Overdosing on Heroin
When a person ingests too much heroin, it slows the heart rate and breathing so dramatically that a person cannot survive without medical attention. However, there is an antagonist medication that can reverse a heroin overdose if the patient is treated in time. Naloxone is used to eliminate heroin from the system by quickly binding to opioid receptors, making heroin unable to activate them.
Accidental overdose and death from overdose have become increasingly familiar, which is why there is a huge need for overdose prevention services. Signs of overdose can occur within minutes after use and can include:
- Dilated pupils;
- White patches on the tongue;
- Difficulty or decreased breathing;
- Severe stomach cramps and constipation;
- Muscle spasms; and
- Drop in blood pressure.
If you suspect heroin use and see signs of an overdose in a friend or family member, contact 911 immediately. Once at the hospital, a doctor may prescribe a respirator or IV depending on the person’s current health.
The doctor might forgo Naloxone for an individual who has fewer symptoms and suggest a laxative instead to help the person eliminate the heroin out of the body. Be ready to provide as much information as possible because time and details are important factors in a situation as serious as this.
Get Help for Heroin Abuse and Addiction
Heroin is a damaging drug and one that is potentially fatal. The health effects it has on the body can last long after a person is no longer using. The highly addictive nature of the drug can cause a person to become easily addicted and/or relapse even if they want to quit. An all-encompassing treatment includes detox, treatment, recovery, and counseling that is customized for each person’s needs.
Recovery from addiction is a thorough and often, lengthy process. The first step is to have the right mindset to get sober and get your life back on track. The road will feel difficult at first, which is why it’s important to have properly trained medical staff and a strong support system in place before getting started. Choosing the right treatment center for you will help increase the chances of a successful recovery from heroin addiction.
Rehab requires hard work, but recovery is possible. By addressing the root of addiction and working through it on every level, a person can enter recovery and have the chance to pursue a more positive path as well as secure a brighter future.
There is more to the process than detox alone. It is important to learn the tools needed to cope with temptation and how to avoid situations where heroin might be an option. It also involves finding ways to connect with others who have similar stories or taking the opportunity to speak one-on-one with a counselor who can guide you through a dark time.
There are comprehensive options available to suit anyone’s needs. If you or someone you know is facing addiction from smoking heroin, you are not alone. There are professionals ready and willing to help at any time of the day, whenever you’re ready to start.
“Heroin.” Drug Aware. 11 Mar. 2019. https://drugaware.com.au/getting-the-facts/drug-types/heroin/
“The Mental Effects of Heroin: Short-Term and Long-Term.” American ADdiction Centers. 11 Mar. 2019. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/heroin-treatment/effects
T, Buddy. “The Health Effects of Heroin.” Verywell Mind. 30 June 2018. 11 Mar. 2019. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-health-effects-of-heroin-67376