In pursuit of instant euphoria people willingly sign up for long-term suffering.
As harsh as it may sound, this is what heroin does to people—making it no different from every other addictive substance in the world. In an attempt to escape reality and find bliss, some people turn to things that are actually bad for them.
Heroin provides euphoric effects, but it’s time we knew exactly what it does to the body. We’re all familiar with how it can get users addicted, but what we don’t know is how addiction and dependence affects their health. That is what we’re going to discuss today.
Heroin is an opiate often used as a recreational drug. Medically, it can be used to relieve pain. It is typically injected into a vein, but it can also be smoked, inhaled, or snorted. Its effects kick in rapidly and may last for a few hours. It usually comes as a white or brown powder.
Heroin is an opiate, meaning it is taken from the opium poppy. It was first made in 1874 by C.R. Alder Wright.
Today, heroin is controlled under Schedules I and IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It is illegal to make, sell, and even possess without a license.
Respiratory depression, marked by decreased breathing is one of the most common side effects. A person who uses heroin may also suffer from infected heart valves, blood-borne infections, abscesses, constipation, and pneumonia.
When abused for a long time, withdrawal symptoms can occur within just a few hours of the last use.
Recreationally, the drug is used for the euphoria it produces. Users report an intense rush, as well as feelings of “transcendence”. But once tolerance develops, increased doses are needed just to get the same effects.
It should be noted that heroin is not accepted for any medical uses in the United States.
Heroin is prescribed as a strong pain medication in the United Kingdom, under the generic name diamorphine. It can be used to treat acute pain, post-surgical pain, chronic pain, and myocardial infarction.
Other countries use similar opioids for these same situations.
Whether medical or recreational, heroin can be administered in many different ways including oral, injection, smoking, insufflation, and suppository. Oral heroin is less common than the other methods of administration because it makes the effects less potent.
Injecting heroin into the body is also known as “slamming”, “banging”, or “shooting up”, among other street terms. Recreationally, it carries much greater risks than other methods because of hygiene-related issues such as reusing of the same needle for different people. This is a common way HIV or hepatitis is transmitted.
Smoking involves vaporizing it to inhale the fumes—unlike other smoking methods that involve burning the substance. Smoking is done in glass pipes or aluminum foil, heated underneath by a flame.
Little is known about the suppository method, also known as anal insertion. But once the drug is inserted this way, it is absorbed through the membranes lining this part of the digestive system.
Insufflation, also known as snorting is when a user crushes the heroin into a fine powder and then gently inhales it, similar to cocaine.
Its effects are similar with most other opioids. Do take note that the effects mentioned below will vary on intensity based on the dosage, frequency of use, and purity of heroin. Because of this variation, many people accidentally experience overdoses.
As previously mentioned, injecting heroin opens the path for blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, particularly when needles and syringes are shared.
Users may also contract bacterial endocarditis, venous sclerosis, abscesses, and decreased kidney function.
When used in conjunction with other addictive drugs such as cocaine, the user falls at risk of many other adverse effects.
“Cold turkey” is the street term for withdrawal from heroin. It may begin within 24 hours of discontinuation of the drug. This time frame typically fluctuates depending on the degree of tolerance and amount of heroin previously consumed.
Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, sweating, depression, priapism, excessive yawning, sneezing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, insomnia, and a general feeling of heaviness.
Death due to heroin overdose happens quite frequently. A fatal overdose can be due to lack of oxygen caused by the opioids.
Heroin overdose can be treated with an opioid antagonist like naloxone or naltrexone. It reverses the effects of heroin and other opioids, causing immediate return to consciousness. However, it may result in various withdrawal symptoms.
Just like other drugs, treatment for heroin addiction will involve a combination of behavioral therapy and medications. The first step is finding the right treatment center for the patient, and finding the proper program. An initial medical screening will determine their condition and what programs may work best.
The process that follows: detoxification and dealing with the withdrawal symptoms could be very difficult for the patient. But with proper guidance and support, they can make their way towards recovery.