Heroin Substance Abuse Overview
A heroin addiction is not something to take lightly, especially when it’s your teen. Heroin is a highly addictive opiate that targets the opiate receptors in the brain. The natural forms of opiates in the body are called endorphins, which make you feel pleasure; that’s the feeling that heroin addicts get by injecting opiates. Teens can have an emotional addiction before actually having a heroin addiction after their first time trying it because they enjoyed the effects it had. It convinces your brain that you are content regardless of the circumstances in your life. Eventually your brain will only get that feeling from heroin because it has compromised your body’s ability to release those endorphins you crave. That’s what you call a heroin addiction.
The thought of teens using heroin is a frightening one, as it is one of the most highly addictive drugs; it is not even used for medicinal purposes. Heroin addiction follows heroin abuse quite rapidly and the chances of your teen getting their hands on this dangerous drug are higher than ever. Heroin is becoming more available and less expensive, making it easier for teens to access. The long term effects include pulmonary complications, kidney or liver disease, arthritis and increased risk of HIV/AIDS from shared needles.
Addiction causes withdrawals when the body is in recovery and is not getting its proper fix. The withdrawal effects from a heroin addiction can be harsh, which is why your teens recovery should be tailored specifically to them. Inspirations for Youth and Families specializes in teen and youth rehabilitation, with programs that deal with everything from video game addictions to heroin addictions.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is an opiate drug that is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. Heroin is an addictive drug that can be injected, snorted, or smoked. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin.”
Short-term Heroin Effects
Short-term effects of heroin include a surge of euphoria and clouded thinking followed by alternately wakeful and drowsy states. Heroin depresses breathing, thus, overdose can be fatal. Users who inject the drug risk infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?
Heroin enters the brain, where it is converted to morphine and binds to receptors known as opioid receptors. These receptors are located in many areas of the brain (and in the body), especially those involved in the perception of pain and in reward. Opioid receptors are also located in the brain stem—important for automatic processes critical for life, such as breathing (respiration), blood pressure, and arousal. Heroin overdoses frequently involve a suppression of respiration.
After an intravenous injection of heroin, users report feeling a surge of euphoria (“rush”) accompanied by dry mouth, a warm flushing of the skin, heaviness of the extremities, and clouded mental functioning. Following this initial euphoria, the user goes “on the nod,” an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Users who do not inject the drug may not experience the initial rush, but other effects are the same.
With regular heroin use, tolerance develops, in which the user’s physiological (and psychological) response to the drug decreases, and more heroin is needed to achieve the same intensity of effect. Heroin users are at high risk for addiction—it is estimated that about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it.
What Other Adverse Effects Does Heroin Have on Health?
Heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and—particularly in users who inject the drug—infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver or kidney disease. Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health of the abuser as well as from heroin’s depressing effects on respiration. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin often contains toxic contaminants or additives that can clog the blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage to vital organs.
Chronic use of heroin leads to physical dependence, a state in which the body has adapted to the presence of the drug. If a dependent user reduces or stops use of the drug abruptly, he or she may experience severe symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms—which can begin as early as a few hours after the last drug administration—can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”), and kicking movements (“kicking the habit”). Users also experience severe craving for the drug during withdrawal, which can precipitate continued abuse and/or relapse. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose of the drug and typically subside after about 1 week. Some individuals, however, may show persistent withdrawal symptoms for months. Although heroin withdrawal is considered less dangerous than alcohol or barbiturate withdrawal, sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health is occasionally fatal. In addition, heroin craving can persist years after drug cessation, particularly upon exposure to triggers such as stress or people, places, and things associated with drug use.
Heroin abuse during pregnancy, together with related factors like poor nutrition and inadequate prenatal care, has been associated with adverse consequences including low birth weight, an important risk factor for later developmental delay. If the mother is regularly abusing the drug, the infant may be born physically dependent on heroin and could suffer from serious medical complications requiring hospitalization.
What Heroin Treatment Options Exist?
A range of treatments exist for heroin addiction, including medications and behavioral therapies. Science has taught us that when medication treatment is combined with other supportive services, patients are often able to stop using heroin (or other opiates) and return to stable and productive lives.
Treatment usually begins with medically assisted detoxification to help patients withdraw from the drug safely. Medications such as clonidine and, now, buprenorphine can be used to help minimize symptoms of withdrawal. However, detoxification alone is not treatment and has not been shown to be effective in preventing relapse—it is merely the first step.
At Inspirations, we will diagnose, treat and work to prevent your teens addiction from resurfacing. We believe that with the proper medication and supportive services, your teen will be able to end their heroin addiction and continue to live a stable life. All you need to do is take the first step.