Dr. Leonard is a Doctor of Medical Science and a clinical anatomist. He achieved his bachelor’s degree in human biology from the University of Miami. He received his Master of Science in anatomy from Barry University’s School of Podiatric Medicine, he then achieved his Master of Medical Science from Nova Southeastern University, and lastly, he achieved his doctor of medical science from Lincoln Memorial University’s DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine. He has practiced in both internal and emergency medicine at the University of Florida medical system. He has published several, peer-reviewed scientific articles, as well as a medical book chapter.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a naturally-occurring opiate that is derived from the opium poppy, which is a flower that grows in South America, Asia, and Mexico. Heroin is extremely addictive and has been banned in the U.S. since 1924. Heroin can come in the form of a powder that can be white or brown, or it comes in a tar-like substance that is blackish-brown in color.
Opioid abuse, including heroin abuse, has rapidly increased over the past few decades. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the number of heroin overdose deaths increased from 2,399 in 2007 to 15,482 in 2017. During the same 10-year period, the number of overdose deaths involving any opioid increased from 18,515 in 2007 to 47,600 in 2017. While these statistics illustrate the dangers of opioid and heroin addiction, they do not explain why people choose to abuse them. Many people are left wondering heroin is so addictive?
The reason for the addictive potential of heroin and other opioids is how they work on the brain. Even if people are severely addicted to heroin, they can receive some help so they can break the grip that the drug has on them.
Why is Heroin So Addictive?
Heroin is known as one of the most addictive substances because of how it works in the brain. Heroin, like all other opioids, binds to natural opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in a euphoric feeling throughout the body and a decrease or elimination of physical pain.
The body produces natural opioids known as endorphins. Heroin binds to the same receptors, causing these natural endorphins not to work as effectively. In other words, heroin hijacks the brain and the body.
Heroin produces a sensation of euphoria. However, it is associated with some of the worst withdrawal symptoms an individual can experience. Chasing the high and escaping withdrawal traps addicted individuals in a cycle of abuse. When someone stops using heroin, they will undergo excruciating withdrawal:
When heroin is smoked, snorted, or injected, it impacts the central nervous system and travels to the brain. There are many opioid receptors in the human brain that are naturally occurring. These receptors are areas in the neural synapses, which are the spaces between the ends and beginnings of nerve fibers. Opiates, such as heroin, bind to the opioid receptors to cause the brain to release endorphins. Endorphins are produced by the pituitary gland and the central nervous system and have a morphine-like impact. When they are released, they reduce pain and cause a sensation of intense pleasure.
Why is heroin so addictive? Since heroin binds to the opioid receptors and causes intense feelings of pleasure, users may have intense cravings for it. People who try heroin do not do so to become addicted. However, a person can become addicted to heroin after using it only one or two times because of the effect that it has on the brain.
When people continue to use heroin, their bodies will develop a tolerance to it. This means that they will need to ingest increasing amounts of the drug to obtain the same effect as they received previously from heroin. Over time, people may require large amounts of heroin to be able to function while no longer deriving the same intense feelings of pleasure.
What Causes People to Try Heroin?
People may try heroin for several different reasons. Many heroin users start by using prescription opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, or codeine. They may be prescribed these drugs after they have suffered injuries in accidents to help to relieve their pain. However, many people become addicted to their prescription pain medications and begin to abuse them. The cost of prescription opioids on the street is high. Some individuals who are abusing oxycodone or hydrocodone may turn to heroin because the street price is lower than it is for illicit prescription drugs.
Others may turn to heroin after they have become addicted to prescription drugs that they have taken from others. For example, teens may experiment with prescription opioids that they have taken from their parents or grandparents and become addicted to them. They may eventually turn to heroin as a cheaper alternative when they can no longer access enough of the pills to support their addictions.
Finally, some people think that they can try heroin just once without becoming addicted. Unfortunately, heroin is highly addictive. People can become addicted after using the drug a single time. Once someone is addicted to heroin, it is challenging for them to stop using it. The withdrawal symptoms can be severe and may include the following:
- Bone and muscle pain
- Cold flashes
- Involuntary leg movements
Desensitizing emotional pain with heroin
Our emotions are managed by two almond-shaped structures in the brain called the amygdala. We grow on positive emotions and try to hide or numb negative ones. The brain always processes some level of stress and anxiety; however, we often do not recognize them until they uprise and come into our conscious awareness. For many, it is difficult to face and work through negative emotions. Some people make use of alcohol or painkillers, and unhealthy behaviors to cope.
Heroin, in particular, creates a sense of euphoria, allowing individuals to feel comfortably numb and temporarily at ease. Over time this can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
when someone uses heroin, even if it is his first time, his brain has been tricked and taught to enjoy the effects of the drug, as it once provided feelings of pleasure and euphoria. With just one use, people become dependant on heroin, and thus, begin to use it repeatedly. The brain has been rewarded and with each dose, the body becomes more tolerant and addicted, before it can’t function without it.
Heroin produces an immediate side effect of euphoria and pleasure for hours, which is why it is so dangerous and addictive. People turn to use drugs for the reason of numbing or attempting to relieve their physical pain or unwanted emotions in any way they can, despite the major social, mental, and physical consequences, the main one being addiction.
Opiates as strong as heroin, activate the brain to a dangerous degree, greater than the body itself. After the high and euphoric feelings go away, that is when the real problems start to arise. Since the heroin rewires the circuits in the brain, once those areas are damaged it is hard to rewire.
Treatment for Heroin Addiction
While heroin addiction is critical, it is treatable. If someone is overdosing on heroin, an injection of naloxone can be administered to reduce the effects. Naloxone can save people’s lives. However, people need to seek treatment when they are addicted to heroin.
The treatment of heroin addiction may require people to complete heroin detox through a medically supervised detoxification where medical professionals will monitor them and work to reduce some of the withdrawal symptoms. After someone has detoxed from heroin, they will undergo focused treatment heroin addiction treatment.
With treatment, individuals can conquer their addictions to heroin. Being surrounded by a supportive and trusted staff can make all the difference in recovery. Contact Springboard Recovery today to receive help if you or a loved one is addicted to heroin.
A variety of effective treatments are available for heroin use disorder, including both behavioral and pharmacological (medications). Both approaches help to restore a degree of normalcy to brain function and behavior, resulting in increased employment rates and lower risk of HIV and other diseases and criminal behavior. Although behavioral and pharmacologic treatments can be extremely useful when utilized alone, research shows that for many people, integrating both types of treatments is the most effective approach.
Depending on what type of drug or drugs have been used and for how long. The pharmacological treatment of opioid use disorder increases retention in treatment programs and decreases drug use, infectious disease transmission, and criminal activity.
Treatment planning must include qualified behavioral healthcare providers to determine the optimal type and intensity of psychosocial treatment and for renegotiation of the treatment plan for circumstances in which patients do not adhere to recommended plans for, or referrals to, psychosocial treatment.
Planning involves coming up with a treatment plan that is tailored to your needs and desires.
At SpringBoard Recovery, our detox programs offer a combination approach that includes both medical and holistic treatments. There are several medications people can take for specific symptoms.
Holistic detox enhances a person’s overall health and wellbeing. A lot of detox programs will require people to work with a nutritionist to improve their diets. They will also encourage regular exercise. Both can aid in the detox process and help the body to eliminate toxins at a faster rate.
Our approach to drug addiction is one that takes the entire body in mind. This includes a spiritual element. We use the 12 step program within our facility because this program has been proven to work time and time again.
If you are struggling with Heroin addiction contact SpringBoard Recovery right away, our drugs (Heroin) recovery program will provide all you need to get your life back on track.
Some circumstances make people lose control of their emotions, other times in order to have a good time or following new social trends, one may believe that using alcohol or drugs will make us fit on a friend group or fulfill an empty space in ourselves.
But in this journey we call life, every day is a chance to discover our real-life purpose. We SpringBoard Recovery want to help you, and be your life journey recovery companion.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Heroin Really Dangerous?
Heroin is known as a central nervous system depressant. That means that when you take it, it produces a sensation of sedation. It makes you tired. People who use this drug frequently say that it causes them to nod off.
When heroin is taken in high doses, it can slow down your heart rate and your respiration, bringing them down to dangerous levels. This can cause you to become unconscious, and it has been known to be fatal.
Heroin can also:
- Lead to a deadly overdose if too much is taken at one time or if it is used in combination with another drug or alcohol.
- Result in permanent chemical imbalances in the brain.
- Result in chronic lung problems because of respiratory depression.
- Result in chronic heart problems.
- Lead to trouble with memory and decision-making.
How Do People Use Heroin?
People use heroin to get high in a number of different ways. This is a drug that can be injected, sniffed, snorted or smoked. Sometimes people will mix heroin with crack cocaine, which produces a drug referred to on the street as a speedball.
Is There a Cure for Heroin Addiction?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that there is currently no cure for heroin addiction, or any type of addiction for that matter. This is because using drugs can make changes to the brain that can be and often are long-lasting.
But even though heroin addiction cannot be cured, that does not mean that people need to remain addicts for the rest of their lives. It is possible to recover from it, but it can only be done by getting the right kind of treatment.
How Do People Get Addicted to Heroin?
When a person uses heroin, the drug enters the brain. There, it is converted into morphine, where it binds with the opioid receptors. This results in a surge of dopamine, which causes the user to experience sensations of euphoria. This is the high that keeps people coming back for more.
As the person continues to use heroin, their brain’s neurons adapt to the exposure. As time goes on, they start to only be able to function well when they have had the drug. If they do not get it, they will go into withdrawal and experience symptoms that are very hard to cope with.
Why Do People Use Heroin?
People use heroin for many different reasons. Some will use it as a way to get high and their use is purely recreational. But there are others who will use this drug because they are no longer able to access their drug of choice, which is often a prescription opioid medication.
Heroin has become a major player in the opioid epidemic. Its use has increased over the last few years as more doctors have stopped prescribing narcotic painkillers as often as they once did. The result has been that people who were addicted to these drugs will turn to heroin as way to control their pain or manage any other symptoms they may have.
Is it Dangerous to Quit Heroin Cold Turkey?
It can be very dangerous to stop using heroin cold turkey. That is because the withdrawal symptoms people experience can be extremely hard to manage. Once a person stops using heroin, their tolerance for the drug changes almost immediately. As they continue to abstain, they require less of the drug in order to get high.
The problem is that a lot of people do not realize this is happening. If they end up relapsing, they will typically go back to taking the same amount they used before they quit. This can result in an overdose, which can be fatal unless they get medical help right away.
- WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/heroin-use#1
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
- AKUA Mind & Body: https://www.akuamindbody.com/blog/history-of-the-opioid-crisis/
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
- Verywellmind: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-heroin-effects-feel-like-22047
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-long-term-effects-heroin-use
- AKUA Mind & Body: https://www.akuamindbody.com/blog/10-tips-to-manage-workplace-stress-and-anxiety/
- AKUA Mind & Body: https://www.akuamindbody.com/addiction-recovery/alcohol-abuse-debunking-common-myths/
- Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319030
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://archives.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/real-teens-ask-about-speedballs
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
- Science News for Students: https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/explainer-what-dopamine