The Highs and Lows of Heroin Addiction

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive and rapidly acting illegal drug that is the single most abused opiate in the United States. Heroin is processed from morphine, which is the main component of opium. Opium is the naturally occurring substance that is extracted from the seedpod of the opium poppy. Heroin has one of the most serious addiction rates of all illegal drugs.

While found in a variety of forms, heroin is typically sold as a white or brownish colored powder. A black sticky substance known on the streets as “black tar heroin” is the dirtiest form of heroin. Although purer heroin is becoming much more common, most street heroin is cut with other drugs or substances such as sugar, starch, powdered milk or quinine. Black tar heroin is usually cut with glass and other substances that can be potentially fatal or cause some sort of brain damage and is much more harmful than regular heroin.

Street heroin can also be cut with poisons such as strychnine. Abusers of heroin have no way of knowing the actual strength of the heroin, nor do they know the true contents of the drug. For this reason, they are at a higher risk for overdose or death. Heroin addicts are also at a higher risk for HIV and other diseases because of the sharing of needles that can occur among addicts.

The Heroin High

When compared to other drugs such as meth, cocaine, alcohol or marijuana, heroin is taken less for recreational and social reasons than it is for the purposes of self medication. People who suffer from deep seeded emotional problems, have endured a history of trauma, experience chronic pain or live a lifestyle that may be seen as disadvantaged, are at an even greater risk for addiction.

The heroin high creates changes in thoughts, feeling and sensations. While some of theses feelings are directly caused by the changes that occur in the brain and the central nervous system, other feelings are directly related to the personal history and expectations of the person taking the drug. This is why some people may experience immediate relief from the drug while others may consider the effects to be awful. Feelings of euphoria give people who suffer with anxiety and/or depression, the opportunity to experience pleasure and escape from their feelings of despair or intense racing of thoughts. Some people have been known to describe the heroin high as providing them with feelings of warmth and safety. In reality, heroin addicts are far from warm and safe. Heroin can also be very effective in reducing or eliminating both physical and emotional pain. For this reason, the drug can be particularly appealing to those who suffer from chronic pain or for those who engage in physically painful activities.

Heroin Withdrawal

If you have become addicted to heroin, you can expect to experience some withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can vary in intensity depending upon the severity of use and physical addiction. Typically, withdrawal symptoms will begin within 6-12 hours after the last dose of heroin. Symptoms can be expected to peak within 1 to 3 days and will gradually subside over the course of the next 5-7 days. Keeping this in mind, there have been addicts who have experienced severe withdrawal symptoms for weeks or months. This is known as post acute withdrawal syndrome.

There is often a strong desire to use more heroin for those who have become addicted to the illegal substance. The body will crave the substance that provided them with pleasure and eventually the addict will desire to use again simply because the physical pain experienced from not using can become so intense and the addict knows that if they use again, it will ease the pain. Heroin blocks the body’s pain pathways. For an addict, heroin becomes their medicine, blocking the aches and pains typically felt in the back and leg regions of the body.

As heroin withdrawal progresses, an overproduction of bodily fluids may be experienced. Excessive sweating, teary eyes and a runny nose are very common. Vomiting, diarrhea, fever and chills are symptoms that will keep you feeling very uncomfortable. As the body begins to bring itself into balance, one may begin to notice their hairs standing on end as well as other physical symptoms. Until homeostasis is achieved, an addict can expect restless nights, insomnia, and agitation. Feelings of depression, irritability and anxiety are a normal part of the withdrawal process. They are often very intense, but typically pass once the withdrawal stage has subsided.