Heroin, or diacetylmorphine hydrochloride, is among the most addictive and dangerous drugs of abuse in society. As evidenced by the popularity of various prescription painkillers, all of which work the same way in the human brain, the euphoric effects of heroin are in high demand. In fact, when diacetylmorphine was banned by Congress in 1924, in the three years it took for this ban to be implemented, hydromorphone (or Dilaudid) was produced in massive quantities to satisfy the large demand for diacetylmorphine.
Effects of Heroin Addiction
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 4.2 million people in America, aged 12 and older used heroin at least once in 2011, and 23% of those individuals became addicted to it.
Heroin abuse has a number of effects on an individual, most of which create noticeable physical changes. Some of the effects of heroin abuse are:
- Slow or shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
- Weight loss
- Track marks (scars at injection points) on hands, arms, feet, legs, and neck
- Intermittent periods of awake and sleep in short intervals (nodding off)
- Constricted or pinpoint pupils (even in low light)
- Droopy or heavy eyelids
When heroin addiction develops in an individual, several changes also take place within his or her brain, that severely influence behavior, the most drastic of these changes include:
- Motivations and priorities in life are entirely related to getting and using heroin.
- The withdrawal symptoms of heroin can be so intense and severe, that most addicts literally fear withdrawal to the point at which desperate measures will be enacted to avoid symptoms, and addiction treatment will be brutally rebuffed.
- The urge and craving to use heroin is so powerful that repeated negative consequences do not deter an addict from continued use.
Motivations and Priorities of Heroin Addicts
One of the most commonly noted signs of heroin addiction is a loss of motivation. However, it is not that the motivation of a heroin addict is gone, it is just that he or she is motivated in a different way – and that is to maintain his/her addiction to heroin by any means necessary.
Motivation is something that causes a person to act in a certain way, and with heroin addiction, the certain ways in which individuals act can be alarming to many looking in from the outside. Some of the behaviors inherent with heroin addicts, in order to maintain their addiction can include, but are not limited to:
- Property theft to sell items for money to get more heroin
- Fraud and/or forgery to get money for more heroin
- Sexual favors and/or prostitution for money for more heroin
- Isolation and/or complete severance from loved ones in order to continue with heroin abuse
- Ignoring the obvious dangers, addicts may share needles, often when without a needle of their own, and in need of a quick high
- Sale and/or pawning of most cherished possessions and family heirlooms to get money for more heroin
Once addicted to heroin, an individual finds it difficult to see much more than getting and using heroin until those tasks have been completed. Once he or she has heroin, there may be an opportunity to focus on other things or people until such time that another hit of the drug is needed. Because a heroin high only lasts for 4-6 hours, not much time goes by before a heroin addict’s motivations once again shift to getting and using more heroin. This has a direct correlation to the priorities of a heroin addict, as motivation determines how various things and people in life are prioritized. Since the main motivation of a heroin addict is to get and use heroin, his or her top priority is the same as well. As such, all people and things which facilitate the fulfillment of this motivation also become a top priority. This includes:
- Associates with whom an addict uses heroin
- “Safe” places in which to use heroin
- Availability of money to buy heroin
- Paraphernalia with which to administer heroin
Things and people through which continued heroin use can be sustained are top priorities, because without them, an addict drastically reduces his or her resources for continued heroin use.
Withdrawal from Heroin
Heroin produces a psychological and physical dependence, both of which can result in severe withdrawal symptoms in an addicted individual. Initial signs of heroin withdrawal can begin in as little as 6 hours after the last administration of the drug, and typically include autonomic nervous system responses like frequent yawning and sneezing. For any heroin addict who has experienced full withdrawal, these early symptoms are an ominous sign of what is to come if he or she doesn’t use heroin again, and do it fast. After the initial signs of heroin withdrawal, the full symptoms begin to intensify, and generally peak around 72 hours after the last administration. While none of the symptoms of heroin withdrawal are life-threatening, they can be grueling, and are often a primary cause for many addicts to refuse sobriety. Some of the symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:
- High fever
- Muscle pain and spasms
- Severe anxiety
- Intense cravings
- Goose bumps
- Cold sweats
- Severe agitation
These symptoms are often enough for many heroin addicts to be entirely unwilling to follow through with the withdrawal process in order to be sober, especially when they are attempted outside of a heroin detox center. Depending on an individual’s health and the nature of his or her addiction, heroin detox typically takes 5-14 days.
Repeated Negative Consequences of Heroin Addiction
As with any other addiction, heroin is the center of an addict’s life, much like the way food and water are essential to the survival of all human beings. Because of the importance of heroin in an addict’s life, he or she can encounter numerous and repeated negative consequences, and continue using heroin despite them. Some examples of these consequences can include, but are not limited to:
- Financial troubles such as bankruptcy, accounts in collection, eviction, repossession, poor credit score, disconnection of utilities, etc.
- Legal troubles such as charges for possession, solicitation, public intoxication, illegal sale and distribution, theft, prostitution, etc.
- Troubled or broken relationships as result of continued heroin use
- Heath problems and/or repeated overdoses from the use of heroin
The continuation of heroin use, despite repeated negative consequences is one of the most disturbing signs of heroin addiction. One may wonder how any heroin addict ever gets sober if he or she continues to use no matter how bad things get. Many professionals in addiction treatment refer to rock bottom, as being the event or series of events that bring an addict to the realization that his or her addiction is not sustainable, and inspire a willingness to get help on the path toward recovery. While the theory of rock bottom is very popular, many professionals feel that addiction and its treatment lie further beneath the surface of each suffering individual, and are truly rooted in the causes of addiction
Causes of Heroin Addiction
An overwhelming percentage of addicts have expressed some form of trauma, pain, and/or loss in life that had devastating effects on them. While most people experience some form of pain or trauma in life, not all become addicts. However, most all heroin addicts have some personal pain or trauma, and heroin use is the way in which they hide or escape from it, and/or cope with it. Some examples of things that are commonly the source of pain and trauma in heroin addicts can include:
- Contentious relationship(s)
- Grief over significant loss
- Extreme disappointment
- Guilt over transgressions against oneself and/or another
- Traumatic accident and/or surgery
- Chronic pain
Although these sources for pain and trauma are not exclusive to heroin addicts, another contributing factor is usually a lack of coping skills and/or accessibility to resources for help to positively work through issues in life. Without a healthy way in which to work through and process issues, especially those that are particularly traumatic and painful, the risks for developing an addiction are significantly higher.
Heroin Addiction Treatment
Heroin addiction is treatable, and because of the causes of the addiction, it is imperative to find treatment in a program that can relate to the needs, issues, and preferences of the addicted individual. Most addiction treatment professionals are now united in the belief that addiction is widely not the problem, but rather a way for addicts to deal with the problem. Therefore, effective treatment of addiction is treatment of the individual, and helping him or her to process and reconcile the issues and pain that have contributed to addiction.
At 24sober.com, we understand how devastating heroin addiction is, and how difficult it can be to overcome. However, we know that effective treatment does work, and we will help you find the most effective form and intensity of addiction treatment for yourself, or your addicted loved one. If you, or someone you know is struggling with heroin addiction, please call us now and speak with a trained counselor about the most effective addiction treatment options, and how they may work for you or your loved one. Addiction can be successfully treated, and you or your loved one can live a life of health, happiness and freedom in sobriety. Let us help you to find the way. Call us now.