What is heroin addiction?

Heroin works quickly and causes huge spikes in dopamine levels. Even a single use can create an uncontrollable craving for the drug. The withdrawal symptoms experienced when trying to stop using heroin are harsh and painful. These factors converge into one hard and simple truth.

Heroin is the most addictive substance known to mankind.

The chemical makeup of heroin is similar to morphine, but it dissolves into the bloodstream more easily. This allows it to reach the brain quickly and get through the brain’s natural filter known as the blood-brain barrier. The shape of the heroin molecule allows it the settle onto a receptor on the nerve cell and lock into place. Once there, it blocks pain signals to the brain and boosts dopamine production, which often leads to a sense of euphoria.
The human body naturally adjusts to the effects of heroin. This causes the user to need higher and higher dosages to achieve the same “high.”

What exactly is heroin?

Heroin is a derivative of opium, which comes from the poppy plant. It can be found in several forms, including a white or brown powder, solid black chunks, or a thick black gel (tar). Depending on the type and/or purity it can be injected, smoked, or snorted.


The complex and sometimes dangerous process of turning raw opium into heroin requires several different chemical compounds being combined in a specific order along with several steps of boiling and filtering. The intricacy of the process causes large variations in the purity of heroin.

Smugglers and dealers further compounded the purity variation when they try to increase profits by extending their supply through cutting heroin with other substances. Those other substances range from something as harmless as powdered milk, to something as deadly as strychnine. Additionally, they may mix heroin with other drugs. For example, they may combine black tar heroin with cold medication to make a substance known as, “cheese heroin.”

Due to its highly addictive and deadly nature, buying and selling heroin carries harsh penalties in most countries.

Heroin is just one in a family of opium derivatives and synthetic compounds known as opioids. Some of the most well-known opioids are listed below.


All of these have a similar molecular shape which makes them highly effective and highly addictive.

How to Recognize Heroin Addiction

Heroin use can devastate your body, your mind, your finances, and your relationships. As users become dependent upon the drug to feel normal, it will become their primary focus. They will sacrifice everything else in their lives in pursuit of getting their next hit.

Heroin users tend to be resistant to admitting they have an addiction, but when dealing with such an addictive substance, getting hooked can happen at any time. If you suspect someone you know may be developing a heroin addiction, look for some of these early warning signs.


Health Problems Associated with Heroin Addiction

According to the most recent figures available from the National Institute of Health, 10,574 people died from heroin overdose in 2014. That’s up over 7,000 since 2009 and an increase of a whopping 463% since 2004.

These numbers show a dramatic increase in deaths from heroin overdose during the past decade. A closer look reveals that overdosing on heroin is more common for men than for women. Among those who died from a heroin overdose in 2014, men outnumber women at a rate of more than three to one.


How does heroin affect the brain?

In addition to disrupting the brain’s pain receptors and raising dopamine levels, heroin also affects neural function in the brain stem, which controls the body’s breathing and heart rate. When heroin disrupts the neurons in the brain stem, breathing and heart rate slow down. With the respiratory and circulatory systems slowed, the brain often won’t get the oxygen it needs, which leads to coma, brain damage, and death.

Heroin has a relatively low lethal dose threshold. Combine that with the huge variation in purity of the heroin sold and the drug’s propensity for causing users to increase dosage as they attempt to find the same high they got the first time they used, and you get a recipe for death by accidental overdose.

How does heroin affect the body?

Although death is certainly the most tragic result, heroin use poses other dangers to the body. It leaves you vulnerable to diseases by weakening your immune system and causes several painful and potentially harmful side effects, including the following.


People suffering from heroin addiction also put themselves at risk of contracting deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS from reckless use of needles in the throes of an insatiable need for their next fix.

As the problems of heroin use mount, some users may even try to quit. But the harsh symptoms of heroin withdrawal make quitting on your own extremely difficult. Listed below are some commonly experienced heroin withdrawal symptoms.


Medication and other treatment methods can help alleviate many of these withdrawal symptoms. If you or someone you know is attempting to quit using heroin, contact a trained recovery specialist as soon as possible.

Financial Costs of Heroin Addiction

The most recent study available on the economic cost of heroin addiction, done by The MEDSTAT Group, Inc., was published in 2001. The study researched costs associated with heroin addiction in 1996. The researchers found the total cost of heroin addiction in the United States in 1996 was approximately $21.9 billion. Adjusted for inflation, that would equate to $33.4 billion in 2016. However, heroin use has increased significantly since 1996. According to the CDC, heroin use in the United Stated grew by 63% between 2003 and 2013.


Considering the spike in heroin use, the total cost associated with heroin addiction in the United States likely exceeds $54 billion.

Another study commissioned by the Presidential Office of National Drug Control Policy estimated, in 2010, on average, a user spent $1,457 per month on heroin. That calculates to $17,484 for the year. That’s over $2,000 more than the gross wages of someone working a full-time job at minimum wage in the same year.

Social Problems Associated with Heroin Use

Heroin use can destroy relationships and contribute to social problems.

Damaged Relationship

The highly-addictive nature of heroin wreaks havoc on relationships. The more a user gets fixated on their next high, the less they focus on the people close to them.

Even if both members of a couple use heroin, it can still strain the relationship because the biological effects of the drug cause problems with sexual function in both males and females. Those problems could lead to intimacy issues, which in turn could lead to resentment and distrust.


Contrary to some original theories about the link between heroin use and crime, a 2011 study by Southern Illinois University Carbondale found the high people get from heroin does not put them in a criminally violent frame of mind. Rather, the heroin addict who is between highs and is struggling to finance his or her next fix is more likely to resort to crime. Those going through withdrawals will likely be even more desperate for a fix, and therefore more prone to take drastic risks to acquire the necessary funds.


The escalation to crime happens in steps. An addict’s dependence on heroin will eventually interfere with his or her ability to maintain employment. Then, as the need for heroin grows, the addict must find the financial means to obtain it. That need often leads the addict to sell all their possessions. Once that revenue stream is exhausted, they begin stealing money and salable goods from the people around them, including their friends and family.

In many cases, theft is not enough to finance the users habit and they resort to prostitution.

Heroin use is on the rise in America. It is part of the growing opioid epidemic. Heroin’s addictive properties make it among the most dangerous drugs in the world. It leads the user to loneliness, shame, financial destitution, and eventually death.

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