Effects of Heroin Use

Written by Chloe Nicosia

The immediate effects of heroin use include feelings of euphoria and respiratory depression. But the long-term effects can be devastating.

Heroin is a powerful opioid that’s listed on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs are those that have a high risk of abuse and addiction but which have no medical value. The immediate effects of heroin are what make this drug desirable to the nearly one million Americans who use it every year, but the long-term effects of heroin are devastating for those who become addicted.

The Effects of Heroin

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 948,000 Americans used heroin in the past year in 2016, and 170,000 people started using heroin that year. This is a considerable increase from the 90,000 people who started using heroin in 2006.

So what brings people to experiment with heroin? The answer is the euphoric effects of heroin, which are extremely intense. Heroin produces a massive rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for feelings of pleasure. But the euphoria is accompanied by other effects of heroin, which include marked drowsiness, clouded mental function, and slowed heart and respiratory rates. The effects of heroin when it’s used heavily include an increased overdose risk and a high risk of addiction and dependence.

Heroin Addiction and Dependence

Addiction and dependence are not the same thing, although these terms are often used interchangeably.

Heroin Addiction 

Heroin addiction is characterized by being unable to stop using heroin even though it’s causing serious problems in your life. People who are addicted to heroin use it compulsively, and this is due to powerful changes in brain function that lead to intense cravings for heroin and change the way you think and behave. The National Institute on Drug Abuse stresses that once an addiction develops, willpower and good intentions are rarely enough to end the addiction. Heroin addiction treatment is almost always needed.

Heroin Dependence

Dependence is characterized by tolerance and withdrawal symptoms that set in when you stop using heroin. Dependence is also the result of changes in brain function. When you use heroin, the brain attempts to compensate by altering its neurotransmitter function. This leads to tolerance, which means that you need increasingly larger doses of heroin to get the desired effects. At some point, brain function may shift so that your brain is more comfortable when heroin is in your system than when it’s not. When you stop using after developing dependence, heroin withdrawal symptoms set in as normal neurotransmitter function rebounds.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Heroin addiction treatment begins with medical detox or medication-assisted treatment, which addresses the dependence on heroin. During medical detox, heroin is withheld so that all traces can leave the body and brain function can begin to return to normal. Medical detox is supervised by medical and mental health professionals who administer medications as needed to alleviate the intensity of heroin withdrawal symptoms, which include nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, body aches, and chills. Intense cravings will also occur during withdrawal, and these can last for weeks, months, or even longer.

Medication-assisted treatment is the new gold standard for treating opioid dependence, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Medication-assisted treatment involves taking a less psychoactive opioid medication that prevents withdrawal altogether and helps to restore normal brain function. Since medication-assisted treatment relieves cravings and some of the cognitive effects of heroin dependence, it enables people in recovery to focus on treatment to address the addiction, which is far more complex.

During addiction treatment, a variety of therapies help individuals identify and change dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns; develop healthy coping skills for stress and other triggers; address underlying causes of the heroin abuse, such as chronic stress, mental illness, or a history of trauma; and learn to have fun and relax without heroin.

Finding a high quality heroin addiction treatment program that takes a holistic approach to treatment is essential for the best chances of successful recovery. Better Addiction Care can help you find a program that provides excellent care and a range of services to meet your specific needs, issues, and challenges. Treatment works, and it can work for you.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.

Sources:

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-heroin-use

https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment#medications-used-in-mat