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Heroin Addiction and Abuse - What You Should Know

It's no secret that heroin - also known as H, junk, or smack - is a highly addictive substance.

The question is, "Why?" Why is heroin so addictive? Why does it make people do what they do while they are high on the stuff? Why is it that H addicts are willing to sell their soul to get more? Why are people willing to use junk until their very last breath?

Let's explore the subject of heroin abuse and see answers we can come up with.

Heroin Addiction

Heroin Addiction and Abuse - Helpful Information About the Drug

First, before we talk about heroin addiction, let's talk about the drug itself and get educated on the substance from a chemical and societal perspective.

H is derived from the poppy plant. The poppy is primarily grown in four areas: South America, Southeast and Southwest Asia, and Mexico. It is an opiate. It is packaged and sold as a white powder, a brown powder, or black tar. Heroin is snorted, smoked, or injected with a needle. Sometimes people take smack by eating it and ingesting it through the stomach.

Heroin has been illegal in the United States since 1924 when the U.S. government banned the stuff in response to the addiction problem the country was facing in the early 1900's. Unfortunately, American drug policy still approaches the addiction problem with an attitude of criminality rather than treatment. Today, the punishment for H possession and distribution is extreme. Prisons across the U.S. are crammed full of addicts who have been incarcerated for being hooked on smack.

Experts have said the country is currently in the grips of a heroin epidemic. More and more people are using junk.

Reports indicate the use of street heroin more than doubled between 2007 and 2012. Current statistics suggest the use of H continues to rise exponentially. Addiction experts say this is largely due to the purity and availability of the heroin currently available on today's black market. The H now being sold on the streets is high quality stuff. Plus, it is more readily available than it has been in decades.

Purity + Availability of Any Drug= A Recipe for Widespread Addiction

Another reason smack has become so popular is because of the spike in prescription medication addiction to opiates like Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Morphine, and Fentanyl. People who have become addicted to prescription opiates often turn to street heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get.

H is a sedative type of drug that slows down the body's natural processes and produces an extreme feeling of relaxation. Like Morphine and other opiates, it is a pain killer. Heroin is physically addictive and causes extreme (even deadly) withdrawal symptoms that are extremely uncomfortable. Aside from the obvious feel-good sensations derived from using junk, the pain of physical withdrawal is the reason why heroin addicts continue to use heroin despite the many problems it causes.

Why H is So Addictive: The Textbook Answer

Heroin is a dangerous substance that can initiate the cycle of addiction after just one use. An addiction to H starts with that first time. That first high. That first buzz. What starts out with "just trying" can end up with dying. That is the reality of the situation. People experiment with heroin out of curiosity. They have heard about the stuff and they want to know how it will make them feel. Then, they become addicted to it. Many people die as a result of abusing H - and most of them die accidently.

Heroin addiction is a disease of the brain. It's no surprise the body can become addicted to H so easily. The brain was designed to welcome the stuff. This is because heroin is an opioid and the brain is constructed with opioid receptor sites. These receptor sites can be thought of as keyholes to locks waiting to receive the right key. Heroin is that key. H, the opioid - or "key" - fits perfectly into the brain's opioid receptor site - the "keyhole" to the lock. Once H unlocks these receptor sites, the brain experiences the feel-good sensations accompanied by the substance.

What happens after one use is that the brain signals the body to invite more heroin to these receptor sites. This induces craving, which prompts the user to want more, only it takes more to experience the same effect. This is called tolerance. It doesn't take long for the body to need heroin to function. This is called dependence. Without it, the body gets sick and experiences withdrawal. This is called misery. To avoid the painful experience of withdrawal, heroin users will use more and more of the substance. This is called the persistent cycle of addiction - more, more, more.

Why H is So Addictive: The Rest of the Story

Okay, so you've gotten the textbook answer. Now, let's consider what you might hear if you attended Heroin 101 at The School of Hard Knocks.

Why is this drug so addictive? Because it makes you feel incredibly good. There's no need to sidestep the issue and only approach H from a clinical perspective - although there is value in understanding heroin addiction as a brain disease. Junk makes people feel absolutely awesome. It's a fantastic feeling. Wonderful. Stupendous. Unparalleled. H takes away every care in the world. It kills pain. It numbs worry, anxiety, fear, and every negative feeling that accompanies the human experience. It feels incredible, people. That is the reality of smack. That is why people fall in love with the stuff. That is why users exalt it as their Higher Power. THAT is why people die from heroin addiction.

Signs You May Be Abusing Junk if You're the User

If you're using heroin ever…at all….for any reason….. even just a little bit…..you are putting yourself at risk for becoming a full-blown addict. Heroin is tricky. It creeps up. It happens slowly and then suddenly. What starts out as innocent experimentation and recreational use quickly becomes physical dependence.

You may "only" be using junk once a month and telling yourself you do it to unwind and have a little fun. Using once a month isn't a problem, you tell yourself. You have a job, you take care of your responsibilities, and you don't spend that much money on the stuff. Or, maybe you just use it on the weekends and you've convinced yourself it's okay to indulge as long as you keep yourself in check and take care of your business.

Think again.

Addiction is a liar, liar, pants on fire. Your mind will convince you of the most ridiculous nonsense in order to justify your drug use so you can keep on using. This is how addiction works. The brain and the body want the drug because it makes you feel good. The brain and the body want more of that feel-good. As a result, your mind will trick you into all sorts of scenarios to use more H. You might think you have everything under control and your life could be falling apart.

Want to know if you are abusing heroin? Here are 5 signs you might be:

  • You use heroin. That's a telltale sign that you might have a problem. This drug is nothing to play around with. It's serious business. Even if you're just using occasionally, you could be on your way to full-blown addiction.
  • You spend a lot of time thinking about heroin.
  • You get sick if you don't use the stuff.
  • You have stopped engaging activities you once enjoyed so you can use it.
  • You use H even when you told yourself you weren't going to.

Signs of Heroin Abuse in Someone You Care About

Although you might think so, heroin use is not always easy to spot. It is important to get the stereotypical junkie image out of your mind. Not everyone who uses this drug injects the stuff with a needle and lives on the street. Not all H addicts are covered head to toe in filth with open sores all over their bodies. Every single person addicted to smack does not have sex to support their habit. If you keep thinking this is what a heroin addict "looks like," you could easily overlook one when they are staring you in the face.

If you think someone you care about is abusing H, there are some signs that can help you recognize a user. Once you know what to look for, you can spot a heroin abuser a mile away. When someone is under the influence of the drug, there are telltale signs.

Here's what to look for:

  • Glassy eyes and dilated pupils
  • Eyes that blink longer than normal…..it's a slow, droopy-eyed kind of blink
  • Slowed and/or slurred speech and/or incoherent speech
  • Nodding - it looks like the person is falling asleep and then quickly catching themselves
  • A disregard for personal hygiene
  • Constant financial difficulties
  • Missing time - they disappear for hours or days at a time with no accountability for their whereabouts
  • They go on sleeping binges and sleep for 12 or more hours at a time
  • They lose their balance and fall often
  • They have difficulties at work, which may result in a job loss
  • They have begun to hang around a different crowd

If you know something seems "off," and you instinctively know there has been a change in the person you care about, take notice. Don't trust what they are telling you. Addiction and lying go hand in hand. If you believe you are dealing with heroin addiction, you probably are. The good news is that help is available.

Getting Help for an Addiction to Smack

Many people are able to abuse heroin and still maintain some semblance of a life - at least for awhile. Many addicts work high-powered jobs, raise families, participate in social events, and remain active members of their communities long before their addiction takes over. For others, however; the progression from recreational use to full-blown, devastating addiction is a rapid progression. In either case, if heroin addiction doesn't end in death - and it often does - it almost always end in the painful realization of rock bottom.

The thing is - it doesn't have to. Rock bottom is not a requirement for recovery. If you or someone you care about is abusing H, the situation can be arrested before dire circumstances arise. The trick is knowing how to handle the situation so you can help yourself, your friend, or family member before the situation gets out of control - if it isn't already.

An addiction to junk almost always requires a detox program.

This is because stopping the use of heroin is most effective when it is accompanied by a medically supervised detox program. This happens at a rehabilitation facility. Many people avoid getting treatment for addiction because they are put off by the idea of checking themselves into a rehab. For now, don't focus on how long of a stay may be required for treatment. Focus on getting yourself or your loved the help that is so desperately needed. It's time to kick H to the curb.

Do some homework and learn more about getting treatment for heroin addiction.

Learn More About Heroin Addiction - A Few Resources

These resources offer a quick reality check about addiction to H:


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