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Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction has become a serious health concern right across America. The number of people struggling with heroin addiction continues to increase at alarming rates each year.

It's believed that a strong link exists between the increase in the number of people abusing prescription opioid painkiller medications and the sharp rise in heroin addiction. As the number of people struggling with heroin addiction increases, statistics also show the number of deaths caused by overdose on heroin and other opioid drugs is also increasing.

What is Heroin?

Heroin was originally synthesized from the morphine molecule in 1874 and was used as a prescription painkiller medication and cough suppressant until 1924 when it was classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. It is now illegal to sell, manufacture or import heroin. It's also illegal to use it in any non-medical way.

Heroin acts as a central nervous system depressant that acts directly on the brain's opioid receptors. Abusing heroin over a period of time can cause the brain's chemistry to undergo significant changes.

As the body adapts to the presence of the drug, the user needs to take higher doses to achieve the same effects. Eventually, the brain adapts to the point where is it no longer able to produce dopamine naturally unless the user continues to use heroin. The result is a self-destructive cycle of addictive heroin use.

Heroin Abuse and Addiction Rates

According to statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) heroin use across America rose by an estimated 90% in the years from 2002 to 2013.  

The CDC also reported (http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html) that the number of drug overdose deaths related to heroin and prescription opioid painkiller medications had quadrupled in the years from 2000 to 2014.  

Health Effects of Heroin Abuse

The long term health effects of heroin use can be quite significant. Heroin causes changes to the physical structure of the brain that can create imbalances within the neurons and hormones. The result can affect cognitive ability, produce behavioral changes, and result in physical dependence on the drug.

Long-term heroin users may also develop tolerance to the drug, in which larger doses are required in order to achieve the same effects.

There is also a major risk of not knowing exactly what substance is being used. Drug dealers may 'cut' the powder with a range of other substances, reducing its purity.

Common materials that may be used to cut heroin include flour, talcum powder, powdered milk, sugar, caffeine, or quinine.  Other chemicals that may be mixed with street heroin include codeine, thebaine, or morphine.  

As the user never really has any idea what's in the substance being used, there is always a risk of toxic or dangerous side effects.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

A user who has developed a dependency on heroin may experience withdrawal symptoms when usage stops. Common symptoms include:

 
  • Intense cravings to take more heroin
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive yawning
  • Severe abdominal cramping
  • Bone and muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Profuse sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

There are a range of effective treatments for heroin addiction, including prescription treatment medications and cognitive behavioral therapies. People being treated for opioid addiction may often be prescribed with treatment medications such as methadone or Suboxone to help reduce the severity of any withdrawal symptoms that may emerge.

Treatment medications are designed to replace the drug of addiction, and are then administered at tapering doses so the recovering person is eventually weaned off both drugs.

It's common for some heroin addicts to believe that making it through the detox phase of treatment will mean they've cured their addiction. Detox helps to break the body's physical dependency on the drug, but it doesn't address the underlying psychological triggers behind the compulsive drug use.

Behavioral therapies work to address the psychological triggers that lead to self-destructive behavior and replace them with healthy habits and coping skills for living life without drugs.

Therapy also works to teach recovering people to identify their own addiction triggers, before creating a relapse plan to help the person avoid returning to a pattern of addictive drug use.