Submitted Date 11/19/2018

The Truth About Heroin Addiction

One single dose of heroin can begin the road to addiction. A road that only goes one way. Down.  Heroin has a new face today, different than the listless, homeless look from years ago. Today heroin addiction looks like the 14-year-old boy playing video games, or the 16-year-old girl hanging out listening to trending music.  Neither will have the once common indicators of heroin abuse, such as the marks of needles in their arms. Today’s heroin is more affordable and is available in easy to consume forms which make it very tempting to “just try” once.  Heroin is no longer just a needle in the arm drug. It can be smoked or snorted but regardless of its form, it is just as dangerous and just as addictive.

The Beginning

A 2013 study surveyed teens to discover why they started using drugs. 55% of them stated it was because of pressure from friends. Like most teenagers, they wanted to be popular and cool and were afraid of being made fun of.  This is common knowledge to drug dealers and they hone in on this weakness to sell their drug. Profit over people.

Teenagers are not the only victims. The man who checks you out at the grocery store or woman who cuts your hair may both be victims. The homeless, the rich, the successful entrepreneur could all get their fix before they ever get out of bed in the morning.  For some, the drug is the solution to their pain or the answer to their problem. However, at some point, the problem becomes the drug itself and how to get more of it.

Some of the other reasons young people start using drugs include:  

To experiment​​​​​​​

To rebel

To relax

To relieve boredom

To seem grown up

Heroin addiction is a chronic disease and the changes that occur in the brain lead to uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior. Even though the negative consequences outweigh the continued use of the drug, the strong feeling of pleasure and sense of well-being felt by the user leaves him/her wanting more. More of the drug leads to tolerance followed by addiction.

Tolerance and Addiction

When heroin enters the brain, it quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier. It is converted back into morphine where it binds to opioid receptors that are located throughout the brain and the body. Opioid receptors are involved in our perception of pain and reward. Thus, when using heroin the user experiences an increase in pleasurable feelings and a decrease in both emotional and physical pain.

Chronic use of heroin will at some point change the functioning and the structure of the brain which leads to tolerance and dependence. Tolerance is simply when a person’s response to a drug is diminished. As their body adapts to the drug, they no longer feel the same effects with the same dosage. Dependence happens when the body needs the drug in order to not go into withdrawal. Drug dependence is both psychological and psychical.

Psychological Dependence: This occurs when a person believes, undoubtedly that they cannot function in life without heroin.

Physical Dependence: This occurs when a person has developed the need to use the drug continuously in order to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin withdrawal is ugly and painful and is one of the main reasons even the most well-intentioned user will find themselves going back for more.

Psychologically some addicts have described heroin withdrawal as being in a “state of constant depression-one. A darkness that will never lift”.  It is a black hole with no light at the end and the air is so thin it is difficult to breathe. The addict feels as though the permanent state of life will be to live in blackness unless they go back for more.

The physical symptoms of withdrawal are no less painful. These symptoms include:

Loss of appetite

Cold sweats

Muscle cramping

Nausea and vomiting



A person in withdrawal from heroin may feel like he/she has an extremely bad case of the flu. Because of this the term “super flu” is often used to describe this stage of withdrawal.  Heroin withdrawal can also be life-threatening. A specialist in addiction and withdrawal should be utilized when treating a person who is withdrawing from heroin.

The effects of withdrawal will begin approximately 12 hours after the last heroin dose. The symptoms will peak between 1-3 days later and then will gradually dissipate between days 5 and 7.  If the heroin abuse was extreme, either by volume consumed or by the duration of abuse, it could take weeks, sometimes months for the effects of withdrawal to completely subside.

What Are the Signs of Heroin Abuse?

There are several signs that indicate the use of heroin both during and after consumption:

Dry Mouth

Shortness of Breath

Sudden behavior changes or a change in actions


Constricted pupils

Cycles of being very alert followed by suddenly nodding off

Droopy appearance, as if arms and legs were very heavy

The above are signs of abuse that are not unique to heroin. They are things to watch for that will indicate a problem with drugs. More specific signs that point to heroin abuse include the paraphernalia used to inject or prepare heroin such as the following:

Needles or syringes not used for medical purposes

Burned silver spoons

Missing shoelaces

Small plastic bags with a powdery residue

Aluminum foil or gum wrappers with burn marks

Straws with burn marks

Water pipes or other types of pipe

Chronic heroin abuse and heroin dependence are deadly and have side effects which can result in death. Heart problems, blood clots or tissue death from collapsed veins and liver disease are just a couple of problems that can surface with the chronic use of heroin.

Treating the Disease

Heroin addiction is considered a medical disease. To be treated properly a chemical dependency specialist who is experienced in opiate detoxification and withdrawal is required. It is important that heroin detoxification not be tried at home or without supervision from a licensed medical doctor.

Attempts to abruptly curtail long-term heroin abuse is dangerous and can cause serious medical complications sometimes resulting in death.

The best and most effective way to treat substance abuse is to consider all relevant information about the individual, and then customize a treatment program. Family involvement is often essential for both full recovery and long-lasting sobriety.

A knowledgeable rehabilitation center that focuses on both physical and psychological causes of addiction, as well as any coexisting psychiatric and medical problems,  can be the key to a successful recovery.

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  • Tanya Marion 1 year, 8 months ago

    Interesting read. Thanks for sharing, Lyn!

  • Lyn Geist 1 year, 8 months ago

    You are most welcome!! Thanks for letting me know you liked it.