If you have a loved one who is using heroin, you’re not alone. In 2006, 90,000 people tried heroin for the first time, the National Survey on Drug Use & Health Found. By 2016, that number was nearly double. Worse, so many of the people who try heroin are getting hooked–with often fatal results.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2019, 70,630 Americans died of drug overdose including illicit drugs and prescription drugs; 49,860 of the Americans died of opioid overdoses, and 14,019 Americans died of heroin overdose in particular.
By now, everyone knows that using heroin is dangerous. So, why do people ever start? And what can you do if someone you know is addicted to heroin?
Heroin Addiction: How It Starts
Most addiction stems from deeply buried trauma or health issues. People who try to eradicate their pain by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol often find themselves addicted because of how drugs and alcohol can change a user’s brain chemistry. Eventually, obtaining a drink or a drug feels like a life-or-death scenario.
This is even more dangerous for people who become accustomed to taking narcotics and opioids, or prescription drugs made from the seed of the poppy plant. Even if a narcotic is prescribed, it still has the potential to trigger addiction in the brain. When that drug is no longer available because a prescription runs out or becomes too expensive, such users often turn to a cheaper and more readily accessible alternative: heroin.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 80 percent of the people addicted to heroin first misused prescription opioids.
Heroin Addiction & the Brain
Opioids including heroin work by binding with receptors on nerve cells in the brain. The process stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and the result is a pleasurable, pain-relieving effect.
Meanwhile, however, the rest of the brain pretty much shuts down. Brain studies have found a significant decrease in activity across the brain when people are under the effects of heroin. Normal brain functions like decision-making, impulse control, and reasoning are drastically impacted.
Worst of all, the body quickly adapts to heroin use. Our bodies are always seeking balance and stasis, so over time users need more and more of the drug to disrupt that chemistry and reach the feeling of the first high. The brain’s chemistry changes and the body’s does as a result. Over time, the individual becomes dependent on the presence of heroin in their bloodstream to function. Removing it, as when someone stops drug use, results in the painful symptoms of withdrawal.
Signs of Heroin Addiction
If you are worried that a loved one is struggling from heroin abuse, it’s likely that there already have been signs that something is wrong. Heroin use often causes weight loss, “nodding out,” or falling asleep without notice, sweaty skin, gray pallor, slow breathing, and slow movements. You can see the effects of heroin on a user’s life as well: jobs, relationships, and hobbies are all affected negatively by heroin use.
If you see needles, burnt spoons, tinfoil, or cotton balls around a loved one’s room, you should know that these all can be used to inject or smoke heroin.
Heroin Addiction Withdrawal
If your loved one is ready to stop using heroin, be prepared for the worst. Withdrawal symptoms normally descend between 24-48 hours after the individual’s last dose of heroin–and they’re rough. Those detoxing from heroin can expect diarrhea, vomiting, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, and general restlessness and discomfort. In some cases, it can be a dangerous process that is best supported by professionals.
Help for Heroin Addiction
Heroin can be a difficult drug to quit on your own. People struggling with heroin addiction deserve a sanctuary for healing and the support they need to totally refresh their lives and find recovery.
If you’re not sure how to approach a loved one about getting help, click here for more information. It is better to have difficult conversations than it is to experience the horrific effects of addiction or overdose.
Call our team at 866-654-3700 to learn more about heroin addiction and how you can help a loved one get better.