Heroin is a highly addictive drug that is processed from morphine, which comes from the seedpod of the opium Asian poppy plant. It is a depressant that inhibits the central nervous system. In its purest form is usually a white powder. Heroin can be injected in a user’s veins, smoked or snorted. Heroin will begin to affect the body’s central nervous system almost immediately after it is used.
Shortly after using, a feeling of euphoria will come over users, in which they have a warm flushing of the skin, a dry mouth and the feeling of having “heavy” arms and legs. After the initial rush, users will go into an alternately wakeful and drowsy state sometimes called “on the nod.”
Addiction is the primary long-term effect of heroin abuse. The longer you use heroin, the stronger the addiction becomes. All heroin users, even those who only snort or smoke the drug can become addicted with repeated use. A true addict has one purpose in life-to acquire more of the drug. Other responsibilities, such as work and family, fall by the wayside.
With regular heroin use, tolerance develops. This means the abuser must use more heroin to achieve the same intensity or effect. As higher doses are used over time, physical dependence and addiction develop. With physical dependence, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms may occur if use is reduced or stopped.
Withdrawal, which in regular abusers may occur as early as a few hours after the last administration, produces drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold sweats with goose bumps (“cold turkey”), kicking movements (“kicking the habit”), and other symptoms. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week. The most serious health effect of heroin use is the possibility of death due to accidental overdose.
Heroin can cause feelings of depression, which may last for weeks. Attempts to stop using heroin can fail simply because the withdrawal can be overwhelming, causing the addict to use more heroin in an attempt to overcome these symptoms. This overpowering addiction can cause the addict to do anything to get heroin.
Behavioral signs of heroin abuse and addiction include:
- Lying or other deceptive behavior.
- Avoiding eye contact, or distant field of vision.
- Substantial increases in time spent sleeping.
- Increase in slurred, garbled or incoherent speech.
- Sudden worsening of performance in school or work, including expulsion or loss of jobs.
- Decreasing attention to hygiene and physical appearance.
- Loss of motivation and apathy toward future goals.
- Withdrawal from friends and family, instead spending time with new friends with no natural tie.
- Lack of interest in hobbies and favorite activities.
- Repeatedly stealing or borrowing money from loved ones, or unexplained absence of valuables.
- Hostile behaviors toward loved ones, including blaming them for withdrawal or broken commitments.
- Regular comments indicating a decline in self esteem or worsening body image.
- Wearing long pants or long sleeves to hide needle marks, even in very warm weather.