The opiate epidemic is in full swing. There are a great deal of heroin addicts that are trying heroin for the first time after they could no longer acquire or afford prescription painkillers such as Oxycodone or Vicodin. Unfortunately, Heroin is cheaper and much easier to acquire. Heroin addicts experience the loss of everything worthwhile in their lives. In order to put it in perspective, here is a breakdown of heroin addiction facts.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which can be extracted from poppy seeds. It comes in many forms depending on the purity. The most pure form is a white powder. It is most appealing to those who want to avoid the stigma of injecting a drug, as they will erroneously reason that they won’t become addicted. In this form, it can be smoked or snorted.
The less potent version, resembling black tar, which gets this appearance because of the impurities and poor processing methods, is habitually injected. In most cases, users must inject this form directly into veins, muscles, or under the skin. When users have reached this stage, they are almost certainly fully addicted.
What is the Appeal of Heroin?
As I alluded previously, close to 4 out of 5 users report having used prescription opioids such as oxycodone first. This makes perfect sense as it acts similar to Heroin. While researching several of the reported highs of both drugs, I found the lists closely correlated.
Feelings of euphoria, deep relaxation, or relaxation is what draws people to Heroin. Essentially, your body turns the opiate back into morphine. If you’ve ever been hooked to a morphine drip after surgery, you want to push that little button as much as possible! Because users do not need the drug, however, the affects are amplified. It isn’t being used for the intended purpose; it is used as an escape.
Users are typically hit with a rush, which wears off within minutes. This is followed by a deep feeling of satisfaction and the aforementioned euphoria. Once this begins to dissipate, the user will feel drowsy. When people are using this drug together, they describe each other as nodding off in this stage.
The sad part is these feelings come naturally through accomplishment, exercise, or other natural methods. I recommend trying bungee jumping or skydiving if you are looking for a REAL rush.
How is the Brain Affected?
Most users (soon to be addicts) do not think very far beyond the immediate gratification they receive from a snort, smoke, or injection. Although the immediate effects are euphoria, the brain is not grateful. As the drug mimics endorphins and basically reduces them in the brain, the addict may feel depressed without the drug. This only leads to more use resulting in further depression.
Additionally, our bodies can get used to anything. This means that greater amounts of the drug are required to experience the same high. Most heroin addicts I have spoken to can vividly remember their first high. They often state that no other high compares to it, and they wish they could experience it again. In slang, this is referred to chasing the high. I know people who have chased this high right into the grave.
Short Term Stupidity
Ignoring the feeling of euphoria, users immediately perform far less than optimal in their thinking and decision-making. Some addicts commit crimes while high in order to get their next fix. Obviously, this occurs in withdrawal as well. Being around recovery for years, I’ve heard some outlandish stories that landed heroin users in jail. They would tell me things that sounded so incredibly stupid, but to them, seemed like genius ideas at the time.
Long Term Effects
Eventually, nothing in the real world can compare to the effect heroin has on the user. They will forgo all other activities, ignore any advice or offers of help. Life revolves around acquiring or doing the drug. Quite frankly, nothing else is of interest to the poor soul once in the throes of addiction.
Long term use also erodes the white and gray matter in the brain. These changes may last a long time, if not forever, if the addict does not cease in time. White matter is often described as the subway of the brain. This is the part of the brain that makes connections. When these connections are damaged, a person’s ability to understand their world declines.
The gray matter of the brain refers to the areas of the brain controlling higher functioning. This is where information is processed and also controls the senses. Heroin eats this area of the brain as well, leaving behind a shell of a person.
This is not to say that these areas can’t improve once the addict stops using, but it can be a long road depending on how much and how often the sufferer abused the drug.
Why is it So Hard to Stop?
One major drawback of addiction is it becomes hard to stop due to the body’s inclination for more of the same. Drugs condition the body and mind of the addict to the point where it seems the only solution. As an alcoholic, I can say that the first few days not drinking after a sustained binge were agony. Thoughts are unclear and the addict’s body rejects what a normal body would appreciate.
I have witnessed heroin withdrawal firsthand, and it seemed multiple times worse than anything I had ever experienced. When the addict runs out of the drug, a period of prolonged agony sets in. As a result the person will do nearly anything to stop the pain. (This certainly includes less than legal means to acquire money to buy the drug.) In addition to this intense craving to temporarily end the suffering, other symptoms include:
- A feeling of being tired all the time; fatigue
- Feeling of emptiness and despair
- Fear that current depression symptoms will never abate
These paralyzing thoughts keep addicts using. Without the drug, they are utterly miserable. The body and brain is now aligned to the point where perception of life if severely skewed. Unfortunately, the person may never feel completely normal again. The only real treatment is successful detoxing from the drug (this usually requires medical supervision). Once the person is feeling somewhat normal, they can pursue a new life outside of addiction.
Unfortunately, with such a potent drug, relapse is fairly common. It is on par with Alcohol, which may be surprising to readers. Alcohol can be found within a couple miles of basically anywhere, and it is legal! You actually have to make far more decisions, calls, and drives to actually find some heroin. This means that you have more opportunities to take a step back and decide against picking up the drug.
Heroin is rarely the first drug that an addict tries. I can’t image a group of high school freshmen, who never tried a drug in their life, suddenly say, “Hey guys, you know what would be really cool? Some heroin.” Usually it is a vicious cycle; the addiction process is firmly ingrained in the addict’s mind.
Heroin damages the brain severely, so addicts may still express a deep desire for heroin even after three years clean! It actually damages the part of the brain that addicts need to control their addiction! This paradox is hard to escape.
One addict told me he’d love to do some heroin if there were no consequences. Alcoholics and addicts always have crazy ideas that they can have a little. This is never the case; I can never have just one drink, and nobody does a “little” heroin.
Can Heroin Addicts Recover?
I realize that I have painted a lopsided picture so far, but there is hope. If you know someone who is struggling with this soul crushing addiction, it is important to get them help right away. I know several former addicts that have been off the stuff for years and have seen their lives dramatically improve. They confess that the thoughts are still there, but their lives are infinitely times better than they were in active addiction. If you are suffering with addiction, there is a way out.
The first step is taking a thorough look at your current situation. Most of us think we can stop anytime, but just not yet. If your thoughts are constantly revolving around when your next fix will be, you are likely already an addict.
Obviously, the first thing to do is detox from the stuff. Having entered rehabs in the past myself, they are an excellent way to step back and compose yourself. Believe me, it doesn’t matter what else you got going on. All that stuff crumbles eventually if you remain in active addiction.
After detox, many addicts may need to take a look at possible underlying problems that contribute to their addiction. This can be in the form of undiagnosed mental disorders such as bi-polar or anxiety disorders to name a few. You’ll find that the solution to these problems is not always more drugs.
Practicing mindfulness can be enormously beneficial as well. Mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
It helps us focus on what is right in front of us, as the past and future often dominate the addicts mind. We do things that are not really aligned with our core values and feel a lot of shame as a result. Putting this behind you by working some sort of program will go along way to beating addiction.
A happy and healthy life does await the addict that embraces recovery. Surrounding yourself with loving people who share the same problem lets us know that we are not alone. In fact, most of us can’t do this alone. We may need the assistance of family, friends, medical staff, etc. If addicts truly let others help them they can get better. As addicts improve, they may find themselves in a situation to help another suffering addict!
Please leave your thoughts and comments below. I believe dialogue on these issues helps all parties.
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