Contrary to what many believe, heroin addiction is not something that happens in an instant or overnight. Oftentimes, a person’s opioid dependence is the result of consistent heroin abuse over prolonged periods of time. To understand heroin addiction and how it develops, one must first understand what heroin is, how it affects a person, and the different stages heroin abuse moves through as it leads to full-blown heroin addiction.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is one of many depressant drugs made from opium. As a depressant, heroin slows bodily interactions and reactions, creating a calming effect in a user. However, the opium in heroin also provides significant pain relief by interrupting signals sent between the brain and body.
Typically, heroin takes the form of an off-white powder. This powder can be consumed in a variety of ways. It can be smoked or snorted, but most often, it is injected.
What is a Heroin Addiction?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as a disorder that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and continued use of a substance despite the consequences to one’s health and general well-being. Addiction to a substance, like heroin, essentially becomes the primary drive and concern in a person’s life. Seeking and abusing heroin comes before all other concerns.
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Consequences of a Heroin Addiction
Heroin abuse and addiction can lead to several serious side effects. By putting heroin consumption at the center of their life, a person with a heroin addiction can encounter adverse consequences on their social life, finances, occupation, education, and more.
However, some of the most damaging effects of a heroin addiction occur within a person’s body. Heroin addiction can lead to several negative health effects, including:
- Collapsed veins
- Infections in the heart
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Antisocial personality disorder
The Stages of Developing Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction is a disorder that will develop in a person, particularly in their brain, over time. As it develops in a person, there are several stages that lead to addiction. These stages include:
Although heroin addiction does not develop the first time a person ingests heroin, it is still the starting point in developing a heroin addiction. This phase is known as experimentation. It is defined by a person becoming curious about heroin use, potentially learning about it through friends, and ultimately deciding to experiment and try the substance. While trying heroin does not necessarily turn a person into a heroin addict, it is usually the start of a pattern, moving a person from the experimentation phase to occasional heroin use and so on.
Occasional Heroin Abuse
After experimenting with heroin and finding it pleasurable, an individual then enters the next phase: occasional heroin abuse. In this stage, a person will begin to use heroin on occasion, possibly in social settings with others who abuse heroin or as a way of coping with a bad day. This stage may seem harmless, but it can still result in a number of negative effects. Heroin is an illegal substance and engaging in occasional use can result in problems with one’s health, law enforcement, or even one’s job. Worst of all, occasional heroin abuse can quickly develop into regular heroin abuse.
Regular Heroin Abuse
Though heroin abuse may begin as an occasional occurrence in certain social settings or otherwise, it is easy for it to develop into regular heroin abuse. This third phase occurs when a person consumes heroin more often than they do not. For example, if a person consumes heroin 4 or more days per week, their use is no longer occasional; it is a regular occurrence.
Regular heroin abuse is especially problematic because it increases the potential for negative effects to occur on a person’s health and well-being. A person is more likely to get caught abusing the drug and face serious consequences such as the loss of a job, friends, or even a partner. They are also more likely to face legal consequences.
However, the most significant effect in this stage is on a person’s health. Heroin abuse in general can result in several health problems and complications. By consuming the substance regularly, a person is more likely to develop and suffer from the negative health effects of heroin abuse.
Heroin is an addictive substance. The pain relief and euphoria heroin provides makes it appealing for first-time users to try and continue using. However, as a person continues to ingest heroin, the structure of certain areas of their brain changes, creating opioid dependence and making them more likely to engage in addictive behaviors.
When a person ingests heroin, the brain releases certain chemicals, such as dopamine, that give a person feelings of pleasure and happiness. Yet, when the brain releases dopamine due to heroin use, it causes an over-release. In doing so, it essentially breaks the brain’s reward system by making it harder for the brain to reward positive actions and behaviors with dopamine.
When a person is addicted to heroin, they consume it as much as possible. This often means ingesting the substance multiple times a day or week. In this stage, heroin and the consumption of heroin is the primary driving factor in a person’s life. While this stage is the most dangerous and almost always has the most consequences on a person’s health and well-being, it does not have to be the last.
The best way to overcome a heroin addiction is to enter the last stage: recovery. Although it can be difficult, recovery from an addiction of any kind is possible through professional addiction treatment at a rehabilitation facility. By utilizing both physical and mental treatments and therapies, a person can become sober and learn to live without substances like heroin.
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