One of the most addictive drugs on the market is surprisingly misunderstood. Heroin use often begins innocently, without any intention of continued use. Or users turn to it out of desperation when less potent drugs like alcohol and marijuana don’t seem to have the same effect any more. Regardless of how it begins, the road of heroin addiction is a long and devastating one.
Heroin’s Effect on the Central Nervous System
Heroin is a synthetic opioid, meaning it is made to mimic the properties and chemical make-up of opium. It can be injected, snorted or smoked, and almost immediately after it is used, it begins to affect the body’s central nervous system.
Heroin, like all narcotics, have a sedative effect on the central nervous system. It produces a euphoria that includes a warm flush, dry mouth, and a feeling of heaviness in the arms and the legs. Shortly thereafter, users become wakeful and then drowsy, a state sometimes referred to as “on the nod”.
Because of the drug’s depressant effect on the central nervous system, it produces cloudy mental function and slowed breathing, sometimes to the point of respiratory failure.
Because heroin is an illicit drug, it is unfortunately common to overdose. The drug is typically sold as a white powder that is typically mixed with other substances before reaching the user. Heroin changes many hands before reaching the customer, and it is common practice along the way to cut it with less expensive substances like sugar, starch, quinine and other poisons. This may increase the profit for dealers, but it can have deadly consequences for addicts as they often don’t know what strength the drug actually is when it is consumed.
The most popular way to consume heroin is through injection. The desperation of addiction often leads to unsterile techniques such as sharing needles. Not only does this lead to STD’s like HIV and Hepatitis, it can produce infection of the heart lining and valves; liver disease, even from sharing snorting straws; kidney disease; and skin infections and abscesses.
Opioids are some of the most addictive drugs on the market, and heroin is not a watered-down version. Addiction leads to devastating consequences as the user is driven to do unthinkable things to acquire more drugs. Users will sell everything they own just to obtain their next high. Broken families, bankruptcy and shattered friendships are only a few of the side effects of heroin addiction–not to mention the user’s loss of pride and integrity.
Signs of Heroin Abuse
If you suspect that a loved one may have a heroin addiction, watch for the following signs of abuse:
- Shortness of breath
- Pinpoint pupils
- Dry mouth
- A sudden, sharp change in behavior
- Appearing to have droopy, heavy limbs
- Alternative periods of extreme activity and suddenly nodding off
- Lying and stealing from loved ones
- Avoiding eye contact
- The need for greater periods of sleep
- Withdrawal from society, such as refusing to spend time with friends or neglecting hobbies and interests that used to take up most of his time
- A generally unkempt appearance, or neglect of personal hygiene
- Comments indicating lack of self-esteem
- Wearing long sleeves or pants in hot weather (to hide needle marks)
- Cuts, bruises and scars on the arms and legs
- Drug paraphernalia left around, such as needles or syringes; burned silver spoons; aluminum foil with burn marks; and items used to tie off the arm, such as shoelaces, belts and ties.
If you believe that your loved one is suffering from heroin addiction, do not hesitate to confront him about it. Get help from an interventionist if you need it. Remember that you could be saving his life.