As far as illicit substances go, heroin is one of the worst drugs someone can get hooked on. And there are multiple reasons why that is the case. So that everyone is on the same page, heroin is a street-level opioid made from morphine, a natural substance found in the seedpod of poppy plants. In terms of appearance, heroin is typically a white or brown powder.
But it can also be black, with a sticky, tar-like texture. Most people who use heroin dilute it in water and inject it into various parts of their bodies via a syringe. However, the drug can also be smoked or snorted. When injected, smoked, or snorted, heroin quickly reaches the brain and triggers an intense euphoric high. For many people who use heroin for the first time, that euphoric high is what opens the door to addiction.
What Heroin Does to the Brain
To appreciate what makes heroin such a dangerous and highly addictive drug, it helps to know more about what it does to the brain and, eventually, the body. According to many leading addiction experts in the U.S., heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain whenever an individual injects, smokes, or snorts it. And this causes multiple things to happen. Firstly, it alters the neural pathways of the brain. Second, it triggers an uptick in the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates mood, muscle movement, appetite, sleep patterns, memory recall, and much more.
The way heroin affects dopamine levels and neural pathways in the brain can increase the risk of addiction and, according to some studies, brain damage. One of those studies comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which revealed that long-term use of heroin significantly alters white and gray matter areas of the brain, causing it to age prematurely. The consequence of this premature aging, the study notes, is a dangerous buildup of proteins and low-level inflammation in the brain, both of which can lead to the early onset of Alzheimer’s syndrome.
What Heroin Does to the Body
What heroin does to the brain is horrible, but it can also wreak havoc on the body. When an individual takes a hit of heroin, it can trigger an array of changes in the body. The ones most commonly reported include a drop in body temperature, hypersomnia, and low libido. Along with these changes, many people experience a sense of tranquility mixed with general haziness. The longer someone abuses heroin, the more intense and varied the effects of the drug becomes. Symptoms of addiction among long-term heroin users can include the following:
- Blood clots
- Chronic pneumonia
- Chronic respiratory infections
- Collapsed or scarred veins
- Constricted pupils
- Dry mouth
- Extreme itching
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Respiratory depression
- Shortness of breath
- Skin infections
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
When some individuals abruptly quit heroin, they experience withdrawal symptoms that are either the same or worse than the ones they experienced when they were taking the drug. They sometimes experience a few new ones as well. For reference, when someone suddenly stops taking heroin, their body begins a detox process. This process entails the body ridding itself of not only heroin but also other harmful contaminants, such as fillers that dealers often use to cut the drug before selling it. This detox process, while it is a critical step in quitting heroin, can trigger the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Cold sweats
- Cramping that affects various limbs
- Feelings of heaviness
- Intense cravings
- Muscle and bone pain
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Uncontrolled coughing spells
Whether someone is trying it for the first time or is a long-term heroin user, the drug can have a devastating impact on their mind, body, and, some might argue, their spirit. Fortunately, there is no shortage of rehab facilities that can help individuals break the cycle of addiction when it comes to this powerful, highly addictive street-level opioid. To learn about medication-assisted detox and other treatment modalities that can make it easier to quit heroin, consider speaking with one of our friendly associates today at 855-334-6120.