What is the Process of Heroin Addiction?

Happy Beginnings…

Start of heroin addiction is usually a means to an end, but the beginning of a potentially life threatening relationship. Heroin users are not usually first-time experimenters, meaning it is rare that someone’s first experience with getting high on drugs starts with heroin. Instead, heroin is a trickle down effect from trying other drugs. For most, heroin becomes an option when money has run out for other more expensive drugs. Right now, the world is facing an opioid epidemic where thousands of people are overdosing on heroin as a result of prescription opiate addiction. Out of desperation, curiosity, or peer-pressure, a person takes their first hit of heroin, either by intravenous administration or inhalation by smoking.

What is the Process of Heroin Addiction?

In the Meantime…

Heroin is an opioid drug. The brain produces opioid chemicals naturally. When the body experiences extreme pain, opioids act as a pain inhibitor, thus why opiate prescription drugs are used to treat pain. By reducing the heart rate, opioids create sensations of warmth and calm, helping muscles to relax. Heroin produces this effect at a more intense level. Not only does heroin slow the heart rate and act as an analgesic toward pain, it encourages the production of dopamine, which stimulates pleasure. Increasing pleasure while reducing pain creates an enjoyable high for many. However, it doesn’t last long. Heroin users average just three uses before a tolerance and dependency begin to develop. The climax in a heroin addict’s story, is unfortunately right at the start. It is, proverbially, all downhill from there.

 

Unhappy Endings…

Addiction is a disease of neurobiological dependency. The brain becomes dependent on a substance after a threshold of tolerance has been set, then exceeded. Wanting more of those euphoric pleasurable sensations, the brain quickly becomes bored. Needing more heroin to achieve the same or a greater effect than the last dose, the brain creates signals in the form of cravings. Each time these demands are met, the tolerance threshold gets higher. Soon, a heroin user is taking in large quantities of heroin, but not receiving the same euphoric effect.

As more heroin is used, the more the brain needs. Eventually the brain becomes dependent on the presence of heroin. Heroin has become a critical component in what the brain views as survival. Symptoms of withdrawal start occurring at this point as the brain’s way of telling the body it needs more heroin or it will die. Unfortunately, the brain is oblivious to the sad fact that it is more heroin that will cause death, not the other way around. Using heroin is no longer enjoyable, and is instead a means of staving off withdrawal. This is the cycle of addiction.

 

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