What is Heroin?
Heroin is a powerful opioid drug synthesized from morphine, which is a naturally occurring substance made from the seedpods of poppy plants. Poppy plants are commonly grown on farms in the Middle East – generally Afghanistan and Pakistan – as well as most of Northern Asia. The plant itself looks rather benign and features beautiful flowering buds that contain the seedpods the farmer’s desire. In recent years, the number of poppy farmers in these geographic areas has ballooned as the desire for the drug has increased, thus driving up the price for the farmer’s crop.
In 2011, it was estimated that 4.2-million Americans have used heroin at least once in their lifetime. The respondents in the survey were as young as 12, with the late teens and early 20-year-olds being the fastest growing demographic among heroin users. It is estimated that approximately 23-percent of all individuals that try heroin ultimately become dependent on it at some stage in their life. This makes heroin among the most addictive substance in the world, with addiction rates doubling that of cocaine, methamphetamine, and alcohol.
Heroin has a wide variety of ingestion methods. The most common of these are snorting, or smoking the powdery substance, or cooking it down to a liquid and injecting it directly into the bloodstream. Common injection sites are the veins located in the arms, hands, and feet. All three delivery methods administer the drug rapidly to the brain, which produces the overall “high” and increases the risk for addiction. After ingestion, users often feel the effects within 60-90 seconds due to the rapid delivery of the substance straight into the bloodstream.
What are the Effects of Heroin?
After ingestion, heroin is broken back down into the drug it started as – morphine. Morphine binds to molecules on the cell wall known as opioid receptors which give the user a feeling of euphoria as well as an overall body high that produces tingling sensations in the limbs as well as decreased brain function, particularly those affecting movement and speech. It’s also not uncommon for heroin users to fade in and out of consciousness while on the drug. This is known as “nodding out.”
Upon initial use, users report feeling a surge of warmth throughout their body, accompanied by euphoria, dry mouth, clouded mental functioning, arousal, and a warm tingling sensation on the skin and extremities.
The effects of heroin diminish with continued use, often leaving users chasing the initial rush felt when using the drug the first few times. This leaves users increasing the dose which can lead to a fatal overdose. In the long run, the pleasant sensations from heroin often disappear entirely, leaving users to ingest the drug just to avoid the intense physical withdrawal produced by heroin dependence.
Effects on Health & Relationships
After regular heroin use, the functioning of the brain often changes dramatically. The user may experience depression-like symptoms when not actively using the drug, and it often changes their very character and personality. This character change often leads to severe problems at home, on the job, and with friends and loved ones.
It’s not uncommon for addicts to resort to a criminal lifestyle with continued use as they look for bolder and bolder ways to obtain the drug once they have capped out their own funds. This leads to stealing from friends and strangers alike, as well as increased risky behavior such as prostitution in some cases. Addicts are often incapable of rational decisions as they know that increased periods of time without the drug produces a withdrawal effect that some describe as being as close to death as you can get without actually dying – but wanting to.
The relationships of any addicts are often strained, but drugs like heroin are often more severe due to their constant need to avoid withdrawal. This leads addicts to completely disregard family and friends in their never-ending search for their next fix, or the money in order to obtain it.
In addition, heroin use can cause additional strain on relationships through the spread of disease. It’s not uncommon for heroin users to share needles, use needles of unknown origin, or re-use needles which lead to intravenously acquired infections or diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis C, and Tuberculosis.