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Heroin usage is becoming exceedingly common in the U.S., to the point where it has reached epidemic proportions. Those who are addicted to heroin do not fully realize the dangers of the drug they are using or the extent of the risks that they are taking. As a result, the need for heroin addicts to seek out treatment is becoming increasingly important and necessary. If you or your loved one are dealing with heroin addiction, contact us immediately and get the help that is needed.
What is Heroin?
An opioid, heroin has highly addictive properties and lacks any legitimate uses in today’s society. All heroin production and sales are conducted illegally, with much of the drug being smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico and South America, amongst other locations. It actually comes from a natural source, as heroin and other opioids are derived from the seeds of varieties of the poppy plant. Technically, heroin can be produced from anywhere that has the needed poppy variety.
Historically, heroin was created as an alternative to morphine, called diamorphine, and was intended to be less addictive. In truth, it’s almost twice as potent and addictive as morphine; this did not stop it from being sold commercially as a cough suppressant in the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Any attempts at regulating heroin were not made until WWI, and it was deemed illegal in 1924.
Appearance-wise, heroin is usually in a powdered form that is either white or brownish in color. There is also black tar heroin, which is dark and sticky (think molasses), or hard like a chunk of coal. A user may alter the appearance of heroin by turning it into a syrup for injection, but it isn’t usually sold as such. Regardless of its form, heroin can be called by other names like dope, smack, big H, and thunder.
Effects on the User
Heroin is commonly taken orally, by smoking, snorting, or by injection (a.k.a. “shooting up”). The effects that set in and their intensity can vary by the method used. Often, users will experience an intense sense of euphoria—called a rush—that is often followed by a wakeful and relaxed state once the drug enters the brain. This is the primary psychological effect heroin has in addition to dependence, but anxiety and confusion have also been known to occur with prolonged use.
Physically, users tend to feel drowsy and warm with flushed skin. Heart rate and respiratory function slow down, leading to low blood pressure and shallow breathing. Their extremities—arms and legs—may feel heavy or sluggish; this may make the user feel tired or fatigued, and might even fall asleep. Additional symptoms include constricted pupils, dry mouth, nausea and vomiting, itchy skin, and heartburn.
Heroin is often cut, or mixed, with other substances. This can include other drugs, both legal and illegal, but also household substances like sugar. There may be other effects not listed here from any added substances, which will not be easily identifiable to the user. They could also be exposed to infections and disease from their usage, such as from injecting heroin.
With prolonged use, there are often long-term effects that a user will experience. These effects could reverse themselves or otherwise heal once the person stops using heroin, but there could be residual damage that remains for several years or the rest of their life. Effects such as insomnia, stomach cramping, and constipation are common with heroin and other opiates. Infections, such as at injection sites, in nasal passages (from snorting), and in the lining of the heart may also occur. Damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs (from smoking), and heart, which may lead to other long-term issues.
Gender-specific damage can happen as well. Men typically experience sexual dysfunction problems like inability to produce or maintain an erection, premature ejaculation, and low sperm counts. For women, irregularities in menstrual cycles and symptoms associated with menstruation are common, and their periods may stop altogether.
Again, there may be additional long-term effects that are produced from substances that were added to the heroin. Without knowing what exactly was mixed in, and in what quantity, it may be difficult to determine what additional effects there could be in the long-term.
Due to the potency of heroin and the high potential for it to be cut with other dangerous substances, overdoses are not uncommon. An overdose can happen instantaneously upon the use of the drug, and it can be fatal. Common symptoms of an overdose include blue skin, lips, and fingernails, shallow breathing, cold and clammy skin, and an increase in the intensity of the above-listed effects. The person may also convulse or have a seizure, become comatose, or even die.
Instances of overdose require immediate medical attention, so calling 911 or otherwise getting help for the user is important. First responders can administer medications such as Narcan to reverse the effects, but only if it is given quickly. The user may still have severe damage from the overdose and their usage, even if when an overdose is treated in time.
Drug addiction tears both families and individuals apart in many ways. Let Lionheart Recovery help you get your life put back together. Call us today.
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