Since 2017, the use of the potent and highly addictive opiate, heroin addiction throughout the United States has continued to reach epidemic proportions, and the problem does not seem to be disappearing anytime soon. Not only are people using heroin more than ever before, but, the rate at which they are becoming addicted, demonstrates that the drug is more dangerous than any time in the past.
Addictions to anything including drugs are rarely instantaneous, as people who abuse drugs must do so for a long period of time to develop changes in the brain that are associated with addictive behaviors and compulsive use. Although, with a drug such as heroin, with just one use, that is enough for a user to become hooked and develop an immediate addiction, and at a staggering speed.
While people are aware of drug abuse problems in the United States, some may not truly understand that heroin is a major contributor. So, why is heroin so abused and addictive?
With the help of this article and our multidisciplinary team at Ken Seeley Rehab in Palm Springs, CA, we believe that through our resources and addiction treatment, we can help you or a loved one fully recover from heroin addiction.
What is Heroin?
First manufactured in 1898 by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, heroin was originally on the market to be used as a treatment for tuberculosis, and surprisingly, to help those with addictions to morphine.
Heroin is a highly addictive illicit drug, known as an opioid. The drug is derived from morphine, a common pain reliever that is found in the Asian poppy plant. It is removed from the plant as a sticky/gooey sap-like substance, further refined to make different forms of heroin. Morphine is also another addictive drug that puts people at high risk for drug dependence and addiction.
Heroin comes in a white, brown, or black powder after it is fully processed. True and pure heroin is the common white powder we see today. Most heroin is injected, but it can also be smoked and snorted. The methods to which the drug is used increases a person’s addiction risk tenfold.
This drug is one of the most potent, and can quickly result in severe dependency and addiction, and worse, overdose and death, which are a commonality in users because of the underestimation of the heroin’s power.
How Addictive is Heroin?
Heroin is still one of the most addictive substances used and abused throughout the country as evidence has continued to demonstrate. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 4.2 million people throughout the United States have used heroin at some time in their lives. As a result of use, 23 percent end up developing a dependency on the drug.
By the late 1990s, heroin’s death rate was estimated to be at an all-time high, twenty times greater than the rest of the population. That statistic alone tells you how deadly this drug can be with just one try.
Why is Heroin Addictive?
Many myths and misunderstandings have built up around the origin of heroin, how it affects the brain and body, who uses and abuses it and why, and lastly, how addiction to it forms.
Heroin is one of those unpredictable drugs because it usually doesn’t cause such intense side-effects known as the euphoric rush. While it does get you high and feelings of euphoria does occur, it isn’t the same as if someone were doing cocaine or crystal meth. However, don’t underestimate the power of this prescription drug, as it is known and described as one of the most addictive and deadly drugs on the market.
Prescription opioids are more expensive and harder to access than heroin. Many people who become addicted to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to find on the street. However, today heroin is often mixed with a chemical called fentanyl. This means that heroin is not pure, and when laced with fentanyl it is often a deadly concoction, causing millions of overdoses and deaths annually.
The reasons why heroin is so addictive include:
- Easily Accessible and cheaper option
- It is extremely potent
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Forever rewires the brain’s chemistry
- One use can make someone dependant and use other drugs in conjunction
- When mixed with fentanyl it is deadly
Heroin Changes the Brain’s Chemistry
As mentioned above, one of the main reasons why heroin is because of how it drastically affects the chemistry within the brain. The method by which people use heroin, mostly snorting and injecting, makes the circuits in the brain change and function abnormally, which happens quicker than people think.
Think of it like this. Each time a drug such as heroin is consumed, a person’s brain and body have to adapt, so that the same “high” feeling is achieved every time. This creates tolerance, dependency, and quickly leads to addiction.
People are addicted to heroin because the brain becomes rewired and is told to crave the drug, and eventually, they become so hooked and can’t stop. Thus, becoming addicted and they have to shoot up to be able to function and get through everyday life.
Heroin’s low cost and easy accessibility make people even more eager to want the drug, but the consequences of its devastating and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that result from not using, often prevent people from quitting and getting help and increases the probability of relapse.
The Reward System
Heroin is an addictive drug that alters the areas in the brain responsible for motivation and reward. The reward system is designed to remind the brain to remember experiences or things that cause our bodies to feel pleasure. This offsets a chain reaction and motivates the reward region to keep repeat these feel-good experiences. In this case, the addictive behavior of taking drugs.
So, when someone uses heroin, even if it is the first time, the brain has been tricked and taught to enjoy the effects of the drug, as it once provided feelings of pleasure and euphoria. With just one use, people become dependant on heroin, and thus, begin to use it repeatedly. The brain has been rewarded and with each dose, the body becomes more tolerant and addicted, before it can’t function without it.
All opioids or pain killers help to relieve pain. Our brain is what keeps us alive, and what allows us to think, feel, behave, move, etc. In other words, all of its intricate parts are what allow the parts of the body to function.
Our brains naturally produce a neurotransmitter called dopamine in what it called the reward center. The neurotransmitters bind to these receptors throughout the brain and body to regulate pain, hormone release, and feelings of well-being.
When we eat a favorite meal or have a good workout, this chemical triggers opioid receptors which is what triggers this feeling of euphoria. The same goes for when someone takes a drug such as heroin.
When heroin is injected into the vein, the drug acts much faster than most types of drugs. So much so, that it only takes 10 seconds to go through the bloodstream to the brain. The heroin binds to these opioid receptors within certain molecules inside the brain, which is how the body processes when we feel sensations of pain and pleasure.
Heroin produces an immediate side effect of euphoria and pleasure for hours, which is why it is so dangerous and addictive. People turn to use drugs for the reason of numbing or attempting to relieve their pain in any way they can, despite the major social, mental, and physical consequences, the main one being addiction.
Opiates as strong as heroin, activate the brain to a dangerous degree, greater than the body itself. After the high and euphoric feelings go away, that is when the real problems start to arise. Since the heroin rewires the circuits in the brain, once those areas are damaged it is hard to rewire.
The body and brain become trained to crave the drug, constantly wanting more and more before it is too late. Overdose and death are extremely real and Therefore, without proper treatment and resources for recovery, it is extremely difficult for people on drugs such as heroin to quit on their own.
The Reemergence of Heroin and Opioid Use Disorders
Heroin addiction is still very much on the rise today! While drug use has been an epidemic for decades and isn’t something new, the reemergence of this addictive illicit drug has created a whole new epidemic of sorts and has continued to spread like wildfire.
It is no surprise that heroin use is a thing, as evidence has proven that more people are experiencing negative physical and mental health effects as a consequence of repeated use.
In 2016, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), reported in its 4th edition, that people meeting the criteria for heroin dependency or opioid use disorder (OUD), increased dramatically from 214,000 in 2002 to 626,000 in 2016.
Since that year, the most current edition of the DSM, the 5th edition (DSM-V), no longer has substance abuse and dependence as their own entities. It now also, provides criteria for opioid use disorders that range from mild to severe. This proves, that the use of heroin is still more prevalent than ever.
How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Heroin?
Now that we have figured out why heroin is so addictive, the question is how long does it take for someone to be addicted? Truth is, addiction is a powerful disease, which affects people of all walks of life differently. It depends highly on the person.
Risk factors of heroin addiction include genetics, family history of substance abuse, environment, etc. Either way, heroin can easily pull someone into the vicious cycle of abuse and addiction. Seeking treatment from a credible rehab facility is the only way out.
To put this all into perspective, in 2017, over 15,000 people within the United States died from overdose-related deaths from heroin. This equates about 5 deaths per 100,000 people.
Heroin Addiction and Mental Health
Drug addiction and mental health go hand-in-hand. When these two conditions occur simultaneously, this is known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. Mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, and others are a major risk factor for heroin addiction.
People turn to alcohol and drugs such as heroin as a means to cope with the unpleasant symptoms that come with mental illness. Oftentimes, mental disorders are left undiagnosed because symptoms do not always present themselves right away. It can be underlying, and mental illness must be properly diagnosed and treated to avoid severe complications and worsening of one’s addiction.
At Ken Seeley, our team of specialists, treat your mental illness and addiction together to effectively manage symptoms of both conditions.
Heroin Addiction Treatment
People are using heroin more than ever before, and the fentanyl-laced street supply that is often used today has made this drug more dangerous today than at any time in the past. Therefore, this has created a high demand for drug rehab facilities, for those who need treatment for heroin addiction, allowing people to recover and become sober.
Although it may seem like an impossible task to overcome drug addiction, getting help is possible with the right methods of treatment, resources, perseverance, and support.
During the detox process, heroin is removed from the body, as an attempt to stop the cycle of abuse and provoke abstinence. This unconventional removal of the drug results in a bodily reaction of unpleasant physiological withdrawal symptoms. However, research shows that this withdrawal process can make heroin users more addicted.
This is because, the withdrawal symptoms can often be too unbearable, and as a result, a person ens up relapsing and uses again to get rid of the symptoms and feel how they used to feel. The drug becomes more rewarding and harder to give up.
At Ken Seeley Rehab, we provide expert resources and teach our clients the necessary coping and life skills to help them learn how to manage their conditions during and after recovery.
The common types of treatments we use to combat heroin addiction and mental illness include:
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Family therapy
- Group therapy
- Individual therapy
- Relapse prevention
Treatment methods for heroin addiction vary from person to person as everyone is different. A comprehensive treatment plan will be tailored to your specific needs and goals during recovery and after.
Ken Seeley Can Help You Overcome Heroin Addiction
Addiction is a disease, and therefore, heroin use, abuse, and addiction can affect anyone and doesn’t discriminate. It has long-lasting consequences and repercussions on not only the people going through it but also their family and friends.
At Ken Seeley Rehab in Palm Springs, CA, we help millions of individuals suffering from heroin addiction and other opioid use disorders can learn to manage their addiction long-term, helping them regain control over their lives! Contact us today to overcome your drug addiction.