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Causes & Effects of Heroin Abuse & Addiction

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid that is derived from certain varieties of the poppy plant. The drug, which is commonly abused by being snorted, smoked, or injected, usually takes the form of a white or brown powder or a sticky, black, tar-like substance. When heroin is ingested, the body turns it back into morphine, which then interacts with brain cells that are affiliated with pleasure, arousal, blood pressure, and breathing. Heroin provides an intense, euphoric high, followed by an extended state of drowsiness. The highly addictive nature of heroin means that users may begin to experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms after their initial use of the drug. Professional treatment for heroin addiction is strongly advised.

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According to the most recent data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NS-DUH), between 600,000 and 700,000 Americans have used heroin within the past twelve months. Heroin abuse in the United States has been on the rise in recent years, with first-time use increasing from 90,000 people in 2006 to 156,000 people in 2012.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has cited heroin abuse as the primary cause for the majority of the 15 million cases of opioid dependence across the globe. WHO also estimates that nearly 70,000 deaths can be attributed to opioid overdose every year.

Causes and Risk Factors for Heroin Abuse

As is the case with all forms substance abuse and addiction, heroin abuse and addiction cannot be attributed to one single cause or risk factor. The following are among the several factors that may lead a person to abuse and become addicted to heroin:

Genetic: Several studies have documented the degree to which genetics can play a role in the abuse of and addiction to substances such as heroin. For example, individuals whose parents developed a heroin addiction are at increased risk for struggling with a heroin addiction themselves. At least one study found that children of addicted parents are eight times as likely as children of non-addicted parents to develop an addiction themselves.

Environmental: Highly stressful environments can be precursors to addiction, especially for individuals who have not developed healthy strategies for coping with such pressure. Other environmental influences on the development of an addiction to heroin can include a history of trauma or abuse, growing up around people who openly abused the drug, and associating with individuals who abuse and/or have easy access to heroin.

Risk Factors:

  • Gender (men are more likely than women to develop an addiction to heroin)
  • Heroin abuse by other members of one’s family
  • Mental illness within one’s family
  • Problems with anxiety, panic, or depression
  • Poor coping skills
  • Lack of effective support network
  • Prior drug abuse

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Abuse

Deception and denial are key components of most addictions, and most people who have become addicted to heroin will go to great lengths to hide the signs of their addiction. However, the nature of heroin addiction and the drastic impact it can have on a person’s mind and body ensure that certain signs and symptoms will eventually emerge. Examples of such symptoms may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Secretiveness, unaccountability, and other signs of deception
  • Wearing long sleeves and long pants, even in hot weather
  • Out-of-character recklessness and risk-taking
  • Defensiveness, aggressiveness, and irritability
  • Unexplained financial problems
  • Withdrawal from family and friends

Physical symptoms:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Drowsiness to the point of unconsciousness
  • Bloodshot eyes and runny nose
  • Nausea and constipation
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Scabs and sores (may indicate injection drug use)

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulties with concentration and focus
  • Impaired ability to make good decisions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorientation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Unexplained euphoria (usually followed by periods of disorientation)
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously very important
  • Drastic mood swings

If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Heroin Abuse

It is difficult to overstate the destructiveness of heroin abuse and addiction. Abusing heroin can have a devastating impact on virtually all aspects of a person’s life, including his or her physical health, mental stability, financial status, employment, and interpersonal relationships.

The following are just a few of the many negative effects of heroin abuse:

  • Serious illnesses, such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS
  • Skin problems (including scars, scabs, and abscesses)
  • Impaired kidney and liver functioning
  • Chronic pneumonia
  • Respiratory problems
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Abdominal distress, including cramping, nausea, and diarrhea
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems
  • Strained or destroyed interpersonal relationships
  • Decreased mental acuity
  • Panic, anxiety, and paranoia

Co-Occurring Disorders

In many cases, heroin abuse begins as an ill-informed means of attempting to cope with or self-medicate another condition. In addition to exacerbating these other conditions, heroin abuse can also then lead to the development of additional problems. Examples of disorders that are known to occur alongside the presence of an addiction to heroin may include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Chronic pain
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal: Attempting to stop using heroin without the supervision of a qualified professional can be a dangerous and painful experience. The body can quickly develop a dependence upon heroin, which means that using the drug even once or twice can put a person at risk for experiencing withdrawal symptoms following the cessation of such use, of which may include the following:

  • Intense drug cravings
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Severe cramping
  • Muscle spasms
  • Extreme perspiration
  • Runny nose and watery eyes

Effects of heroin overdose: Heroin abuse can quickly lead to both tolerance and dependence. Tolerance occurs when users need to ingest increasingly large amounts of heroin in order to achieve the high that previously accompanied smaller doses of the drug. As a person’s tolerance of this substance increases, it is likely that an individual will develop a physical dependence on this life-threatening drug. Increased tolerance and physical dependence on heroin can significantly raise a user’s risk of overdosing, of which can cause the following:

  • Depressed respiration (shallow or labored breathing)
  • Low blood pressure and weak pulse
  • Dry mouth and discolored tongue
  • Severe disorientation, to the point of delirium
  • Uncontrollable muscle spasms
  • Coma
  • Death

Get confidential help now: 855.396.1913 or EMAIL US.

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