Heroin is highly physically addictive, more so than morphine, and at par with nicotine. Regularity of use and the amount used are big factors in the development of addiction. Curiosity about this drug, which is also known as smack, Big H and horse, can lead to a person using it recreationally without intending to fall into addiction.
Heroin users may become addicted in as little as one use. It is estimated that 25% or more of street users are considered physically dependent. But while there may be some regular users who do not end up looking like the images one conjures up when imagining heroin addicts, this opiate is one of the most dangerous drugs to experiment with and prolonged use typically will result in addiction.
A stereotypical heroin addict cares little about his or her appearance and may lose weight due to lack of appetite. The addict's eyelids may appear droopy. Sores may appear on the body at injection sites if the person is using this method to take heroin.
Physical Effects of Using Smack
Once heroin is introduced to the body, the person quickly experiences a rush of euphoria accompanied by a warm feeling as the skin appears flushed. The user's mouth feels dry. His or her extremities feel heavy after ingesting the smack.
The second phase of the experience after taking heroin involves the individual going "on the nod." They alternate between feeling alert and feeling drowsy. The nervous system becomes depressed and it becomes more difficult for the heroin user to think clearly. During this stage, the user's speech will slow down and may become slurred.
The user's ability to walk becomes slower at this point. Pupils appear constricted and the user's night vision is impaired. He or she may vomit, and constipation is a common symptom experienced by heroin users.
Developing Tolerance to the Drug
The heroin addict's body quickly builds a tolerance to the drug. Long term, larger and larger doses are needed to achieve the same effect. If the user doesn't continue taking the drug regularly, he or she will start to experience heroin withdrawal symptoms.
An addict going through heroin withdrawal will experience cravings for the drug. Body and muscle aches, diarrhea and vomiting are also common. The user may also have trouble sleeping and experience cold flashes. The expression, "cold turkey" refers to the chills and goose bumps that come with heroin withdrawal. The individual may also make kicking movements with his or her legs and feet, which means they are literally "kicking the habit".
The withdrawal symptoms can start within a few hours after the last dose of heroin was ingested. The worst part of the withdrawal process occurs between 48-72 hours after the last time the Big H was ingested, and the symptoms will last for approximately seven days. People with a history of regular, heavy use of the drug are cautioned against stopping suddenly, since doing so could be fatal.
Environment May Affect Tolerance
Bizarrely, tolerance also appears to be partially related to the environment where the drug is taken. Studies have shown that users who take heroin in an unusual or different place to normal are more likely to overdose.
No-one knows why this should be, but one theory is that the bodies of addicts who go to the same location to take the drug every time become conditioned to taking it there: their body gears up for what's to come and therefore they have a higher tolerance in that location. When they shoot up somewhere else, their body hasn't prepared itself and they overdose. This, however, is only speculation.
Long Term Effects of Using Smack
Using heroin over a long period of time can lead to a number of nasty health issues. Injecting the drug can lead to collapsed veins, as well as infections of heart valves and its lining. Since using heroin depresses the nervous system, including respiration rates, the addict is more likely to develop pneumonia from his or her use.
Buying heroin on the street means that the addict has no way of knowing what kinds of substances it has been laced with. Some of these additives don't dissolve completely in the body and can clog the blood vessels that supply the heart, lungs or the brain. If the blood supply is impaired, the affected organs don't receive the nutrients and oxygen it needs to function properly and become damaged.
To learn more about the effects of heroin addiction, signs of dependency and abuse, potential complications, and advice on detoxing and heroin addiction recovery, please visit our full resource on heroin addiction.
Heroin Addiction Rehabilitation
Treatment for heroin addicts involves detoxification, typically a painful process that requires specialized care to ensure a safe and much more comfortable detox experience. Once the addict is physically free of the drug, he or she should enter into a heroin rehab program designed specifically to address the urges felt by heroin users.
The recovery process needs to include the addict doing the work to get a handle on why they became addicted to the drug in the first place. The rehab program will help the heroin addict to identify his or her triggers for drug use. Knowing the circumstances that make the addict more likely to use means the person can make a plan in advance for dealing with them.
Often reintroduction to normal day to day life after rehabilitation should involve a sober living environment to decrease the chances of relapsing. The process of moving into recovery from a heroin addiction involves several steps and support from trained addiction counselors. If you are concerned about your or a loved one's drug use, check out our drug treatment facilities information.