Heroin is a highly addictive opioid that’s made from morphine. It’s an illegal street drug that gained its legal status because of its high potential for abuse and addiction. Heroin is taken from the resin of seeds from the opium poppy plant. It’s usually sold in white or brown powders or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin. Despite the well-known dangers of heroin abuse, many people still turn to this drug for recreational use. But why do people use heroin?
Heroin can be used in various ways, but it’s most injected intravenously (IV), meaning in a vein. The drug is mixed with water to make it injectable. The powder version of the drug can also be sniffed, snorted, and smoked, which some users prefer because it eliminates the stigma associated with injecting heroin.
People who use heroin may also combine the drug with other substances, such as alcohol or cocaine (a “speedball”), which can raise the risk of overdose. Heroin is also often cut or mixed with other substances like sugars, starch, powdered milk, or quinine, which are otherwise known as cutting agents.
Heroin cutting agents are designed to make the drug weigh more, allowing drug dealers to make more money with less product. However, fentanyl-laced heroin is a growing trend in today’s drug market, which can increase the likelihood of overdose and death.
Fentanyl is a highly addictive and potent opioid that’s usually used in a medical setting for pain relief. Law enforcement is finding traces of fentanyl in other drugs more frequently, and overdose deaths related to the drug are growing in numbers.
When people do heroin, the drug attaches to opioid receptors in the brain, not only blocking pain signaling but also increasing the level of dopamine in the central nervous system. Dopamine is a “happy chemical” that’s linked to pleasure, reward, and motivation.
Dopamine is usually released to reward behavior necessary for survival, like eating or coping with pain. Heroin inhibits the brain from reabsorbing released dopamine, flooding the brain and producing a euphoric high. Heroin triggers the brain’s reward system by influencing the production of this feel-good chemical, as well as serotonin.
Eventually, the brain links heroin to the activation of these chemicals, contributing to an addiction. Additionally, heroin withdrawal symptoms – which occur when the person attempts to stop using the drug – make it more difficult for people to quit without the help of medically supervised detox.
Common short-term effects of heroin include:
People who use heroin long-term may also experience side effects like:
Because heroin is often laced with other additives like sugar, starch, or powdered milk, the risk of clogged blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain increases, causing permanent damage. Additionally, sharing drug injection equipment like needles increases the risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Considering this, it’s normal to wonder, “why do people use heroin?”
People use heroin because of its euphoric effects and because of the growing abuse of prescription drugs in the U.S. The abuse of prescription opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone contributed greatly to the rise of heroin abuse in the nation.
These medications are also made from the poppy plant and are therefore chemically like heroin. People who become dependent or addicted to prescription opioids often turn to heroin as a cheaper and more accessible alternative.
Unfortunately, despite the many risks of heroin, opioid-involved overdose deaths rose from 21,088 in 2010 to 47,600 in 2017 and remained high in 2019 at 46,802 deaths.1 Many of these deaths occurred because of laced heroin, especially heroin laced with fentanyl.
Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs in the world, and an addiction to this substance can be difficult to overcome and survive without professional help. Considering that many people start using heroin to feed a prescription opioid addiction, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the signs of prescription drug addiction if you or a loved one is taking any medication.
With this in mind, our Texas recovery center offers heroin detox and addiction treatment that addresses both the physical and mental aspects of drug use, including withdrawal symptoms, mental illness, and more. No matter how long you’ve struggled with addiction, we’re here to help.