Heroin addiction can arise from sustained or improper use of this drug. It is illegal to manufacture, possess, or sell heroin in the United States; however, under the name diamorphine, heroin is a legal prescription drug in the United Kingdom. Heroin is an opiod drug derived directly from the opium poppy. Heroin’s main components are morphine and codeine resulting in a high potential for heroin addiction. In fact, it was replaced as a common painkiller back in 1919 due to its addictive properties. Occasional use may not lead to symptoms of withdrawal. However, if sustained use of Heroin over three days is stopped abruptly, withdrawal symptoms can appear. This occurs much quicker than other addictive painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Heroin has the same mechanism of action as other opioids. Described simply, the drug binds to a specific receptor, inhibits specific chemical messengers and causes decreased excitability of neurons. Heroin can be taken in a number of ways, including snorting and injection. It may also be smoked by inhaling the vapors produced when heated from below. Those with heroin addiction call this “chasing the dragon.” It produces pleasant affects described as euphoria, ambition, nervousness, relaxation, drowsiness, or sleepiness. However, heroin’s depressive effects on chemical messengers increase the likelihood of heroin addiction with very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal effects from heroin addiction include very uncomfortable effects such as tremors, sweats, pain, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and depression. These have an onset of 6 to 24 hours after the last dose of heroin and last an undefined length of time. Often, those with heroin addiction will take a symptom-reducing drug such as valium to blunt the withdrawal symptoms.
Heroin addiction is unlikely to lead to overdose due to well developed tolerance. People with heroin addiction can tolerate doses far stronger than those ingested by recreational users. Overdose does occur though often due to drug-drug interaction with other depressants, unknown purity of the heroin, and metabolic variation within the user. Death can result over a period of minutes or hours unless medical intervention is provided.
Heroin addiction often results in drug-related crimes, prostitution, and loss of jobs, families, and homes.