What is Heroin?
Heroin is refined from the milky sap-like resin of the opium poppy and is an illegal opiate. This highly effective painkiller produces a euphoric high and makes the user feel content and peaceful.
Heroin mimics the natural endorphins released by the brain and these flood the space between the nerve cells. This stops them from reacting the way they should and produces the comforting high the drug is famous for. If heroin is taken regularly the brain stops producing its own endorphins and begins to rely on the intruding chemical.
The way heroin functions in the brain means the user easily develops tolerance and dependence on the drug. Recent research also suggest that taking heroin results in deterioration of the brain’s white matter which may affect the addicts ability to make decisions, regulate behaviour and respond in a healthy way to stressful situations.
Heroin can be smoked injected or snorted. In an effort to stop taking heroin and curb the consequences of its use, some addicts also end up addicted to substitution medications such as Suboxone, Subutex and Methadone.
Street Names for Heroin
Heroin has many different names on the street and sometimes these refer to the different colour of the substance, usually a powder, which also provide a clue to their countries of origin. For example Black Tar heroin comes mainly from Mexico or Afghanistan and China White or Thai White comes mainly from the Asia.
As with every drug the names used vary depending on the region, ethnicity and age group of the users.
- Black tar
- Brown sugar
- China white
- Mexican horse
History of Heroin
Morphine, codeine and heroin belong to a group of drugs known as opioids and are refined in different ways from the opium poppy. The painkilling properties of this plant have been noted for many thousands of years.
Approximately 2000 years BC the Sumerians recorded the poppy in their texts, and the Minoans detailed a method for extracting the latex out of the poppy. The ancient Greeks called this latex opium, which is where the word opium comes from.
Morphine was first refined by a German chemist called Friedrich Sertürner in 1804. He isolated one of the many chemicals that contribute to opium’s sedative or narcotic effects. Serturner named his discovery after the Greek God of dreams, Morpheus because it made people feel happy and sent them to sleep. This drug became widely used in the 1800’s becoming even more popular once the hypodermic needle was invented in 1857.
Heroin was synthesized in the UK in 1874 by C.R Alder Wright but it was the Bayer pharmaceutical company in Germany who brought it forward for popular consumption. It was originally marketed as a treatment for tuberculosis as well as a cure for morphine addiction. It was named heroin because it made people feel heroic.
What are the effects of Heroin addiction?
Heroin addiction has a potentially devastating effect on the individual and even over a relatively short period of time can have a severe effects on their wellbeing.
Every addict’s path into addiction varies. This is a complex disease with many underlying layers which coupled together with trauma, abuse, depression and anxiety make it difficult to diagnose and treat without effective residential addiction treatment.
- Loss of appetite
- Weakening of the immune system
- Bad teeth and inflammation of the gums
- Respiratory illnesses
- Muscular weakness or partial paralysis
- Reduced sexual capacity for men and women and long-term impotence in men
- Menstrual disturbance in women
- Heart problems, including infection of heart lining and valves
- Infectious diseases spread by shared needles (HIV and hepatitis B and C)
- Blood clots or tissue death resulting from collapsed veins
- Liver disease
- Arthritis and other rheumatologic problem
- Changes in the brain chemistry – short term
- Changes in the structure and function of the brain – long term
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Disturbed sleep
- Unhealthy eating habits/malnutrition
- Memory loss and reduced intellectual capacity
- Lying to yourself/denial
- Apathy /Exhaustion
- Memory loss
- Mood Swings
- Potential increase in risky behaviour
- Financial problems
- Sexual problems
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Lack of interest in work/school
- Lack of interest and ability in maintain relationships/friendships
- Damaged relationships with family members
- Lying to others
- Damaged self-esteem and self-worth
- Damaged relationship with self
- Lack of interest in life
- Inability to function without the drug
- Continued use despite negative consequences
The signs and symptoms of heroin addiction get progressively worse over time and there will be no resolution until effective addiction treatment and aftercare are sought.
For many heroin addicts this can be a frightening prospect as they have done everything within their power not to feel the intense symptoms of withdrawal. These are not life threatening but can be very powerful and unpleasant
Withdrawal symptoms from heroin can include:
- Tearing up
- Runny nose
- Stomach cramps
- Pain in joints and/or muscles
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Elevated heart rate
- Increased respiratory rate
The Two Stages of Withdrawal – Acute and Post-Acute
There are often two stages of withdrawal process from heroin addiction. The first stage has immediate acute symptoms and these are usually both physical and psychological. During stage two, former users experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms or PAWS.
These refer to a number of psychological symptoms which can last for weeks or months after the user has stopped taking the drug. This is one of many reasons why residential treatment is the most effective way to treat heroin addiction.
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Lack of motivation
- Inability to feel pleasure
- Anger or emotional outbursts