Top 10 Facts About What its Like to be Addicted to Heroin
Heroin is a derivative of the poppy, similar to opium but, through refining, much stronger. In fact, heroin that is 100 percent pure is poisonous in and of itself. It’s hard to believe that it used to be marketed as a cough suppressant! Because of its toxicity and extremely addictive nature, it has been illegal in the United States since 1924. Other names of heroin are horse, smack, brown sugar and junk. Heroin affects the brain and induces feelings of euphoria and warmth, which addicts crave. Because of the drug’s chemical structure, users quickly build tolerance for it and require more and more to achieve the same intoxicating effects.
Users take heroin in different ways, including:
Injecting heroin, what used to be called “mainlining,” is the most dangerous method of taking the drug. It creates the quickest “high,” but it also conditions the body to high tolerance levels quickest. Many users, especially those who inject the drug, suffer from a variety of mental conditions and illnesses before they begin using, such as:
•Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
As with alcohol, heroin becomes a perceived panacea of self-medication. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Hiding beneath the charming exterior of good feelings, warmth and safety is a slate of disagreeable symptoms that wrack the body and simply perpetuate the addiction. Heroin withdrawal is not pretty to see and even worse to feel. Users will generally stop at nothing to get their next dose, or “fix.” They will lie, cheat, steal and take advantage of anyone and everyone, including spouses, siblings and other family members and loved ones. Keep reading to see what happens when you start taking heroin
10. You’ll Get That Famous “Rush.”
As stated, the rush begins with feelings of euphoria. Users who were participants in a study conducted in Illinois reported that the first rush felt like being in a dream. The skin becomes warm and tingles pleasantly. The brain, which is affected by the drug, can’t concentrate on anything for long. Users describe forgetting all about their problems, illnesses and possible mental disorders when they’re high. All they care about is that first rush and the dreamy, floating sensations that follow. Sometimes, users will take purer and purer forms of the drug to get the high they crave and their body’s tolerance no longer allows at lower doses. This is extremely dangerous because of the effect heroin has on the body’s autonomic nervous system at high purity levels.
The rush occurs when the absorbed heroin enters the brain and is converted back into morphine. These molecules of morphine bond to cells called opioid receptors. These receptors are linked to the feelings of pleasure in the body and in the feelings of reward in the mind. Heroin use, therefore, not only makes the user feel good for a short time but also makes the user feel as if he or she is rewarding him or herself in the process. This contributes to the crushing and overwhelming feelings that occur during withdrawal and abstinence. As tolerance builds, the rush gets shorter and shorter with the same dose, which is the precipice over which users tumble as they proceed toward full-blown addiction.
9. Withdrawal Sucks Beyond Comprehension.
As with any drug, there will be a period of withdrawal when use of the drug is discontinued. As stated, the mental dependence on the drug is exceptionally severe because of the lack of feelings of reward when the drug is stopped. Users perceive this lack as feelings of worthlessness and continue using not only because of the physical dependence but also because they don’t see themselves as deserving anything better out of life. This cruel reality is one of the toughest stumbling blocks to overcome when users try to “kick the habit.” In addition to the mental side effects, the physical side effects are also debilitating.
Heroin withdrawal includes great pain. Users feel this pain “deep in their bones,” and the pain comes with feelings of extreme discomfort, rabid itching, diarrhea and vomiting. Dehydration is common and severe, and users have experienced everything from kidney failure to hypothermia and coma. Users are also distressingly restless and drowsy at the same time. They want to sleep but their body won’t let them. Perhaps worst of all, the addict spends most of his or her time in withdrawal as the rush and the high only last a few minutes after the user builds up a strong tolerance.
8. You’ll Look Like Crap.
Because of the work of photographers and artists like Davidé Sorrenti, the “look” of a heroin addict became fashionable and “heroin chic.” This was especially true in the 1990s; sunken eyes, sallow complexion, bony, board-straight female figures and androgynous looks were all the rage. Users develop the sunken eyes and accompanying dark circles because of the restlessness of withdrawal that prevents sleep. The complexion becomes waxy and sallow because heroin interferes with the body’s ability to absorb the vitamins and minerals from food that contribute to healthy blood production, such as iron and Vitamin K.
Heroin also causes malabsorption of both calcium and Vitamin D, which leads to bone loss and oral problems. Tooth loss is common, and so are bleeding gums and oral infections. Vitamin K is crucial for blood clotting, and heroin interferes with that. As heroin use progresses, users tend to lose muscle mass and fat beneath the skin because heroin interferes with the body’s natural repair processes. When cells die, the body can no longer replace them. Heroin users become abnormally thin, and the fact that the drug causes severe nausea and vomiting contributes almost makes heroin use and withdrawal become a sort of eating disorder similar to both bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
In short, users will wind up with a body that’s too thin, a mouth empty of teeth, a set of gums that bleeds incessantly, skin that’s the color of damp concrete and eyes that are so deep-set that the face resembles a skull.
7. You’ll Throw Everything Away in the Quest for the Next Fix.
Because of heroin’s intense addiction, users being to feel as if the only thing in the world that’s important is the next fix. Heroin, although cheaper than either Oxycontin or Percocet on the street, is still an expensive habit to have. Unless you have the ability to refine poppies into morphine and morphine into heroin yourself, you’d have to buy it from a dealer. As a user’s tolerance grows, so will his or her need for fixes. To a user in the throes of withdrawal, people become little more than “opportunities for theft” as the user gathers the necessary funds. Once-responsible workers will steal from co-workers and bosses alike and will then lie about having stolen. Such lying won’t be to cover for the theft out of any reason of feeling guilty or fearing punishment. Users lie in that situation because getting fired would mean being forced out of a “target-rich environment” for getting money. The same holds true with friends and family.
Users are in a terrible quandary. They need to remain secret so that no one notices they’re using and tries to get them help; however, they also need to act overtly to beg, borrow or steal the money they need to support their heroin addiction. In some cases, the addiction is so bad that the user will be burning through $1,000 a day or more. As people find out about the addiction and cast the user aside, the user will, in turn, cast them aside in the quest for new friends of whom the user can take advantage. If the user loses family, friends, lovers, jobs, homes and everything else that people need to live in today’s society, that all matters less to the user than the next fix.
6. You Might not “Fit the Profile.”
Many people see heroin addicts as living under vermin-infested blankets in alleys, waylaying unsuspecting passers-by for money. In some cases, this is true; however, in many cases, the user is someone you’d never even think would use. Especially in the 21st century, heroin users come from all walks of life. For every “bum” in moth-eaten clothes, there’s a 16-year-old football captain who “just wanted to try it once” at some party. Some sixth, seventh and eighth graders have even begun using for many reasons, including out out of boredom.
These young people, many of them sons and daughters of affluent “good families” in white suburbia, see themselves as invincible. They don’t think they’ll become addicts because “they’re not like those other people.” They may even shy away from needles and simply snort, smoke or eat heroin. What they fail to realize is that these “less-dangerous” ways of taking heroin will invariably lead to injection. It’s the old vicious cycle of use-tolerance-more use-higher tolerance-more use … etc. They simply won’t get the high they want from the “safer” methods anymore.
If you put heroin into your body, you’re a drug user. If you do it more than once, you’re an addict. It doesn’t matter your skin color, socioeconomic status, father’s family history, mother’s job, bank account size, neighborhood environment, school record or anything else.
5. You’ll Get Arrested.
Heroin is illegal. Whether you use it or deal it, you’ll be arrested if you get caught with it. For a first offense, you’ll be subject to a fine of up to $1,000, a year in jail or both. For second, third or more offenses, the penalties get stiffer and stiffer. For possessing heroin with the intent to sell it, the penalties are quite severe, resulting in fines of $20,000 or more and multiple years in prison, not just the county jail.
Addicts might also go to jail for other offenses they commit as they try to get their next fix, not the least of which is grand theft. They might also be guilty of prostitution, assault, assault and battery and even murder. What started out as 90 days in jail for simple possession could suddenly morph into a sentence of 25 years to life because the dude the user knocked on the head to steal his money died in the ambulance. If a heroin user is desperate enough for fix, it’s quite conceivable that he or she could wind up in prison for life without the possibility of parole.
With arrest and possible conviction come all kinds of nonlegal ramifications even for a first offense. For example, even before a person is completely hooked and on the road to disaster, that person could lose friends, family connections and jobs just for having heroin in his or her possession. Heroin carries a stigma, and being arrested for having it just amplifies that stigma.
4. You’ll Get Used Too.
There are people in this world who are low enough to take advantage of an addicted person because they know “no” isn’t in the addict’s vocabulary. Potential wolves will see a good-looking female addict who hasn’t fallen too far and will promise to get the girl’s next fix in return for a blow job or outright sex. Addicts in need of a fix will do anything to get it even if it means prostituting oneself. Greedy people will see a well-to-do man driving a BMW and will demand the pink slip in return for getting him his next fix. Do you really think the addict will say no when the withdrawal is beckoning with its blood-encrusted claws in full view?
Dealers know this too. They don’t care about you. They care about one thing: making money. Drug dealing is pure capitalism. They see a “need” among addicts and see themselves as “simply finding a solution for that need.” They’ll do and say anything to get you to use. “It’ll make you look cool.” “You want to fit in, don’t you?” “Hey, it’s just a warm blanket that’ll make you feel better.” If you use something else, you might even hear, “you know, heroin is a much better high than what you’ve been doing.” These are all just tricks to get you to buy. Nothing else matters to a drug dealer other than amassing as much money as possible in as little time as possible while doing as little work as possible. If you get sick or addicted in the process, well, then you’re just collateral damage.
3. You Might Get Something You Didn’t Expect.
Not every hit of heroin will be “as advertised.” Some dealers, in an effort to get a customer hooked on another drug, will mix things with heroin as a way to “open a new market.” Speedballs, for example, are packages of heroin mixed with cocaine. These combinations are deadly because they have unknown affects. Sometimes, users will even steal from dealers in their unrelenting quest. When this happens, the dealer could mix the heroin he or she sells with any number of poisons, and the user will greedily inject it because he or she is desperate. The idea is, “what’s one more dead junkie?”
You might even buy a hit of heroin that is far purer than any you, as a user, would have ever experienced before. The purer the heroin, the greater the effect. Taking 100 mg of 95-percent pure heroin is a far cry from taking a 100 mg-mixture of 30 percent heroin cut with 70 percent baking powder. The shock to the user’s system could have disastrous consequences. In one case, a 21-year-old college student “just wanted to try heroin once.” He got something that was so pure that it gave him brain damage after only one hit. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair unable to do anything except read, which he could barely do at a first-grade level.
2. You’ll Experience Terrible Health Problems.
Besides what has already been mentioned, heroin use produces more health problems than people realize. For example, pregnant women who take heroin can spontaneously abort their children, often without warning. Even if a heroin-addicted mother doesn’t lose her baby, the baby could be born addicted to the drug, which would require hospitalization of the infant and a lengthy period of detoxification and addiction treatment.
Heroin use also lowers the body’s resistance to certain diseases, such as Hepatitis C. Users who inject heroin can collapse their veins in multiple parts of the body, causing all manner of problems, including gangrene and sepsis. Some users even develop necrotizing fasciitis and lose body parts up to and including multiple limbs. Brain damage, as stated, is also common. People who are high also cannot feel their extremities very well. They tend to be clumsy; it’s possible they could fall and become injured, winding up paralyzed or in chronic pain the rest of their lives. Because people who are susceptible to mental illness or are already mentally ill are common heroin users, the drug often drives people to abuse themselves physically as a method of dealing with the effects of withdrawal between fixes.
1. You’ll Die.
That’s right. If you use and don’t get help, the only place you’ll wind up is the cemetery. Whether it’s from an overdose, from AIDS that you got from an infected needle, from bleeding to death internally, at the end of a gun because you stole from the wrong person to get the money for your next fix, or even because you killed yourself to stop the pain and madness, death is the only outcome of prolonged abuse.
Additionally, you have to remember something else: YOU CAN DIE FROM ONE USE OF HEROIN! Even if you sterilize your needle, buy pure stuff from the “most reputable dealer in town,” cut it yourself with a nontoxic substance like flour, and clean your injection point with alcohol prior to shooting up, you can still die. More than 2,000 people a year die from heroin overdoses. Many more are physically and mentally damaged for life; in many cases, those people suffer fates worse than death in a permanent vegetative state.
Here’s the kicker. Let’s say you begin using and one day finally decide you’ve had enough. You go to treatment, go through methadone therapy, suck it up and go through withdrawal, and get clean. You may still die as a result of your heroin addiction. A study that was published in the “Archives of General Psychiatry” followed 581 men who had been heroin addicts. These men were studied over a period of 33 years from 1964 to 1997. Guess what the long-term survival rate was? It was only 50 percent. Half of all of those addicts died from relapsing drug overdose, suicide, homicide, liver disease, heart disease and cancer. The study showed, with a high degree of statistical correlation, that their reasons for death were linked to their previous abuse. In a Spanish study, heroin users were 14.3 times more likely to die than the general population.
Starting to use heroin is a bad decision. There is no argument for it that has any merit. Heroin will destroy you, body and soul, if you let it. If you let it consume you, you will die. Period. Even if you don’t die, you won’t have any friends or family left who care about you. You could wind up in jail. You could even go to federal prison for a long time. Even after you get out of jail or prison, you would carry the stigma of not only “drug addict” but also “ex-convict” for the rest of your life. These labels, no matter how unfair, will keep you from getting jobs, be a turn-off for any possible marriage partners, or even just lovers, and possibly subject you to monitoring by the police forever. You could have chronic medical conditions, like HIV or hepatitis, that prevent you from doing what you want to do. You could lose arms, legs or even your ability to have children.
Learn to look out for your friends and family members. Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of heroin addiction and take steps to help them if they start down the dark path. Above all, be proactive. If your friends and family members haven’t started using, instruct them in what can happen if they do use. Advocate for them. Don’t just tell them, “such-and-such will happen if you do so-and-so.” Show them pictures. Take them to hear survivors talk. Be sure they know what’s in store if they use. If you have started using, get help. A 50-50 long-term chance is far better than zero chance. The world is a better place with you in it, so stay away from heroin.