How Does Heroin Addiction Work?

Is Heroin Physically Addictive?

Heroin is one of the most physically addictive drugs in existence. In fact, many people become hooked on heroin after only a single use. Almost a quarter of all heroin users are physically dependent on the drug, and it is considered much more addictive than other drugs in its class, including opioids such as codeine and morphine.

What Causes Heroin Addiction?

Heroin addiction develops due to chemical changes that heroin instigates in the brain. The “rush” felt with heroin use is experienced due to a flood of dopamine—the body’s “happy hormone”—that takes place within the brain when heroin is ingested. With regular use, the brain naturally detects this overabundance of dopamine and scales back natural dopamine production. As a result, when heroin users enter withdrawal (either from an attempt at kicking heroin addiction or due to lack of supply in between uses), the severe dopamine imbalance in the brain is felt, triggering a host of physical and psychological symptoms. In an attempt to re-achieve chemical balance, heroin users reengage in use, further feeding the cycle of addiction.

Heroin also serves to act upon the brain’s reward centers. With repeated use, the brain becomes operantly conditioned to associate pleasure with heroin use—sometimes even anticipating the rush when paraphernalia is spotted or initial preparations for injection are made with a heroin “kit.” Over time, heroin users build up a natural tolerance to the euphoric effect of the drug—usually detectable by the second usage. The initial high becomes virtually impossible to re-achieve, leaving users “chasing” their initial experimental rush. Tolerance to heroin also ensures that higher dosages are necessary in order to achieve the drug’s euphoric effects at all, causing dosage to increase over time.

What Are the Signs of Heroin Addiction?

Signs of heroin addiction include the contents of a heroin “kit,” indicating by the presence of needles, syringes, long lengths of rubber or plastic used to “tie off” the arm prior to injection, or glass pipes. Folded tin foil or dirty spoons used for cooking can also be used as part of a heroin kit. Heroin users will often display “track marks”—scars or infections at injection sites. Physically, heroin addicted individuals will often display constricted pupils, poor hygiene, lethargic or depressed behavior, mood swings, runny noses, or slurred speech.

Call Passages Addiction Treatment Center today if you or a loved one is battling an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. Our admissions department is available 24/7 and can be reached directly by dialing our toll-free number at (888) 397-0112. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

Image via We Heart It

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