In the midst of the ongoing opioid crisis in America, it’s vital for Americans to understand the effects of addiction and how to overcome it.
When it comes to heroin, most people understand the cravings and risk of overdose associated with addiction. However, there are many more consequences that often go overlooked until they occur on a personal level. Heroin addiction has a profound impact on the individual, and the effects can last a lifetime.
Short-Term Effects of Heroin Use
When a person takes heroin, the drug latches on the opioid receptors in the person’s brain and releases a flood of dopamine, the “pleasure” chemical in the brain. While the results are euphoric for the user, he or she may also experience unpleasant side effects.
The immediate, potential effects of heroin include:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Sensitivity to light
- Slowed breathing
- Slowed heart rate
Additionally, most people will exhibit behaviors that fall out of line with their typical personality. The extent of the user’s habit will also determine the severity of the short-term effects following a dose. Many factors can cause seriously damaging and even fatal effects.
The most obvious risk following a dose of heroin is death by overdose. If the user has never tried heroin before, takes too large of a dose, or falls into respiratory depression without help, he or she could easily die.
The other major factor is the quality of the dose. Many drug dealers mix things like baking powder, sugar or other fillers to stretch their supply. Some go so far as crafting several batches with varying potencies to more effectively prey on customers who develop addictions and require increasingly larger doses.
Some drug dealers may also add other drugs to produce enhanced effects with possibly fatal consequences. The number of fentanyl-related deaths has skyrocketed in recent years across the country.
Fentanyl is an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that can be as much as 100 times as potent as heroin. This means a fatal dose of fentanyl is only a fraction of a fatal dose of heroin. An unwary user who purchases heroin laced with fentanyl may be completely unprepared for the intense effects of this additive, potentially leading to overdose and/or death.
Long-Term Effects of Heroin Addiction
If a person manages to maintain a heroin addiction for a long time, he or she will eventually start to appear different to friends, loved ones and other acquaintances. When it comes to the long-term effects of heroin, personality is one of the first things to change. The behavior of people suffering from drug use is rooted in addiction, and heroin is powerfully addictive.
Eventually, a person who becomes addicted to heroin will not bother with any thoughts or pursuits unrelated to securing the next dose. Over time, this leads to personal neglect, and many heroin users develop long-term physical and psychological complications from their addictions.
Many heroin users inject doses of the drug using syringes. While places like needle exchanges exist to provide users with safer paraphernalia, the reality is that many heroin users with advanced addictions will simply reuse needles or even share needles with other users.
Eventually, needle sharing and reuse dramatically increases the chances of spreading blood-borne illnesses and infectious diseases such as hepatitis and HIV. These infections can leave a person struggling with heroin addiction to contend with serious medical conditions, as well.
Repeated injections can also lead to dermal infections and collapsed veins. Heroin users will often neglect proper nutrition and hydration, and suffer the effects of malnutrition and dehydration, as well. Poor diet and poor personal hygiene can lead to a heightened susceptibility to illnesses like the cold and flu.
Additionally, the longer a heroin addiction continues, the more the user will need per dose to achieve the desired effects. Eventually, he or she will be at an extreme risk of overdosing.
Surprising Effects of Heroin on Personality and Mental Health
When a person’s motivation to get out of bed in the morning becomes securing the next dose of heroin, the psychological effects of heroin become more apparent to those around him or her.
Close friends and relatives may start to see cash and valuables missing, often stolen by the heroin user to use to pay for more of the drug. A person struggling with heroin addiction may start to shirk social engagements and even major responsibilities, such as showing up for work and making bill payments.
Heroin has a profound impact on the brain, as you may have gathered. Over time, the brain will only associate dopamine release with heroin use, and the user will be unable to feel pleasure without consuming more of the drug.
Why Do Heroin Addicts Lie?
Many wonder why heroin addicts become so adept at deception when the other aspects of their personality and life fall to shambles. The answer is simply the power of addiction.
The compulsion to use heroin becomes so powerful that every mental process and ounce of effort goes toward achieving this goal. Eventually, heroin users and other people struggling with addiction become masterful manipulators and liars to get what they need.
It is important for the people witnessing these lies and other negative behaviors to know the person with the heroin addiction is no longer in full control.
Social Consequences of Heroin Addiction
It can be incredibly difficult for the friends and loved ones of people struggling with heroin addiction to witness how the drug changes a person.
A heroin user at an advanced stage of addiction may lose his or her:
- Custody over children
- Personal property
- Many other valuables and privileges
Even after recovery, breaking through the stigma of heroin addiction can leave a newly recovered individual feeling isolated and helpless.
Hope in Recovery
For people struggling with heroin addiction and their loved ones, overcoming such a powerful addiction can seem impossible. Witnessing a sibling, child, parent, close friend or spouse go through the stages of heroin addiction can be heartbreaking, and people watching it will wonder if they will ever see the “real” person behind the addiction ever again.
As hopeless as heroin addiction may seem at times, recovery is absolutely possible with the right treatment and support system. Overcoming addiction extends far beyond detox and rehab; it is an ongoing choice for the rest of one’s life to live sober.
Better Quality Care Leads to a Better Future
At Maryland Recovery, we work to help people struggling with heroin addiction to create a brighter and sober future for themselves. This process takes time, and the emotional effects of heroin addiction are some of the longest lasting. However, with the right treatment, counseling, support and ongoing care after rehab, recovery from heroin addiction is absolutely possible.
Read About Why the Opioid Epidemic Persists in the U.S.
Dr. Bhalavat is Board Certified in General Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, and provides inpatient evaluation and consultation services at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital, Maryland Recovery Partners, and Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Bhalavat’s background includes treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and dementia.