Heroin addiction is one of the most difficult addictions to successfully treat because heroin is one of the most addictive illegal drugs. A drug derived from morphine, heroin is available in many different types. It can range from a white to a very dark powder, and can even be a thick, gummy substance with the consistency of tar.
Heroin is most commonly injected through a hypodermic needle directly into a vein or muscle, smoked, mixed into another drug and smoked like in a joint or regular cigarettes, burned and then inhaled as smoke or snorted into the nose in powder form. Heroin addiction can result from any of these methods of using heroin—no one way of using the drug is “better” than another or less likely to cause an addiction.
The effects of heroin use appear immediately and last from a few to several hours, depending on the amount of the drug in the person’s system. Heroin depresses the central nervous system, giving the person first what’s often called a “rush” of euphoria and then causing things like slowed speech, slowed mental functioning, eyes that want to close, a sort of wakefulness where the person seems to be going in and out of a doze, and even more extreme symptoms like vomiting, dry mouth and constipation.
The longer a person uses the drug, the more heroin they must use at one time to feel the same rush of carefree happiness and well-being again, so they continue to use the drug, leading to heroin addiction. Heroin also keeps the person from registering pain as normal, but enhances feelings of pleasure.
Heroin addiction and long-term use causes devastating physical side-effects. Veins can collapse when the drug is injected over a long period of time. Infections of the heart valves and even the lining of the heart, liver disease and abscesses aren’t uncommon among those with long-term heroin addiction. And the general poor health of the heroin addict often leads to other complications like pneumonia and other pulmonary conditions because the person under the effects of heroin does not breathe as deeply as someone not under the influence.
Drug treatment programs for heroin addiction face several challenges. First, heroin is such an addictive drug that many if not most users struggle with relapse or the strong desire to relapse into the addiction their entire lives. Long-term treatment that includes support and monitoring are important. Also, it’s more difficult to withdraw from heroin use than with some other drugs. The symptoms can be severe and begin immediately, worsening between 2 and 3 days after the last time the person used heroin, and can last a week or more.
The initial detoxification from heroin addiction is difficult, which is why many who try to stop on their own don’t make it. In fact, one of the things that makes overcoming the drug so difficult is the intensity of the withdrawal. A person overcoming heroin addiction needs in-patient treatment during detox, because some withdrawal symptoms can even result in death.