Like cocaine, heroin is a drug that is illegal in some areas of the world. Heroin is highly addictive.

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1 Heroin Introduction Heroin is a powerful drug that affects the brain. People who use it can form a strong addiction. Addiction is when a drug user can t stop taking a drug, even when he or she wants to. Heroin may be taken in different ways. No matter how it is taken, heroin is dangerous. It can cause miscarriages, heart infections and death. This reference summary explains heroin. It talks about heroin abuse, its effects on the body and health complications. It also discusses recovery and treatment. Heroin Abuse and Addiction Drug abuse is when a person takes an illegal drug or takes medicine for reasons other than illness. People may start abusing drugs for many reasons. There are certain drugs that are more commonly abused. These drugs may be: Illegal in some areas of the world, such as cocaine. Legal for adults only in some areas of the world, such as alcohol and tobacco. Prescription and over-the-counter medicines, such as painkillers or cough and cold medicines. Like cocaine, heroin is a drug that is illegal in some areas of the world. Heroin is highly addictive. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder. It may also be a black and sticky substance. This type of heroin is called black tar heroin. Heroin is often mixed with other drugs or substances, such as sugar or powdered milk. It may also be mixed with poisons, such as strychnine. Strychnine is a poison used for pest control. 1

2 Heroin can be taken in many different ways, including: By mouth. Injected in a vein or muscle. Inhaled by nose. Smoked. Heroin addiction happens when a drug user feels that they need heroin and can t stop taking it, even if they want to. The urge to take heroin is too strong to control, even if you know it is harming you. For people with a heroin addiction, the addiction is the most important thing in their life. Almost everything a person with a heroin addiction does is to support his or her addiction. For example, a person with a heroin addiction may steal money or perform sexual acts in order to buy more of the drug. When people start taking heroin, they don t plan to get addicted. A drug user believes they can control how much and how often they take a drug. Addiction happens because drugs change the brain and how it works. These brain changes may last a long time and can cause: Memory loss. Mood swings. Trouble thinking and making decisions. It is important to understand that addiction is a disease, just like diabetes and cancer are diseases. Addiction is not simply a weakness. It can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Drug addiction is different than drug dependence. Drug dependence is when people become physically dependent on a drug. Without the drug they will become sick. Drug addiction is a mental disease that can lead to physical drug dependence. 2

3 Not all drugs that can lead to addiction cause dependence. For instance, someone may be addicted to alcohol but not need it physically. Likewise, not all drug dependencies come from addiction. A person may be on a prescribed medication that they cannot stop taking abruptly without getting sick. Effects Heroin changes how the brain works. It is an opiate analgesic drug that is made from morphine. An analgesic is a drug that reduces pain. Analgesics include aspirin and ibuprofen. Opiates are substances that are used to treat pain or cause sleep. Morphine is a natural substance found in the seed pod of the Asian poppy plant. When used as a drug, morphine can treat moderate to severe pain. When a person uses heroin, morphine enters the brain. The morphine acts similarly to endorphins, which are chemicals made naturally by the brain. But morphine is much stronger than natural endorphins. The brain releases endorphins when the body experiences stress or pain. Endorphins make a person feel good. They relieve pain and tension in the body. Morphine binds to and activates opioid receptors. These receptors control the way the brain experiences rewards. They also control breathing and blood pressure. When the receptors are activated, they relieve pain, slow down breathing and cause feelings of extreme happiness. After taking heroin, users feel a sense of euphoria, or rush. The intensity of the rush depends on how much heroin was taken and how quickly it entered the brain. Heroin may also cause a person to experience: A feeling of heaviness in the limbs. A warm flushing of the skin. Clouded mental functioning. Dry mouth. 3

4 Nausea or vomiting. Severe itching. Slowed breathing. Small pupils and watery eyes. After the rush, a person who has taken heroin will feel very relaxed. He or she will alternate between feeling awake and drowsy. This can cause a person to think and move slowly. These effects can last up to 6 hours. Heroin is often used along with other drugs. Some people use heroin and cocaine together. Others may combine heroin and alcohol. With regular use of heroin, a tolerance develops. This means that the user s response to the drug decreases. More heroin is needed to achieve the same effect. Some heroin users lose the effect of euphoria completely. A heavy user may use heroin only to relieve unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Health Complications Heroin can cause many health problems. These include: Bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves. Liver or kidney disease. Lung problems, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. If heroin is injected, it can leave marks where the needle went in. Sharing needles can also cause more serious complications, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It kills or damages the body's immune system cells. AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It is the most advanced stage of infection with HIV. HIV/AIDS can be spread by sharing drug needles. Hepatitis is an inflammation and infection of the liver. It can lead to scarring, called cirrhosis, or to cancer. Hepatitis is also spread by sharing drug needles. 4

5 Using heroin while pregnant increases the risk of premature birth and birth defects. A baby born to a mother who is addicted to heroin may have symptoms of withdrawal after birth. Heroin abuse may also cause a miscarriage. A miscarriage is the loss of a baby during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Heroin causes more deaths by overdose than any other drug. Heroin overdose may result in death because it slows or stops breathing. Heroin is highly addictive. If use is stopped, the person has strong cravings for the drug. Recovery & Treatment Recovery from heroin addiction is possible. A person can become sober if they receive treatment. Treatment programs that provide education and therapy sessions are available. These sessions may be done individually, in a group setting or with family members. Treatment can also be done in different settings. Outpatient programs let people come and go to receive treatment. Inpatient programs let people stay as a resident in a facility to receive treatment. Counseling can be done one-on-one or with family members. It can help you cope with cravings and provide strategies for avoiding relapse. Relapsing is when a person quits a drug but starts using again. People recovering from addiction often have one or more relapses along the way. Self-help groups are also a key part of treatment for many people. These groups focus on how drug addiction is a disease that requires ongoing treatment. It can also connect you to people who are in similar situations. A health care provider or counselor can help determine which type of treatment is best for each person. Concerned family members can also get in contact with a health care provider or counselor to try to help a loved one that is addicted to drugs. 5

6 Heroin withdrawal can cause: Chills and sweating. Diarrhea and vomiting. Muscle and bone aches. Muscle spasms. Restlessness. Sleepiness. Stomach, leg and arm cramps. Withdrawal from heroin can cause painful side effects. But it is usually not life threatening. Treatment for heroin recovery includes supportive care and medicines. Medicines can relieve symptoms of heroin withdrawal, such as vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Methadone is a drug that can prevent or relieve symptoms of withdrawal. It is a drug that is similar to heroin, but it lasts longer in the body. Methadone can reduce the need for heroin while preventing withdrawal symptoms. Some people use methadone as a long term treatment. This is called maintenance. Some people eventually are able to reduce their use of methadone or stop using it completely. This is known as detoxification, or detox. Buprenorphine is another drug that can be used. Compared to methadone, buprenorphine has less risk of overdose and withdrawal effects. It also has less risk of dependence. Summary Heroin is a powerful drug that affects the brain. Heroin addiction happens when a drug user feels that they need heroin and can t stop taking it, even if they want to. The urge to take heroin is too strong to control, even if you know it is harming you. After taking heroin, users feel a sense of euphoria, or rush. After the rush, a person who has taken heroin will feel very relaxed. He or she will alternate between feeling awake and drowsy. This can cause a person to think and move slowly. 6

7 Heroin can cause many health problems. These include: Bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves. Liver or kidney disease. Lung problems, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. Miscarriage. Transmission of HIV/AIDS or hepatitis. Recovery from heroin addiction is possible. A person can become sober if they receive treatment. Treatment for heroin recovery includes supportive care and medicines. Medicines can relieve symptoms of heroin withdrawal, such as vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. 7

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