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How Heroin Addiction Works

Heroin is an opioid.

The addictive nature of opioids is excruciatingly well known at this point. The lives it’s destroyed and the suffering endured by users and bystanders alike is incalculable.

In regards to heroin specifically, though, the numbers are numbing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Nearly 130,000 died from overdoses related to it from 1999 to 2019 
  • The number of heroin-involved overdose deaths was more than 7 times higher in 2019 than in 1999
  • Almost 1/3rd of all opioid deaths involved heroin

What Is Heroin?

Aside from being an opioid, an illicit one, what exactly is it?

As defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Heroin can be a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin”.

It can be injected, sniffed, snorted or smoked.

Since it’s an opioid, you may be wondering if there’s a link between prescription opioids and heroin use.

Unfortunately, that does look to be the case, NIDA notes that “research now suggests that misuse of these medications may actually open the door to heroin use. Some also report switching to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids”.

A 2013 study found that “nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin”.

Why Is Heroin Addictive and How Does Heroin Addiction Work?

As a nation, we’ve collectively come to understand the incredibly addictive nature of opioids and heroin is very much part of that mix. The same mechanisms that make prescription opioids so addictive are at play with this illegal alternative.

Heroin is extremely fast-acting, particularly when injected and binds to opioid receptors in the brain. In addition to the pain vanishing in seemingly an instant, heroin also comes with a wave of euphoria and pleasure. It’s largely this euphoric surge and the hours it can last that people crave.

As you continuously seek that “reward”, you find yourself needing to take ever larger doses of heroin because you’ve built a tolerance where the same dose just doesn’t cut it anymore.

To put it in more scientific terms we’ll defer back to the National Institute on Drug Abuse; “heroin binds to and activates specific receptors in the brain called mu-opioid receptors (MORs). Our bodies contain naturally occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters that bind to these receptors throughout the brain and body to regulate pain, hormone release, and feelings of well-being. When MORs are activated in the reward center of the brain, they stimulate the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing a reinforcement of drug taking behavior”.

In a nutshell, that’s how heroin addiction works.

How to Get Help With a Heroin Addiction

Deaths from overdose continue to be a widespread issue and the pandemic has only made matters with 93,000 lives lost last yeara tragic record.

Of course, this is on top of the ongoing opioid epidemic, heroin included, that the US has been trying to work through over the past couple of decades.

With respect to highly addictive drugs like heroin, it’s imperative to seek help because these drugs are frequently just too powerful to kick on your own as we’ve come to find.

Fortunately, help is never farther than a phone call away nowadays.

At Inneractions in the San Fernando Valley, our intensive outpatient program utilizes evidence-based methods to help you overcome your heroin addiction and avoid ending up a statistic.

If you or a loved one are struggling with this, don’t hesitate to reach out because as we’ve seen all too many times, opioid addiction can often end in heartbreak.

Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

Often, substance abuse issues have an underlying, root cause. Our program treats co-occurring disorders to ensure long-term recovery.

Learn more about our dual diagnosis treatment and how we can help you or your loved one.