Heroin use is on the rise. This highly addictive narcotic has become more widely available, is cheaper than ever, and is purer in form. There are two main reasons for these changes: the federal crackdown on prescription pill abuse, and the correlating influx of heroin into the black market by drug cartels.
Unfortunately, these changes mean that heroin is easier to buy than ever before, and the increased purity means increased possibility for addiction. The National Institute for Drug Abuse states that 23% of people who use heroin will become dependent on it. This means nearly 1 in 4 people who try heroin will become addicted to the drug.
Heroin is so dangerous and addictive because it plays on the pleasure receptor in the brain. When someone snorts, smokes, or injects heroin, the brain’s nucleus accumbens (the pleasure receiver) is flooded with dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Dopamine lets the brain know that good things are happening. It can be the pleasure received from eating delicious food, kissing a lover, or in this case, taking drugs.
The dangerous part about the pleasure stimulation received from heroin is that the euphoric high created by the drug is so intense that the body begs to repeat it. As the brain and the body seek out that continued experience through repeated heroin use, the nerve cells that dopamine (the pleasure transmitter) stimulates become exhausted. In turn, the overworked nucleus accumbens dulls its response to the drug. The result of this is a sad two-part situation; the first being that enjoyment is no longer received from partaking in once pleasurable activities. The second is that the only way to trigger a pleasure response in the brain is to take even higher doses of heroin. As time goes on, heroin does not even produce pleasure, but without it, such severe “lows” are experienced that regular maintenance is required to not feel horrible.
If you are caught in the cycle of addiction, know there is help! There is treatment for heroin addiction, such as centers that offer medical detox opportunities and freedom from addiction. Harm reduction drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine help curb cravings and the physical symptoms of withdrawal.
In addition to medical support, it is very important to retrain your brain. For the duration of your heroin use, your brain learned that the only way to receive pleasure was through the use of the drug. Triggers such as friends who use, old haunts where you did or scored drugs, the sight of paraphernalia, or even music you listened to while high may trigger a longing for the drug and the feeling it once produced.
Recovery means creating a structured, supportive environment that while provide you the strength to pass through those moments when your addiction calls. Find 12 Step groups in your area; talk with others in recovery from addiction, be patient with yourself and find all the help you need. Heroin is a fierce opponent; you do not need to fight the battle alone.