The worst effect of heroin is the actual addiction. Addiction is a chronic disease that is prone to relapse. It is characterized by chemical/molecular changes in the brain and in the case of heroin, severe withdrawal symptoms. Heroin produces high degrees of both tolerance and physical dependence. This often leads to abuse and compulsive use. What happens is that heroin addicts use up more and more time and energy to obtain and use the drug. It eventually becomes the primary purpose in the addict’s life. It not only changes the makeup of the brain but also the behavior of the user.
Physical Dependence and Withdrawal
As the drug abuser ingests higher doses of heroin, physical dependence soon develops. This causes the body to adapt to the drug being in it. So, if use is suddenly terminated, withdrawal symptoms occur. This may happen within just a few hours of the last use of the drug. Withdrawal symptoms include vomiting, cold flashes, goose bumps, insomnia, bone and muscle pain, increased restlessness and diarrhea. The most severe symptoms peak within 24 and 48 hours after the last heroin dose. They generally lessen after a week or so. It’s not unusual, however, for people to persist with withdrawal signs for several months after ceasing use. It is generally not fatal to healthy adults but it can result in death to a pregnant addict’s fetus.
Sometimes addicted people will endure withdrawal symptoms for awhile. This is so their tolerance can go back to lower levels and they can experience the rush of the drug again.
Physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms used to be considered the key features of heroin addiction. However, that is not entirely the case because craving and relapse can reoccur long after the withdrawal symptoms disappear.
To contrast this, patients who need other opiates to function because of chronic pain, have little or no withdrawal signs after the pain is relieved and they get off of opiates. This may mean that the patient is seeking pain relief not the rush needed by a heroin addict.
Other long term effects of heroin addiction include:
• Infectious diseases (like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C)
• Collapsed veins
• Bacterial infections
• Heart lining and valve infections
Short Term Effects
Heroin addicts also experience short term effects from using the drug. They can include:
• Pain suppression
• Sudden abortion
• Nausea and vomiting
• Deceased respiration
• Confused mental functioning
Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive drug. It is the most abused and quick acting of all of the opiates. It is made from morphine and usually sold as a white or brown powder. There is also a form of heroin know as “black tar” which is a black sticky form of the drug.
The 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that 3.7 million people in the US used heroin at some point in their lives.
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