It is not easy for the un-addicted to appreciate what addiction feels like. The first tentative try, an uncertain second time and then a rapid incorporation of heroin into everyday life.
“What does heroin feel like?” It feels like a mistake is what all recovering addicts say. Stories of falling into heroin addiction will not typically start with ‘I tried heroin and it was amazing’. Heroin is a strong drug. It is neither easy nor cheap to obtain. Therefore, many people will already have existing addictions or will have experimented with other drugs before reaching heroin.
“I spent so much of my time absolutely oblivious and unconcerned with what was happening. I didn’t care about the way I was treated. The only thing that mattered was this person would get me my next high. That’s all I wanted.”
How heroin addiction starts
Heroin is processed from morphine. Unsurprising, then, that there are many stories of people ‘graduating’ from prescription painkillers to heroin abuse. ‘What does heroin feel like’ can be summed up in two words: tolerance and dependence. In fact, a person’s body will start to build tolerance and dependence after the first use itself.
Tolerance – Once a person starts to use heroin, they require ever-increasing quantities of the drug to experience the same ‘high’.
Dependence – The body becomes accustomed to having heroin in the system. It’s why heroin users experience very strong withdrawal symptoms if heroin use is stopped.
What does heroin feel like?
Heroin’s effects can be likened to those of prescription painkillers; only the effect is much more intense. Heroin binds with opioid receptors in the brain and instils feelings of pleasure and euphoria. After this feeling subsides, lethargy sets in, numbness and confusion follow.
Heroin is an extremely addictive substance. Even using the drug just once or twice can cause addiction. Moreover, heroin use builds dependence on the substance. Therefore, acute withdrawal symptoms are an inevitable effect of heroin use.
Effects of heroin in the short term
Heroin has a profound effect on the body and symptoms of heroin use are apparent almost immediately.
- Flushed skin
- Dry mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sleepiness and drowsiness
- Lethargy and inability to focus
- Discoloration of the lips and extremities
- Sensitivity to light
These effects of heroin will be exhibited in new and long-time users of heroin. Perhaps the most devastating short term effect of heroin we have not mentioned is overdose. It is a misconception that a person will overdose or ‘OD’ on heroin only after prolonged use. That is simply not the case. Everyone will have a different tolerance to heroin and even relatively small amounts can cause a person to overdose within minutes.
“What does heroin feel like? You don’t want to know…using heroin made me feel invincible. Imagine crashing down and finding that actually you are not invincible you are absolutely broken on the inside…that cycle every day. If you were healthy before you’ll hurt even more.”
The effects of long term heroin use
Prolonged heroin use causes widespread physical and mental changes in the body. Perhaps the most commonly understood long term effects are a developing of tolerance and dependence. However, there are many other affects the body feels:
- Tooth decay, damage to gums and teeth falling out
- Weakened immune system (increasing chances of falling ill)
- Liver, heart and lung injuries
- Possibility of withdrawal death
- Inability to respond to stress
- Difficulty in controlling behaviour
- Inability to critically assess situations and poor decision-making
- Risk of coma and brain damage
In pregnant women, heroin use can affect the health and birth of the baby. In fact, in some situations a newborn will be addicted to heroin at birth itself.
What does heroin do to the brain
Once heroin enters the bloodstream, the active ingredient in heroin, diamorphine, begins to bind with opioid receptors in the brain. These are essentially pain receptors and signal the body to produce dopamine. It is this which gives users a feeling of euphoria.
Concurrently, since heroin is acting on the pain receptors in the brain, the body also begins to become numb to pain as pain signals are dulled. Once the initial high of heroin wears off, the body starts to slow down. Heart rate and breathing both reduce. Heroin users speak of overwhelming lethargy and confusion setting in after the high.
Moreover, research has found that prolonged presence of heroin in the body causes the structure and functioning of the brain to change. These changes are difficult to reverse. Moreover, there is a deterioration of the white matter in the brain – which affects decision-making.
“What does heroin feel like? At 19…in college… you think its cool… Yeah you feel really excited for a while. But all I remember now is the shaking and vomiting…I am probably the luckiest one because my parents found out and got me help. There was no coming out I can see now.”