Facts about Heroin
The “typical” heroin addict could be a good kid from a good family or a successful professional—not just the stereotypical street addict.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive illicit drug. It is the most widely abused drug of the opioid category, meaning drugs that are derived from the opioid poppy.
Heroin increases pleasure and reduces pain by replacing natural endorphins with even stronger painkillers. After the initial rush, users usually experience flushed skin, a dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in their arms and legs. Symptoms may also include nausea, vomiting, severe itching, and drowsiness. Cardiac functions and breathing slow down severely, sometimes to the point of death.
Although purer heroin is becoming common, street heroin can be cut with strychnine or other poisons. Because abusers don’t know the actual strength or contents of the heroin, they are at risk of fatal overdose.
From the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV)
How Does Heroin Use Affect a Co-occurring Psychiatric Disorder?
Heroin affects the central nervous system, and mental functions are clouded—which can mask and mimic the symptoms of mental illness. In Australia, a 2002 study found that drug abuse and mental illness are major contributors to increasing levels of suicide and/or heroin overdose. Source: Melbourne Division of General Practice. 2002. Relationships between mental health, personal circumstances and drug use in young Victorian heroin users.
IDDT Fact Sheets
How Does Heroin Use Affect the Brain?
Heroin enters the brain, where it is converted to morphine and binds to receptors known as opioid receptors. These receptors are located in many areas of the brain (and in the body), especially those involved in the perception of pain and in reward. Opioid receptors are also located in the brain stem—important for automatic processes critical for life, such as breathing (respiration), blood pressure, and arousal. Heroin overdoses frequently involve a suppression of respiration.
Is Heroin Addiction Treatable?
Yes, and it is important to remember that detoxification is the beginning of treatment, not the entire process. Drugs such as methadone or buprenorphine have been proven effective in reducing heroin cravings.
Where Can I Learn More?
- about.com An easily searchable consumer Web site with extensive content.
- beyondblue.org An organization working to address issues associated with depression, anxiety, and related substance misuse disorders in Australia.
- drugabuse.gov A National Institute on Drug Abuse Web site.
- familydoctor.org A consumer Web site of general health information, including addiction and mental illness.
- hazelden.org Since 1949, Hazelden has provided interdisciplinary treatment for addiction to alcohol and other drugs.
- healthyplace.com This easy-to-search consumer Web site contains extensive information about severe mental illness and specific drug use.
- samhsa.gov and csat.samhsa.gov These U.S. government Web sites are dedicated to mental health and substance abuse treatment, respectively.