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Why is Heroin So Addictive?

Heroin is a highly-addictive drug derived from morphine, which is obtained from opium poppy plants.

Heroin use impacts the brain more severely than other substances and can create brain changes that lead to addiction.

After an injection of heroin, the user reports feeling a surge of euphoria or “rush.” With regular heroin use, tolerance develops. This means the person must use more heroin to achieve the same intensity or effect.

At higher doses used over time, addiction develops and the person has an overpowering physical urge for the drug. This is called craving. The person also experiences a loss of control, making it more difficult to refuse the drug, even when use becomes harmful. Most people who are addicted to opioids cannot taper off (use less of the drug over time) without help.

With physical dependence, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms may occur if use is reduced or stopped. Withdrawal, which in regular abusers may occur as early as a few hours after the last administration, produces drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”), kicking movements and other symptoms.

Heroin abuse is associated with a number of serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV (because these diseases are transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids, which can occur when sharing needles or other injection drug use equipment.)

Some teenagers and young adults are at greater risk of becoming addicted because of their temperament or personal situation, such as having a mental health disorder or experiencing trauma in childhood.

In addition, if there is a history of addiction – cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, etc. – in your family, then your child has a much greater risk of developing a drug or alcohol problem. Explain to your teen that while he may be tempted to try drugs, the odds are really against him. His genes make him more vulnerable and he could easily develop a dependence or addiction. Use this family history as a way to talk with your child and regularly remind him of this elevated risk, as you would with any disease.

From Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

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