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  • It is possible to get addicted to heroin after your first time using it. Heroin is a potent opiate that increases dopamine in the brain, a chemical that can create feelings of pleasure in the short term.

    Heroin is one of many drugs derived from the opium poppy plant. Compared to drugs that have a similar structure, such as fentanyl, heroin is one of the most infamous and addictive opioids. It has been illegal in the United States since 1924.

    It is unlikely that you will feel all the negative side effects of heroin after one use. However, one-time taking heroin can easily lead to another, which can turn into chronic, long-term heroin abuse.

    What Causes Heroin Addiction After One Use?

    Heroin, like other opioids, affects opioid receptors in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). Once heroin binds to these receptors, the brain releases dopamine, a chemical that can cause feelings of pleasure and motivation.

    The pleasant effects of heroin can lead to dependence starting from the first time you take it. The brain may send out signals that tell you to seek out more of the drug that caused positive effects in the first place. Dependence is often linked to addiction, due to repeated use of the drug.

    Prescription opioids are often used as painkillers due to their positive effects, but heroin is a powerful illegal drug. The positive and negative effects of heroin use happen from the very first time you take heroin, and every time after.

    Dangers Of Heroin Addiction

    Heroin addiction is a mental health disorder where heroin use hurts your well-being, but you’re unable to quit. Dependence can lead to addiction if you need the drug to function or to avoid negative side effects. Tolerance may lead to taking larger doses of heroin to get the same effects.

    Heroin Withdrawal

    Many heroin withdrawal symptoms are linked to the chemical noradrenaline (NA). NA is usually suppressed when heroin binds to opioid receptors. When heroin is not in the body, NA amounts may increase dramatically. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal can include:

    • anxiety
    • muscle cramps
    • diarrhea
    • heroin cravings

    Depending on your history of heroin use, withdrawal can start only hours after the last time you took heroin and last for up to a week. Withdrawal can be more severe if you have used large amounts of heroin, compared to only using heroin a handful of times.

    Withdrawal symptoms can also feed into heroin addiction. A person may keep using heroin to avoid the unpleasant effects of withdrawal, which often makes their addiction worse.

    Heroin Overdose

    Heroin use causes side effects in many parts of the body. Common side effects of heroin include drowsiness, constipation, dry mouth, decreased heart rate, nausea, and impairment.

    During a heroin overdose, these side effects can become more dangerous. Symptoms of an overdose are likely more severe forms of common side effects, including:

    • slowed or stopped breathing
    • clammy skin
    • vomiting
    • coma
    • tremors

    In 2019, there were over 14,000 overdose deaths involving heroin in the United States. The amount of overdose deaths from heroin has gone up in the last 20 years, which may show that heroin use is getting more common in the U.S.

    The Addictive Nature Of Heroin

    Studies on people who suffer from opioid abuse suggest heroin abuse is often the first opioid people abuse. One of these studies suggests that about 33% of people who reported heroin use claimed it was their first form of opioid abuse.

    Heroin is an addictive drug, but these studies suggest heroin may also be a gateway drug for other forms of substance abuse. One form of illicit drug use involving heroin is a speedball, where heroin is mixed with crack cocaine and taken by snorting.

    Long-term heroin use may also change how your brain works, making it more likely to fall into addictive patterns. While these changes may not happen by taking heroin once, one time may easily lead into a pattern of chronic heroin abuse.

    Get Help For Heroin Addiction

    Heroin is a growing area of concern for illicit substance use. Along with overdose deaths going up in the past 20 years, heroin use is spreading to more suburban and rural areas. Heroin is also available in more potent, dangerous forms, such as speedballs and black tar heroin.

    If you, a family member, or a loved one is struggling with heroin addiction, it is not too late to get help. Dedicated treatment facilities for opioid abuse can help you detox, manage your withdrawal, and teach skills to help you stay sober after your treatment is over.

    To find a treatment program that works for you and your loved one, contact our helpline today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Heroin Overdose Data | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Heroin DrugFacts
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Heroin Research Report Overview
    National Library of Medicine: PubMed - The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment
    NIDA For Teens - What is Heroin? Drug Facts, Effects, Use

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on August 25, 2022
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