Heroin Addiction in Adolescents

Heroin, often called “smack” or “junk,’ is one of the most addictive, dangerous substances plaguing our streets today. With its increasing availability, it is also becoming one of the most popular substances abused by adolescents and young adults. 

young adult heroin rehabAccording to recent studies, the typical “heroin addict” is now an affluent 23-year-old living in the suburbs, who inadvertently was led to heroin through painkillers prescribed by his doctor. While it is true that some users begin taking heroin recreationally, most serious users begin using heroin after first establishing a strong dependence on prescription drugs. They report switching to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain than opioids. In any case, most heroin users do not fully understand its risks—with each hit, each shot, they put their entire life at stake. 

Heroin, like its opiate relatives, is derived from the resin of poppy plants. The opium found in the plant is refined to create morphine, and then further refined to compose heroin. Heroin can take on various forms, and users do not always know exactly what it is they are purchasing or putting into their bodies.

In its purest (and rarest) form, heroin is a fine white powder. Most heroin batches, however, appear to be gray, brown, or black in color. The darker coloring is a result of how the heroin is “cut” or mixed—those who make and sell heroin often dilute it with other substances such as sugar or caffeine to mimic a strong high and still save money. Even worse: many dealers are now blending heroin with toxic additives or poisonous chemicals such as strychnine, arsenic, or quinine. These contaminants do not fully dissolve, meaning they can clog the blood vessels leading to a user’s lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain and result in permanent organ damage.

While heroin can be smoked or snorted, the majority of addicts will choose to inject it through intravenous needles. All three routes of administration will deliver the drug to the brain very rapidly. Once heroin enters the brain, it is converted back into morphine, overly satisfying the brain’s reward system. The “rush” comes within minutes of consuming the drug; when injected, the high occurs within seconds. This immediacy contributes to heroin’s high risk for addiction.
    
Heroin has been classified as a Schedule I drug by the DEA—meaning it carries the highest potential for addiction. Heroin users build tolerance overtime, and eventually need to increase their dosage to achieve the same high. As a result, heroin addicts often end up taking too much—it is not as though they intend to overdose, but their brains literally tell them that they need more of the drug and need it soon. They take it until their bodies can no longer handle its effects— So much, in fact, that the number of heroin-related deaths in the U.S. has tripled in recent years.

Heroin abuse is associated with various serious health conditions. Not only is fatal overdose a risk, but users can also contract infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV (through heroin needles), develop kidney or liver disease, collapsed veins, and pulmonary complications like pneumonia. Respiratory depression is also a great risk. When heroin is consumed, the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain is constricted. This condition, known as hypoxia, can result in permanent brain damage, coma, and death. 

Warning Signs of Heroin Addiction 

If you believe your son or someone you love is abusing heroin, it is vital that you seek professional treatment immediately. Look for the following short and long-term effects of heroin use, and call us directly if he is exhibiting any of these symptoms. You can prevent a heroin addiction from taking the life of your teen. 

Short-term Effects:

  • Warm flushing of skin
  • Small pupils/watery eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy feeling in arms or legs
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe Itching
  • Instances of drowsiness
  • Depressed Breathing/slowed heart rate
  • Cloudiness/Loss of concentration
  • Trance that can last 4-6 hours
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Overdose

Long-term Effects:

  • Inflammation in mouth/bad teeth
  • Weakening of immune system
  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Muscular weakness; partial paralysis
  • Loss of memory and intellectual performance
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Coma

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Youth remain the demographic most vulnerable to the disease of addiction, and heroin is by far the most addictive drug in the underground market today. Therefore, heroin addiction treatment for young adults must be approached differently and in accordance with the unique needs and well-being of adolescents. Integrated, evidence-based treatments—behavioral therapies, detoxification, support groups, counseling, tending to co-morbid disorders-- are needed to maintain a successful recovery and a stable, drug-free life. For details on our heroin addiction treatment program for young men, call Turning Point today at 877-581-1793.