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Why Is Heroin So Addictive

Why Is Heroin So Addictive
Written by Seth Fletcher on December 8, 2022
Last update: May 15, 2024

Heroin is definitely one of the most addictive substances on the market today and leads to tens of thousands of heroin abuse cases each year in the country. We have all heard of this drug in movies, but what is it, and why is heroin so addictive? Understanding this remains key to a healthy, productive recovery process. Let’s find out how this drug is made and what the road to addiction can look like.

Table of contents
1. What Is Heroin?
2. How Heroin Is Made and How It Works
3. What Makes Heroin Addictive?
4. How to Avoid Becoming Addicted to Heroin

What Is Heroin?

You might know of those beautiful red flowers we call poppies that are mainly grown in South America, Asia, Afghanistan and Mexico. These plants contain opium and morphine, natural drugs which have been used forever as analgesics for pain relief.

Heroin constitutes a derivative of these drugs, first invented in 1874 and now used worldwide for recreational drug use as well as certain medical purposes. It is basically a semi-synthetic opioid that addicts enjoy because of its euphoric properties.

How Heroin Is Made and How It Works

Heroin is produced by growing poppy flowers and harvesting their seed pods. Inside these, there are not only multiple seeds that will be reused the following year to plant more flowers, but also a sap that is collected and pressed into a block. 

Experts boil this sap with calcium oxide, which separates the morphine from the gum. This white substance is boiled once more with ammonia then filtered. It is boiled once more to become a brown-coloured paste that can easily be dried into bricks. 

The bricks of morphine need to be processed to become heroin and, to do so, they go through multiple mixing and boiling steps with various chemicals like hydrochloric acid, sodium carbonate, chloroform, ether, and alcohol, to only name a few.

Because this refined heroine tastes bitter on its own, it is often mixed with starches or sugar, or even caffeine and powdered milk, which will change its texture and taste. On the market, it often resembles a white or brownish powder or is provided in the form of a black-brownish tar. Sometimes it is sold as granulated particles or rock-like beads.

Crushed and snorted, injected, heated and inhaled, or mixed with other substances, this addictive drug then travels through the nervous system and into the brain. There are some natural opioids that produce joyful sensations you might have heard of, endorphins! 

Heroine works the same way by binding to the same receptors of natural opioids and releasing dopamine in a fast manner, resulting in a high that can last several hours. Accompanying this state of euphoria is a diminished appetite and slowed breathing as well as a reduced heartbeat. 

Basically, taking heroin makes your brain go haywire! Your body craves its elated effect, but it can’t reproduce it so strong on its own, causing a variety of withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Pain and involuntary movements
  • Digestive problems (nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation)
  • Sensation of cold, fever or itching
  • Trouble sleeping

What Makes Heroin Addictive?

Why heroin is an addictive substance is multifactor. Obviously, once you have felt that high, that joy and euphoria, you want to feel it again! It is one of the main reasons heroin is known to lead so rapidly to dependence and addiction.

Without that increased dopamine, you are more prone to depression and coordination issues, and may even be incapable of memorizing things as easily as beforehand. Your body shuts down and prolonged exposure can even lead to infections, diseases, and higher risks of exposure to certain conditions, such as HIV.

However, it is not all about what you ingest. Your family history and genes you have inherited play a part in your addictive process too, as does mental health. Social environments also affect addiction; if you’re experimenting peer pressure or stress, the chances of you using this substance and getting hooked are higher.

How to Avoid Becoming Addicted to Heroin

If you have tried heroin and are feeling certain side effects and withdrawal symptoms of heroin addiction, rest assured, there are ways to overcome it and get on the road to recovery. 

Some people start off by seeking support from friends and family members or joining support groups specialized in this type of substance abuse. If a friend or family member is a heroin addict or is struggling with heroin abuse, showing them your support is always a great way to start the recovery process when he or she is ready. Others enroll in individual or group therapy sessions or indulge in self-care rituals and activities that are beneficial to them.

CCFA Is Here to Support You

No matter the situation you are in or the severity of your heroin abuse, the Canadian Centre for Addictions (CCFA) is here to provide support through different treatment programs. Get your heroin addiction treatment started today or learn more about how to begin on our website or by phone at 1-855-499-9446.

Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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