Is It Possible to Develop a Heroin Addiction After the First Use?
Heroin is a very addictive opioid drug that comes from the opium poppy plant. It’s usually found as a white or brown powder or a sticky black substance. Using heroin can lead to mental and physical health issues, as well as a risk of addiction and dependence. It’s a Schedule I controlled substance in the U.S. because of the addiction potential and the health risks associated with its use.
Addiction to heroin or other substances is a complicated, chronic brain disorder. Long-term changes to the brain characterize addiction, as does compulsive drug-seeking, despite it causing harmful consequences. When someone develops a heroin addiction, they don’t have control over their drug use, and they aren’t able to stop or limit this use even if they have a desire to do so.
The Short- and Long-Term Effects of Heroin
Short-term heroin effects can include:
- An intense sense of pleasure.
- Pain relief.
- Extreme relaxation, drowsiness, and sedation.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Dry mouth.
- Slow breathing.
- Cloudy mental functioning.
- Pinpoint pupils.
Long-term effects can include:
- Addiction, tolerance, and physical dependence.
- Increased risk of infection, especially when sharing needles.
- Cardiovascular problems like heart infections.
- Chronic constipation and other gastrointestinal issues.
- Liver and kidney damage.
- Mental health disorders.
There’s also a high risk of overdosing on heroin because it’s a central nervous system depressant. Overdose symptoms include extreme drowsiness, prolonged breathing, and unconsciousness.
Why Is Heroin Addictive?
Heroin is an addictive substance because its use impacts the brain’s reward system, creating intense pleasurable and euphoric feelings. Factors that play a role in the addictive nature of heroin include:
- How quickly the effects occur. Heroin can go into the brain rapidly after it enters the bloodstream. There’s a powerful euphoric rush that happens fast and with intensity.
- Heroin is converted to morphine when it reaches the brain, where it activates opioid receptors after binding to them. Opioid receptors are part of the reward system in the brain and play a role in the perception of pain and pleasure.
- When opioid receptors are activated, dopamine is released. The surge of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward, not only creates euphoric feelings but it reinforces the desire to continue using heroin.
- When someone repeatedly uses heroin, their brain adapts to its presence, leading to a tolerance. Developing a tolerance means higher doses of heroin are required to get the same pleasurable effects first experienced, so more of the drug is used.
- Regularly using heroin and other opioids contributes to physical dependence, and withdrawal symptoms can happen if someone stops or cuts back on their use.
- As well as physical dependence, people who use heroin can develop psychological dependence. They might rely on the drug to deal with emotional pain or distress or other difficult situations.
A cycle forms where heroin is used to experience pleasure, and withdrawal symptoms also drive compulsive drug-seeking. Long-term heroin use affects the brain functionally and structurally, especially in the parts related to decision-making, regulating stress, and impulse control. These changes in the brain are contributors to addictive behaviors.
These factors combined create a reinforcing loop, and addiction often requires a comprehensive professional program to address all the psychological and physical aspects.
How Does Heroin Addiction Occur?
The process of heroin addiction can look somewhat different for everyone, but it usually begins with the initial exposure, often through peer influence or experimentation. Heroin is most commonly used by injection, but can also be snorted or smoked. The drug quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier, leading to the above-mentioned effects. Over time, tolerance and physical and psychological dependence can occur.
The timeline for developing a heroin addiction widely varies depending on the person. Factors that influence how quickly someone could become addicted rely on the amount used, the frequency of use, genetics, individual susceptibility, and overall health.
Can You Get Addicted to Heroin After Using It Once?
It’s not expected to become addicted to heroin after using it once, but again, the risk of addiction depends on the person, their genetics, mental health, and their social environment. The rapid effects on the brain create a powerful desire to use it again even after one use, but addiction typically involves patterns of compulsive substance use over time.
Some people can experiment with heroin and never become addicted or can use it just once. Others may find themselves very quickly drawn to the repeated use that triggers an addiction and dependence cycle.
Signs of heroin addiction can include:
Spending a lot of time and effort getting and using heroin, disregarding other responsibilities because of heroin use, and legal issues related to drug use or possession are behavioral signs of heroin addiction. Financial difficulties can occur because of spending money on drugs.
Physical signs of heroin addiction may include track marks from injecting heroin, small pupils, slurred speech, and problems with balance and coordination. An addiction can lead to a neglect of personal hygiene and changes in weight. Physical health issues, like frequent respiratory problems or infections, can begin to occur.
Heroin addiction can cause rapid, extreme mood changes and social isolation. It may also cause new symptoms of mental health conditions or make existing ones worse. Someone with an addiction disorder may also seem easily annoyed, agitated, or defensive.
If a person is dependent on heroin and not using it, they might show signs of opioid withdrawal like sweating, anxiety, muscle aches, and nausea.
The Importance of Early Intervention
While there’s not a definitive timeline that determines how long it will take someone to become addicted to heroin, evidence and research show the importance of early intervention. Early intervention can prevent the escalation of heroin use into more severe addiction patterns, reduce health risks, and improve the effectiveness of treatment and the likelihood of a successful recovery.
Early intervention can also prevent social and legal consequences and improve someone’s overall quality of life.
Overall, early intervention is an integral part of breaking the cycle of addiction, reducing harm, and promoting the best possible outcomes for someone who is struggling with the use of heroin.
Why Choose Midwest Recovery Centers?
Here at Midwest Recovery Centers, we treat heroin addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders in an integrated way. We use different approaches, including medical and psychiatric care, clinical therapy, and holistic activities, all performed in a safe, structured environment.
We also offer:
- Residential Detox: Our detox program’s clients benefit from medically supervised care led by licensed healthcare professionals. As part of the detox process, individuals have access to 24/7 medical care and supervision, as well as the support they need to manage withdrawal symptoms.
- Transitional Recovery: Our program is broken into three phases, beginning with detox. Once clients have achieved medically supervised detox stabilization, they start attending groups and meeting with individual therapists.
- Clinical Services such as individual and group therapy.
- A Family Program: Along with weekly family contact from our clinical team, family members are encouraged to attend our monthly Family Night on the first Wednesday of each month, family support group meetings such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, and participate in the overall treatment process.
- Aftercare: We provide an extensive aftercare program to continue reinforcing the principles and behaviors learned in the recovery process.
- Community IOP: This program is tailored to those individuals who have been able to cease consistent and persistent drug and alcohol abuse but still require the development of tools to respond to relapse triggers, cravings, and other hurdles of early recovery.
- Residential Mental Health Program: Our comprehensive program is designed to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of each patient, with stays ranging anywhere from 7 days to 45 day
If you have questions about addiction treatment or you’d like to take the next step, contact us.