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How Fast Can Someone Get Addicted to Heroin?

June 30, 2020

There is no mistake as to why the saying “all it takes is one time” is used so often in the drug use prevention and addiction field.  Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs that a person can abuse.  It is common now for heroin to be laced with an even stronger drug, fentanyl, or an even stronger drug, carfentanyl.  Heroin is derived from morphine, which is a natural substance that is removed from the seed of the opium poppy plant. American Addiction Centers states that heroin is classified as an illegal drug with no accepted medicinal uses in the United States (Schedule I controlled substance) by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  Fentanyl is a synthetic (man-made) opioid that is like morphine; however, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns that it is 50-100 times more potent than morphine.

Heroin enters the brain quickly and binds to opioid receptors on cells that control a person’s pain and pleasure responses.  It also affects the cells controlling a person’s heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.  How long it takes to get addicted to heroin varies based on the amount used, the frequency of use and the individuals overall physiological make up (weight, metabolism. etc.). The release of dopamine that comes from using heroin and the euphoric feeling it gives the user– even the first time–can leave the brain wanting more.  Everyone can possess differing potentials for establishing an addiction, anyone who uses heroin is at risk of developing a physical and psychological dependence on it following repeated use.

One of BrightView’s Peer Recovery Support Specialist, Matt, who has been sober for six and a half years reflects on his experience with addiction; “I spent years doctor shopping to get pain pills. However, that day inevitably came where I was cut off. With no more prescriptions, and most of my friends moving on to heroin, I had no choice but to try it. I thought to myself, ‘I'll just do it this once until I can get some more pills.’  Since that day, I never did another pain pill. Heroin was much more powerful and cheaper. I ended up using heroin 'once' for 4 straight years.”

If you’re looking for more of a strictly scientific recap of how the brain and a person can get addicted so quickly to heroin, this article written by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, gets pretty heavy into the biological details.  It states, “one of the brain circuits that is activated by opioids is the mesolimbic (midbrain) reward system. This system generates signals in a part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA) that result in the release of the chemical dopamine in another part of the brain, the nucleus accumbens. This release of dopamine into the nucleus accumbens causes feelings of pleasure. Other areas of the brain create a lasting record or memory that associates these good feelings with the circumstances and environment in which they occur. These memories, called conditioned associations, often lead to the craving for drugs when the abuser re-encounters those persons, places, or things, and they drive abusers to seek out more drugs in spite of many obstacles.”

Another one of our amazing Peer Recovery Support Specialists at BrightView, Kelli, has been sober for five years now.  Her story is incredible, yet no doubt a warning as well.  She says, “when I was eighteen, I was working and paying bills, but I was also living a “party” lifestyle. I smoked marijuana daily and occasionally would use other substances. I was at a friend’s house one weekend and they were using heroin. I really didn’t know much about heroin and I definitely had no idea about addiction. I can remember not even second-guessing trying it. I liked how it made me feel and it started to become a regular thing. One day I wasn’t feeling good and I was super emotional and really couldn’t figure out why. I called my friend and was telling her how I felt, and she said, ‘I bet it’s because you haven’t done any of that stuff’.  I thought, ‘there’s no way that’s it.’  I eventually tried it again and sure enough, I felt better instantly. I remember at that moment thinking 'Oh no, this can’t be good.' But I continued to use it for at least another 10 years. I wish I would have known what I was getting into.  I had no idea how quickly it would take over my whole life.”

Here are some signs that an addiction has formed:

  • Continued use despite heroin-related problems with work, family, or other responsibilities
  • Failing to quit or cut down use of a substance
  • Having strong cravings
  • Building up a tolerance to opioids
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms or feeling sick
  • Taking opioids or using heroin in risky or dangerous situations

There is no doubt that heroin is a scary and unpredictable drug.  We are here for you every step of the way if you are feeling as though you need help with addiction.  If you or someone you know may be addicted to heroin and you are seeking help, we encourage you to contact us today. Our friendly and caring recovery center staff answer the phones 24 hours a day. 1-833-510-HELP.

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