Teen Heroin Addiction

Heroin is one of the most dangerous and highly addictive drugs out there. Teens don't account for a large percentage of heroin drug users, but teen heroin addiction is on the rise. Learn about the effects of heroin drug use and treatment options available for heroin addicts.

Heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs out there. It is highly addictive and can cause dramatic changes in the body. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that around one million people in the U.S. are heroin users. Amongst teenagers, heroin use is not very widespread. Only 1.1 percent of 10th graders and 1 percent of 12th graders have used heroin in the past year. Indeed, the highest percentage of people that report lifetime heroin use is in the 18 to 25 age group. Males are the gender most likely to use heroin.

Most high school students report that they think that heroin use presents a great risk. Many of them even agree that just one use can constitute a risk to health or safety. Heroin use has been dropping, for the most part, in the United States. The dangers associated with heroin are well known; however, some teenagers still experiment with the drug. It is comforting to know that the average age of those who start using heroin is still in the early 20s, and not in the teen years at all.

Heroin production is actually on the rise on a global scale. A great portion of heroin comes from Afghanistan, and the re-emergence of the Taliban and of various warlords has spurred an increase in the growth of the poppy that produces heroin.

Effects of heroin

Heroin is an opiate that has strong affects the brain. It provides a very fast and very dramatic high.  Indeed, it only takes about eight seconds after an injection to feel a rush from heroin. Snorting or smoking heroin takes longer: about 15 minutes. This is why heroin is so popular as an intravenous drug.

As part of the euphoria that comes with heroin use, teens can also experience a warm flushing feeling in the skin. Other short-term and somewhat immediate effects of teen heroin use include:

  • Heavy feeling extremities (arms and legs).
  • Dry mouth.
  • Alternating drowsy and wakeful state.
  • Impaired judgment.
  • Dizziness.
  • Slowed breathing (which can result in respiratory failure).

One of the dangers of heroin is that, depending on the body’s reaction to the drug, it is easy to overdose the first time. In some cases, people have died after the initial use of heroin.

There are long-term effects of teen heroin use as well. Heroin is extremely addictive. A tolerance develops, requiring more and more of the drug to get the same effects. As the tolerance becomes more pronounced, the risk overdose becomes greater. The dependence of the body on the drug for what the user associates with “normal function” becomes so intense, that withdrawal can take place as soon as a few hours after heroin use. Even those who use heroin regularly experience severe withdrawal symptoms. Some of the other long-term effects of teen heroin use include:

  • Collapsed veins from repeated injection. (In some cases hardcore users resort to injecting between their toes.)
  • Infections in the lining of the heart.
  • Abscesses.
  • Liver diseases.
  • Lung problems.
  • Destruction of brain cells.
  • Diseases from needle sharing (including HIV).

It is also important to realize that heroin is often mixed with other white, powdery substances to stretch its use. Heroin users rarely know what else is in the mix (some of it dangerous as well), and they rarely know the true dose. Some of the additives to heroin include strychnine (a poison), starch and sugar.

Treatment for teen heroin use

Treatment for heroin abuse almost always needs to be administered by a physician working in concert with a mental health professional. Heroin addiction affects mental health as much as it does physical health. And the physical health effects of withdrawal are severe: intense cravings, painful cramping, nausea and vomiting, and bone pain. Many heroin users are also put on suicide watch, since that is temptation for those withdrawing from the drug.

In order to help heroin addicts slowly become used to life without heroin, pharmacological treatment is almost always combined with counseling, behavior modification and cognitive techniques. There are drugs made specifically to help ease the transition from addiction to opiates.

For teenagers, a residential treatment facility can be a good choice for detox. These facilities provide around the clock supervision, as well as support services and help for physical and mental health. It is important that relatives and friends also form a support system for the user. Residential treatment facilities can also help teen heroin users withdraw from their drug-using friends as well.

Getting over a heroin addiction is very difficult. However, it can be overcome with perseverance, an aggressive treatment program and the support of loved ones.

Related Article: Teen Drug Use Warning Signs >>