Can You Get Addicted to Heroin After the First Use?
Heroin has the reputation of being one of the most addictive illicit drugs. Many government and academic institutions report that heroin is either very addictive or highly addictive. Adding to the risk associated with the substance is the number of people who abuse the drug.
Heroin use is strongly associated with addiction, but can you get addicted to heroin after using it just once? Governmental and educational leaders in the field do not say definitively either way. What they do know is that trying heroin can set into motion a pattern of use that can be dangerous and deadly.
What Happens the First Time You Use Heroin?
Heroin is an illegal substance that is derived from morphine, which is the active opiate alkaloid compound found in the opium poppy plant. Heroin users may abuse the substance by:
- Smoking it.
- Injecting it into a vein or muscle, or just below the skin.
- Snorting the powder or a liquid mixture.
Misconceptions exist regarding the risks associated with the various methods of administration. Some opt to smoke or snort heroin due to a belief that this markedly reduces its addictive quality, but this is not the case. (It is true, though, that avoiding injection use reduces the risk of hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.)
Whether smoked, snorted, or injected, heroin acts quickly in the body—with each method’s effects influenced by how soon it can reach the brain. Consider the speeds of the following routes of administration, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research:
- When injected into a vein, the opioid high will be most intense and will be felt almost immediately. The full effects will be experienced in less than 10 seconds.
- When injected into a muscle, the intensity will decrease somewhat, with peak effects experienced in less than 10 minutes.
- When snorted or smoked, the high will take longer to develop—generally, somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes—and it will ultimately be less intense.
On their first use of heroin, a person will experience a high, sometimes called a “rush,” the intensity of which will be dictated by various factors, including:
- The amount used.
- The method of use.
- The purity of the substance.
- The presence of other substances in the body.
The first high is likely to be the most intense for someone using heroin. This is because as use continues, the body quickly develops a tolerance to the drug, with its pleasurable effects becoming somewhat muted with each successive use. The development of tolerance is associated with a phenomenon called “chasing the high,” in which users continually take more, buy more potent drugs, or change the method of administration in an attempt to recreate that first high.
Why Do People Use Heroin?
Heroin’s intense high and quick speed of onset are major attractions for users. Curiosity about the drug is also a reason that people begin heroin use. According to the NIDA, common reasons for substance abuse include:
- Experiencing the high. Heroin will produce an initial high followed by a period of heightened relaxation and drowsiness.
- Self-medicating. People who suffer with various troublesome mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and negative feelings associated with past trauma may look to heroin as a coping skill to alleviate problems.
- Fitting in. Some users (especially younger ones) may begin using heroin because of pressure from their peers.
Another major portion of current heroin users consists of those who have abused opioid painkiller medication. The transition from opioids to heroin is frighteningly common because heroin provides a similar high at a much cheaper price point. Furthermore, many states are cracking down on the distribution of painkillers, leading those unable to access the painkillers to look elsewhere—often to heroin. NIDA estimates that nearly half of all heroin users have abused opioid painkillers.
Effects of Using Heroin
Heroin will provide a “rush” in a short amount of time. The “rush” will be experienced as an extremely pleasurable feeling. Immediately following the rush, the user will experience:
- Feelings of calm.
- Decreased sensations of pain.
- Slowed thinking.
- “Nodding” (alternating periods of sleep and wakefulness).
Other users will have negative reactions that follow first use, like:
- Dry mouth.
- Feeling itchy.
Since heroin is a central nervous system depressant, its use is associated with a slowing of normal bodily functions. Someone on heroin is likely to experience:
- Delayed reaction time.
- Poor coordination.
- Lethargy and drowsiness.
- Lowered blood pressure (hypotension).
- Slowed heart rate.
- Slowed breathing.
Learn more about the effects of heroin use.
A large or especially potent dose of heroin can lead to:
- Very slowed heart rate.
- Difficulty breathing or frank respiratory arrest.
It’s imperative to act immediately in an overdose situation. Naloxone, known by the brand names Narcan and Evzio, can aid in reducing and reversing symptoms of heroin overdose and can save a life when given early. Some communities hit hard by heroin use dispense naloxone kits in the hope of preventing overdose deaths.
Why Is Heroin Dangerous?
As a heroin user begins to view heroin as their only source of real pleasure, he or she may begin focusing on the drug as the sole means of meeting their needs and neglecting other aspects of their life. This can lead to:
- Financial concerns.
- Strained relationships.
- Problems with the law.
- Decreased self-care.
This continued, compulsive use in the face of mounting negative consequences is at the root of addiction.
Long-term physical risks of heroin use include:
- Liver and kidney disease.
- Systemic infections.
- Vascular inflammation.
- Skin infection; abscess formation.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Damage to the nasal septum (snorting).
- Bloodborne diseases (injection use).
If you’re beginning to experience some of these repercussions of use, it’s time to seek help. Please call American Addiction Centers (AAC) free at to learn how heroin addiction treatment can restore your health and wellbeing.
How Do You Get Addicted to Heroin?
The path to addiction is different for each person, as it is not one factor that influences this development, but several. A person’s propensity to abuse heroin is impacted by both genetics and environmental risk factors, such as:
- Childhood aggression.
- Poor supervision from parents.
- Dysfunction in the family.
- Lack of appropriate social relationships.
- Experimentation with drugs.
- Access to drugs.
- Previous abuse of prescription opioids.
- Socioeconomic status of the community.
The Path to Heroin Addiction
Many want to try heroin just one time to see what it’s like. However, in many cases, use doesn’t stop after the first hit. The high is so intensely pleasurable to many that the desire to get these feelings back is exceedingly difficult to combat.
As tolerance develops with repeated use and ever-increasing amounts of heroin are required to feel the same sensations, the user is at risk of eventually becoming heroin-dependent. Dependence is characterized by the adaptation of the body to the presence of a drug so that it feels like it needs it to function as normal. Dependent individuals will begin to crave heroin intensely and experience withdrawal symptoms when unable to use. Eventually, what began as a pattern of seeking a high turns to a pattern of heroin withdrawal avoidance—a key indicator of addiction.
When you’ve become addicted to heroin, you continue to take it even when known adverse consequences result from use.
What to Do if You’re Considering Trying Heroin
Despite the risks and dangers, some still contemplate using heroin for the first time. Before making such a potentially life-altering decision, you may want to consider if the short-term benefits offset the long-term risks and if you are willing to ruin your relationships, financial stability, and freedom by using heroin.
Drug use can be a lonely and isolating journey. Before trying arguably one of the most addictive drugs, seek the feedback and opinions of trusted people in your life. Friends, family members, and religious officials can provide support and guidance. You can also visit a support group or call a hotline if you are feeling compelled to use.
Medical and addiction professionals can also be great sources of information about how heroin affects a person—both physically and psychologically—in the short and long term.
Using heroin once may not be a problem, but due to the highly addictive quality of the substance, many people continue using it in spite of their best intentions. If you are looking for more information on heroin or heroin addiction and treatment, please call American Addiction Centers (AAC) free at today.
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