Heroin is one of a group of drugs known as "opioids". Heroin and other opioids are depressants, which slow down the activity of the central nervous system and messages being sent from the brain and the body.
Heroin can range from a fine white powder to off-white granules or pieces of brown "rock". It has a bitter taste but no smell. Heroin is most commonly injected into a vein. It is also smoked, added to marijuana and cigarettes, or snorted.
Effects of heroin
The effects of heroin may last three to five hours. Effects may include:
- Intense pleasure and a strong feeling of well-being
- Pain relief
- Slowed breathing
- Decreased blood pressure and heart rate
- Constricted pupils
- Dry mouth
- Suppressed cough reflex
- Reduced sexual urges
If a dependent person suddenly stops taking heroin, or severely cuts down the amount they use, they will experience withdrawal symptoms because their body has to readjust to functioning without the drug. Withdrawal usually occurs within a few hours after last use.
Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Cravings for the drug.
- Yawning, nausea and vomitting.
- Low blood pressure.
- Elevated heart rate.
- Stomach and leg cramps, muscle spasms.
- Headaches and flu-like symptoms.
These withdrawal symptoms get stronger and usually peak around two to four days after last use. They usually subside after a week. Continued craving for the drug may last for periods of months and even years.
A number of drug treatment options are available for heroin dependency. Treatment is more effective if tailored to suit a person's specific situation, and usually involves a combination of counselling, group therapy, medication/pharmacotherapy programs such as methadone, buprenorphine or suboxone, and supervised inpatient, outpatient or home detox.
Source of information: DrugInfo Clearinghouse - Australian Drug Foundation
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