Mythconception: One Hit of Heroin and you're Hooked
This week’s “mythconception” comes from Moira, who has been wondering whether it’s really true that it takes only one hit of heroin to become hooked. Chris spoke to someone with first hand experience…
Liam - My name is Liam Farrell and I’m a morphine addict. Morphine is almost the same thing as heroin; heroin being diamorphine which breaks down into morphine in the body. But, I’m also nine years clean. I’m not answering this question as an expert; just as an addict still in recovery, so I do have some perspective.
Essentially this myth is completely untrue. In medicine, heroin and other similar strong opiates are used regularly for pain relief, for which they are uniquely effective, and addiction is almost unknown. Even longer term use, as in cancer pain, doesn’t necessarily lead to addiction although addiction to prescribed opiates has become a huge problem in the USA. Fifty Americans die every day because of prescription opiate overdose and it’s now a more likely cause of death for middle aged patients than road traffic accidents. So heroin has led many users to dependence and addiction.
Although it’s unlikely that you’ll develop a full blown addiction to heroin the first time you use it, that euphoric introductory experience can be the start of a compulsive cycle that leads to addiction. My memories are of a warm tidal wave washing all through my body leaving a really pleasant languor afterwards. Heroin acts by activating the specialised opiate receptors in the brain triggering a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that generates the feelings of pleasure.
Unfortunately, the more frequently you use the drug, the more rapidly your brain adjusts to the chemical changes that it causes and there are estimates that nearly one quarter of people who try heroin will become addicted. I used once every six months for a few years with no problems, no withdrawal reaction, no cravings before starting to take it more often. When I did start taking it a few times each week, I developed a physical addiction within a few weeks and after that, not getting the drug leads to a horrible withdrawal reaction which, after all these years, my memories of withdrawal still give me a chill.
So certainly physical addiction takes a period of regular use to develop. Though it’s possible that the seeds are sewn from that first hit, when you actually cross that line of actually sticking a needle into yourself. To put it simply, if you never try heroin in the first place, you don't have to worry about coming addicted to it.