Heroin and Depression

Heroin and Depression

Table of Contents

Are Heroin and Depression Related?

Heroin and depression are absolutely related. The effects of heroin use on the brain in both short and long-term use are detrimental to the overall regulation of mood and long-term mental function.

In this article, we’ll review the relationship between heroin and depression including definitions, statistics, and legal status of heroin and depression as applicable.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid made from morphine, which is made from poppy plants. Heroin is either a white powder or a sticky, black tar-like substance, depending on how it’s produced. Heroin is highly addictive and, at times, is combined with crack cocaine to create the even more addictive substance known as a speedball. Other names for heroin include horse, junk, ska, tar, and H, to name a few.

What Does it Look Like?

Pure heroin is white, heroin cut with other substances has varying shades of brown, and lastly, black tar heroin, which can be dark orange as well, is a form of heroin that resembles a small rock.

Drug Class and Schedule

Heroin is classified as a depressant and considered a schedule 1 controlled substance. This means that due to its rate of abuse, addiction, and lack of medicinal value, the manufacturing of the drug is controlled by the government. In comparison, schedule 5 drugs have low addictive properties and high medicinal value.

Statistics About Heroin Use

Heroin use is widely studied. Here are some numbers:1

  • Since 2007, heroin use has been on the rise in the U.S. Almost 950,000 people in the U.S. have admitted to current or past heroin use
  • 170,000 people began using heroin in 2017. However, heroin use in teenagers is the lowest it’s been since 1991
  • Ages 18-25 are primarily responsible for the increase in heroin abuse
  • The number of overdoses in ages 55-64 more than doubled between 1997-2017
  • In 2016, it’s estimated that there were 1.7 million years of potential life lost due to heroin overdose. This number represents the combined total of years that could’ve been lived had these individuals not overdosed on heroin.

As mentioned, heroin abuse is on the rise. It heavily contributes to the amount of money, over 160 billion, spent per year by the government on medicinal and treatments, overdoses, drug arrests, etc. This number doesn’t include prescription drug abuse, which costs more than 78 billion per year. While these numbers are not entirely comprised of just heroin abuse, it serves to paint a picture of the overall damage heroin use has on individual health and the government structure. In a perfect world, this money could be used to improve healthcare, raise education levels, and other productive uses for society.

What is the Heroin Epidemic?

The heroin epidemic, more accurately called the opioid epidemic, is a drug epidemic affecting most countries. The epidemic is defined by the increased number of opioid abuse and overdoses. Within the U.S., the epidemic began because of increased opioid prescriptions, like pain relievers, for relatively minor surgeries. This caused the reach of drug addiction to go into the reach of individuals that had no prior drug-use or interest. This is because the addictive properties of opioids weren’t as highly stressed at the time, causing people to be unaware of the risk they were taking by using prescription opioids. This led to increased opioid use in small towns, families, and white-collar professions.

This isn’t to say that small towns, families, or types of professions were immune to drug abuse, but that the rates of drug use in these environments were drastically lower before opioid prescriptions.

The opioid epidemic can be separated into 3 distinct waves.2

  • Wave 1: Initial increase of prescription opioids
  • Wave 2: Beginning in 2010, a rapid increase of heroin overdoses
  • Wave 3: The rise of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Synthetic opioids are far more potent than their naturally occurring predecessors. This can often lead to accidental overdoses as individuals drastically misjudge the amount needed to obtain their desired high. Fentanyl, for example, is almost 100x more potent than morphine, the drug from which heroin is derived

How Addictive is Heroin?

Heroin is highly addictive. Like any illicit opioid substance, heroin increases the production of dopamine chemicals in the brain. Heroin can cause an out of body experience, intense feelings of relaxation and happiness, and general euphoria. Heroin reprograms the reward center of the brain, which leads to abuse and cravings. The chance of addiction increases depending on how it’s abused. The quicker and more frequently a drug reaches the brain, the more likely it is for addiction to develop.

What is Depression?

Clinical depression is defined by a consistent negative thought, low self-worth, tiredness, and general mental fogginess. The World Health Organization estimates that over 300 million people have clinical depression. Despite popular belief, depression doesn’t mean that an individual necessarily experiences sadness daily. Depression refers to the inability to control depressive thoughts and the occurrence of negative thoughts for no discernable reason. A person with depression may have an overall stable, successful life but is it prone to seemingly random and severe bouts of sadness.

Different Types of Depression

Depression can be caused by several factors, including drug abuse, genetics, and environment. Furthermore, depression can be split into several distinct categories. This includes but isn’t limited to:

Major Depression

Major depression, also called clinical depression, is a common type of depressive disorder brought on by several different factors. Major depression is considered a catch-all term for depression that can last short or long-term.

Seasonal Affected Depression

Seasonal depression is depression that occurs around the same time every year. Seasonal depression is generally caused by lower exposure to sunlight and, as such, most commonly occurs during the fall and winter months. Often seasonal depression is treated with light therapy as it is caused by a decrease in sunlight.

Post-partum Depression

Post-partum depression is depression that occurs after childbirth, due to depleted vitamins associated with child-birth. Post-partum depression often goes away on its own but can be addressed with therapy and medication. Post-partum depression is more likely if you have a history of depression. Contrary to popular belief, fathers can develop post-partum depression as well. This is due to the psychological changes associated with becoming a parent.

Persistent Depression

Unlike major depression, persistent depression is categorized by years if not life-long signs of depression. Persistent depression can be caused by substance abuse, genetics, or trauma. Persistent depression requires therapy and medication to manage.

Statistics About Depression3

  • 300 million people suffer from depression
  • Women are more likely to experience depressive episodes. Studies show 8.7% of woman experience depression vs. men at 5.3%
  • Ages 18-25 are more likely to experience depression. 13.1% of individuals in this group experience depressive episodes
  • Multi-ethnic individuals experience depression at higher rates, 11.3%
  • 63.8% of individuals with depression experienced depressive episodes with severe impairment. This means they were unable to function in society due to depression
  • 13% of teens ages 18 and younger reported experiencing depression

Can Heroin Cause Depression?

Heroin addiction is a direct route to depression symptoms. Heroin rewires the reward centers in the brain. This change causes the brain to rely on heroin to produce happy chemicals, dopamine, and serotonin. Heroin also disrupts key bodily functions like heart rhythm, the immune system, and digestion. These changes lead to higher levels of stress hormones, which in turn, intensify depressive feelings.

Other contributors to the link between heroin addiction and depression are societal views of addiction. Simply put, people that struggle with heroin addiction are aware on some level of the way society views addiction. This awareness can lead to worsened signs of depression, increased substance abuse, and lack of self-worth.

Can Depression Lead to Heroin Use?

Depression is thought to be one of the precursors to future drug addiction. Because the depressive brain produces lower amounts of happy chemicals, people with this condition are more likely to seek ways to feel “normal.” Drug use and other compulsory behavior are often used as a form of self-medication to combat feelings of depression. Signs of depression are not always obvious, which can lead to cries of help going unheard.

Types of Heroin

Heroin comes in three main varieties. Pure heroin, diluted heroin, and black tar heroin. 

Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin is the free-based form of heroin. Free based drugs are drugs that have added chemical removed. This results in higher potency and purity of the drug, both of which contribute to a far more intense high than diluted heroin and far more deadly than its pure, white powder form. Free based heroin is typically found in Mexico and the U.S.

Synthetic Opioids

The most common form of synthetic opioid is fentanyl. However, all synthetic opioids have a similar danger. The primary danger is the highly potent nature of lab-made drugs. Furthermore, synthetic opioids are routinely mixed with other harmful substances to increase the intensity of the high and to make a batch of drugs last longer.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use?

Heroin addiction has several signs and symptoms with which to identify them, including:

These signs and symptoms can vary in intensity based on individual health factors such as age, weight, gender, etc.

Heroin Overdose and Withdrawal

The potent nature of heroin makes heroin overdose more likely. Heroin depresses the central nervous system, which can lead to depressed breathing and hypoxia, a condition characterized by low oxygen levels in the blood.4 A heroin overdose can also be caused by vital organs failing. A heroin overdose is more likely to occur in relapse or during a withdrawal. This is because tolerance is lowered during detoxification, combined with the craving to consume similar amounts of heroin as in the past creates a deadly mixture.

Treating Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction is most commonly treated with methadone. Methadone is used to address heroin cravings without the negative side effects. Methadone stays in the body longer than most opioids, which also reduces the time between cravings.

Other treatment options for heroin use include therapy, recovery treatment centers, and round the clock medical monitoring. Heroin withdrawal and recovery may require multiple facets of treatment for success. The combination of therapy and medical treatment offers the tools and time needed to recover from addiction.

Depression Treatments

Depression symptoms are often treated with medications and therapy. The medicine helps better regulate mood, and therapy serves to uncover the triggers for depression and provide healthy tools with which to cope with depression. In extreme cases, ketamine is also used to treat depression.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment in Drug Rehab

Dual diagnosis is a situation where a drug addiction and one or more mental health illness is present at the same time. The synchronous nature of these conditions feeds into each other. This creates a cycle where drugs are consumed to self-medicate depression, followed by drug-related depression. Dual diagnosis in treatments may provide the reasons for both addiction and mood disorder. Either depression or addiction can be a life-long battle. When combined, these two conditions may require external help to address.

Heroin and depression are intrinsically linked on many levels. However, overcoming both conditions is possible. The first step to treatment is committing to change. Start recovery today.

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