Drug abuse and dependency claim the lives of tens of thousands of American’s every year. The nation’s opioid epidemic has quickly spiraled into a much more complicated and deadly drug overdose epidemic. In the past few years, about 80% of people attributed their heroin use to prescription opioid abuse. While prescription rates are falling, opioid overdose remains steady. For substance researchers, this may be an indication that opioids, like heroin, are continuing to evolve. Injection via syringe is not the only way it’s consumed. In recent years, a practice called “Chasing the Dragon”— which refers to smoking heroin over a metal surface — has transformed how people are using this highly addictive illicit substance. Due to the potency of chasing the dragon, resulting health concerns are multiplied.
Heroin’s Brief History
Today’s opioid epidemic is deadlier than ever. Kicked off in 1995 with the introduction of OxyContin, which like heroin and morphine before it, was meant to be a safer and more effective opioid. With aggressive marketing and distribution, hundreds of millions of pills were pushed into communities nationwide. Users were quickly finding different methods of ingesting these prescription medications. Soon after, cheaper and illegal alternatives like heroin and fentanyl became the preferred option. However, new methods of ingesting heroin became more widely accepted.
Heroin; also known as “smack,” “junk,” “H,” “girl,” or “brown,” has been around for thousands of years. Originally, heroin was used for medicinal purposes due to pain-relieving agents. It’s highly effective in addressing pain management for acute and chronic conditions. Until the early 1900s, heroin was prescribed by licensed American physicians until it was outlawed in 1924. Heroin remained much the same through the years until the mid-1990s with prescription-based opioids. Heroin dependency can be so intense that users will actively search for the most potent ways to ingest the drug. Chasing the dragon has become a more routine occurrence among those suffering from heroin addiction.
Chasing the dragon, although safe from the deadly effects of shared needles, carries its own set of deadly risks. We’re discussing a few of those below.
Origins of Heroin
Heroin is a popular substance for people in the United States and around the world. Derived from the poppy plant, H is a highly addictive type of opiate used by people of all ages from all walks of life. An estimated 13 million people worldwide are addicted to junk as you read the words on this page. Heroin is typically grown in Mexico, South Asia, South America, or Southeast Asia. It is a multi-billion dollar industry that is linked with astronomical rates of crime and drug overdose.
Today, chasing the dragon is considered detrimental to health, and possession of smack comes with a steep penalty – including jail time. Although millions of people are facing heroin addiction, the stigma surrounding the drug, and substance abuse, in general, makes it difficult for many to seek needed treatment.
Effects of Heroin
People who use heroin can inject, snort, or smoke the substance. They may also mix it with other drugs like crack cocaine, which can produce conflicting symptoms of uppers and downers (depressants). Regardless of how it’s administered, the effects of heroin are almost always instantaneous, as well as highly addictive.
Heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors on cells located throughout the brain. They target cells specifically involving pain and pleasure signals, as well as those that control heart rate, sleep patterns, and even breathing. Prescription opioid pain medicines such as OxyContin and Vicodin have effects similar to heroin. Research suggests that the misuse of these drugs may open the door to heroin use.
Chasing the Dragon
Chasing the dragon is the name given to smoking heroin. Chasing the dragon involves heating heroin on aluminum foil with a controlled flame to produce a vapor that the user can then inhale. Although injecting opioids remains the main route of abuse in the U.S., inhaled heroin is a rapidly spreading method. Inhaled heroin was involved in 21% of all heroin abuse inpatient hospital admissions in 2014.
The reason why people call it “chasing the dragon” is this method of inhaling heroin gives the illusion that the user is chasing a dragon of smoke. Statistics in Colorado alone indicate that heroin and opiate overdoses have quadrupled since 2002. Some heroin users perceive that inhaling is safer than injecting since it doesn’t carry infectious consequences like HIV, or hepatitis B and C.
What is toxic leukoencephalopathy?
Chasing the dragon can lead to toxic leukoencephalopathy. Substance experts and scientific studies reveal that inhaling heroin via chasing the dragon hurts the brain in ways in which other ingestion methods do not. Chasing the dragon damages white matter in the brain that results in the appearance of sponge-like brain tissue that appears to have holes.
In the normal brain, white matter provides essential connectivity, uniting different regions into networks that perform various mental operations. When this connectivity is disrupted by disease such as heroin addiction, the result is often a dramatic disturbance of normal mental function.
White matter is a vast, intertwining system of neural connections that join all four lobes of the brain (frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital), and the brain’s emotion center. Neuroscience is still learning about the complexities of these systems and how long-term damage can sustain from heroin abuse. Chasing the dragon seems to the one direct source cause toxic leukoencephalopathy. Long-term damages and health effects are studied to better understand the dangers of smoking heroin.
The Science of Addiction – What Your Brain is Really Chasing
Addiction is a complex brain disease that works on the reward center of the brain. The reward center of the brain feeds us feel-good chemicals when it engages in substances and activities that bring us a sense of pleasure. Drugs, alcohol, heroin, sex, and even food can light up the reward center of the brain and result in temporary feelings of euphoria. This triggers the brain into tolerance and, eventually, dependency.
This is an addiction – the pursuit of a substance or activity despite all the negative circumstances. When smoking heroin, users are chasing the feel-good sensation. Due to the potency of chasing the dragon, this method of illicit substance abuse can be highly addictive. The brain’s desire for that feel-good surge of chemicals will overwhelm the ability to reason. The result is catastrophic including health deterioration, relationship issues, work problems, and financial insecurities.
Heroin addiction requires outside support and assistance. As one of the most heavily abused substances and due to its risks of overdose, intervention is critical. Experienced addiction specialists can help address heroin addiction as well as underlying mental health or trauma that may have triggered use, to begin with.
Signs of Abuse and Effects of Chasing the Dragon
Understanding the short-term effects of chasing the dragon may help to address concerns of heroin abuse. The dangers of smoking heroin can be serious and include lung issues, painful withdrawal, and deadly overdose. Here’s a shortlist of effects caused by freebasing heroin:
- Clouded thoughts
- Dry mouth
- Extreme itching
- Nausea and vomiting
- Warm or flushed skin
Long-term effects of smoking heroin can be more serious and include constipation, deterioration of the brain’s white matter, insomnia, and mental health disorders, such as antisocial personality disorder and depression.
Signs and side effects of an overdose from smoking heroin include:
- Bluish nails and lips
- Low blood pressure
- Pinpoint pupils
- Shallow, slow, or stopped breathing
- Weak pulse
For immediate assistance with heroin addiction, contact our support center directly at 720-650-8055.
Why You Want More and More (and More Heroin)
The brain is loaded with opiate receptor sites making heroin use impossible to control. Essentially, the mind is designed to welcome heroin and is quick to develop a dependency on the illegal drug. A person may find it impossible to stop using even after a few tries.
For most, heroin is a secondary option. Addiction to opioids usually derives from prescription medications. As habits and dependencies form, users may graduate to cheaper and more potent alternatives with the hopes of achieving the same high.
Heroin makes you feel phenomenal. People hope to explore a continued feeling of euphoria and pain relief, so they chase the dragon. However, those effects are short-lived and it quickly discovered the same high is nearly impossible to achieve twice.
Addiction Leads to Tolerance – That’s the REAL Monster
How does heroin addiction start? It’s a little thing called tolerance. Using illegal substances may begin innocent enough. Over time, however, the brain develops a tolerance to the specific substance used requiring more products to produce the same results.
In the beginning, a small amount can produce intense highs. As tolerance builds, more product is needed. After a while, regular use of heroin is required to get through regular day-to-day life. Once a chemically dependent person develops an extreme tolerance, the drugs quit working altogether. This is usually when someone makes the decision to get clean and find a new way to live.
Heroin withdrawal is an inevitable part of using heroin. When you stop using chasing the dragon, your body goes through withdrawal, which is the painful process of removing the drug from your system. Because you have built up a tolerance and your body has become physically addicted to the H, you cannot find recovery without first walking through some discomfort. Some of the symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:
- Extreme body aches
- Overwhelming physical discomfort
- Uncontrollable cravings for heroin
- Vomiting and nausea
Don’t let the pain of withdrawal stop you from experiencing the rewards of recovery. Things won’t get better if you keep chasing the dragon. They will only get worse.
Finding Help for Heroin Addiction
Most people stay hooked to heroin because they don’t want to have to go through the pain of detox. Unfortunately, withdrawal is a necessary component of recovery. Learning to stop chasing the dragon is a skill set that should be developed with the assistance of recovery support and medical aid. Cutting cold turkey can be extremely risky and can cause sudden death. Certain medications may help to reduce the painful side effects that come with withdrawal.
The great news is you don’t have to withdraw from heroin alone. There are professional addiction treatment specialists available right now who can help you safely and comfortably kick heroin addiction. When you decide to stop chasing the dragon, it’s best to seek professional medical help. Talk to a doctor or addiction specialist about getting help.
AspenRidge REACH Offers Flexible Online Support
Early detection of heroin addiction can make a world of difference in recovery, and AspenRidge can assist. We’ve helped thousands discover the skills and tools required to maintain a sober lifestyle. Through AspenRidge REACH, an exclusive online drug treatment program, more people can find access to evidence-based care geared toward relief from ongoing habits of chasing the dragon.
As an outpatient program, REACH provides care through virtual systems that incorporate individualized and group therapy sessions. Through private video conferencing, AspenRidge can securely assist those struggling with heroin abuse. Online addiction support proves to be just as effective as other in-person treatment programs. It’s important to understand that outpatient programs incorporate different levels of care and can be tailored to fit individual needs.
Our programs offered include:
These twelve and six-week courses are designed to address substance abuse according to the severity and complexity of the symptoms. Each program offers flexibility and support through individual and group counseling, plus family counseling.
For more information on our virtual programs, go here. Contact us today for more information on care and enrollment, or to verify your insurance – call 720-650-8055.