Heroin is considered to be one of the most addictive drugs available in the West, with around a million users in the US alone. There are three main ways in which heroin can be used. It can be snorted or taken orally, smoked, or injected. These three methods have different effects on the brain, some taking much longer than others. Understanding how heroin is used, and how the different affects show themselves can be helpful in understanding the ways in which heroin affects the user, both in relationships, and in the community as a whole.
Once known as “Chasing the Dragon”, smoking heroin was a popular method of taking the drug in the Far East. Although most American users continue to inject heroin, recent studies have shown that most new users (around 75%) choose to smoke heroin. Smoking involves heating up the drug, usually using a metal spoon held over a flame, and then inhaling the drug. Most users now smoke heroin using a small pipe, rather like a crack pipe.
Oral or Snorting Heroin
Taking heroin orally is probably the least common method of taking the drug, due to its lack of ‘rush’. It is often considered that the effects of snorting or smoking the drug are limited, and it may take nearly an hour for the full effects of heroin to hit when using these methods. Snorting is slightly more popular, although it also has a decreased effect time. As with cocaine snorting, this method of inhaling the drug can cause problems with the sinus cavity and the structure of the nose itself. This method is popular with people who do not want to waste time preparing the drug, or who are perhaps worried about being seen as junkies.
Injecting, often known as mainlining or ‘shooting up’, is the most familiar method of heroin use. It is considered to be the most risky form, since intravenous injections have a reaction time of just seconds. This means that people may not realize that they have injected too much until it is too late. Heroin injections often cause the veins to collapse, leading people to choose other sites, such as the veins between the toes and even the eyes. There is some risk of infections such as AIDS and hepatitis in the practice of sharing needles, and general bacteria and virus cells can also be transferred in this way.
The least well-known of all heroin uses, the suppository is also called ‘plugging’. It may be administered through a syringe, or possibly through small tablets which melt in the anus. This method of taking heroin is considered to be very efficient, with the effects usually beginning around 40 seconds after the suppository has been inserted. The effects can be as intense as an injection, and may be one solution for users who have experienced vein destruction.
Occasional Heroin Users
Despite the conception of heroin as a deadly and dangerous drug, which has ruined many lives, some people are able to succeed in using it only occasionally. They are able to maintain their use at a low level, meaning that they control their usage. This comes as a surprise to many experts in the drug field, who consider that heroin will always lead to greater addiction. However, a 2005 report suggested that some users considered their control and usage to be problem-free. This group is divided between those who only occasionally use the drug, even in the long term, and those who were dependent upon the drug, but able to control usage over time. Dependent users admitted that their usage had been chaotic and addictive in the past.
At the time of the report, many of these types of users were able to hold down a steady job, support a family, and had good health. This control was partially achieved through the use of ‘rules’, a series of expectations which the users created around their heroin consumption. Dependent users also restricted the amount of heroin that they consumed, preventing the use from interrupting their jobs or routines.
Both non-dependent and dependent users felt that by controlling their usage in this way, they were avoiding being labeled as junkies or addicts, and avoided stigmatizing behavior which could have an adverse effect on their work or relationships.