Mythbusted: Heroin dependence from the first taste
I read recently an article claiming that people could become dependent upon heroin from their first exposure to the drug. While it is entirely credible that someone may discover that they like the drug upon first using it and then continue to use it in a pattern that eventually leads to dependence, it is entirely impossible to become ‘hooked’ from a single exposure to the drug.
Drug dependence is demonstrated by changes in the way the body operates. These changes in body operation do not occur overnight, but instead require repeated and consistent exposure to the drug before the physical changes that dependence entail manifest. Read on to find out how drug dependence actually works.
The body is a remarkable feat of engineering that is designed to constantly adapt to changing environmental conditions. One great example of this is how our bodies maintain a stable core body temperature. When we are subjected to heat our body functions change in an effort to cool our bodies down (e.g. sweating), conversely when we are subjected to cold our bodies produce a different set of functions in order to retain warmth (e.g. goose bumps). The bodily response to changes in temperature is just one example of what is called homeostatic response. When we introduce drugs to our body, the homeostatic response changes a variety of functions in the body in an attempt to return to normal functioning. For someone who is naive to the drug, the homeostatic response is ‘less practiced’ and therefore even a small amount of the substance can have a pronounced intoxicating effect.
The more often that a person is exposed to a drug, the more practised the homeostatic response becomes, resulting eventually in the drug having a less pronounced effect. This is the development of tolerance. Tolerance essentially means that the individual needs more of the drug to achieve the same level of intoxication. A good example of this from my own experience is cigarettes. As a teenager I had my first cigarette. I experienced a peculiar taste in my mouth, light headedness and nausea. After many years of consistent smoking it would require a much larger dosage of nicotine to induce the same symptoms of intoxication.
If a person is consistently exposed to a drug over a period of time, requiring larger dosages to obtain the same effect, the homeostatic response will eventually alter to operate the body as if they have the drug onboard all of the time. In other words the body is unable to function normally unless the drug is on board. Absence of the drug causes withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are significant of a delay in the homeostatic response recognising a change in environmental conditions (in this case the absence of the drug).
You can’t become dependent upon heroin from just one taste. Dependence requires a process of repeated exposure to the drug. #Mythbusted