Cross-Tolerance and Heroin Addiction – Understanding Both

Drug addiction is a complex disease with many physical and psychological consequences. If someone you love is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, one consequence they've experienced is an increased tolerance to their substance of abuse; in other words, they need more and more of the substance to achieve the same effects. They may even need a certain amount of the substance just to feel normal. In some cases, abusing a drug leads individuals to develop a tolerance for another drug, a phenomenon known as cross-tolerance. People who abuse heroin are likely to experience a high tolerance to the drug as well as a cross-tolerance to other drugs in the same family.

Understanding Drug Tolerance

Tolerance refers to the ability of a person to function while under the influence of a substance. Everyone has some degree of natural tolerance to various substances, which regulates how much they use or drink before they feel effects. With continued use of a substance, a person's tolerance will increase, and they will need larger quantities in order to experience those same effects. If you've ever heard someone describe a person as being able to "hold their liquor", they're referring to a person's increased tolerance to alcohol.

The Development of Cross-Tolerance

Cross-tolerance can be defined as a specific type of drug tolerance that is formed through continued use of another drug with similar effects. Alcoholics, for example, often develop a higher tolerance for anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax and Valium than non-alcoholics. The effects of these drugs are similar to those of alcohol, and a person with an alcohol dependence may not experience the tranquilizing effects of these drugs at a standard dosage. This cross-tolerance often leads an individual to use higher dosages of the drugs, and it doesn't take long for a full-blown addiction to develop.

Common Cross-Tolerances in Heroin Addiction

Heroin is classified as an opiate drug, one of many powerful drugs derived from opium, the resin found in the pods of the poppy plant. When a person is addicted to heroin, they're likely to develop a cross-tolerance to other opiate drugs, because these drugs all affect the same receptors in the brain. This cross-tolerance also explains why people who quit heroin are able to use opiates such as methadone to curb their cravings and block withdrawal symptoms; however, a cross-tolerance to other opiate medications can also increase the risk of addiction to these drugs. People who are ready to overcome their addiction to heroin must first break the chemical dependency that developed alongside their increased tolerance to the drug. Replacement medications such as buprenorphine and methadone take advantage of a person's cross-tolerance to other opiates and can make the withdrawal process go more smoothly. If someone you love is struggling with a heroin problem, these treatments and medications can help them take back control of their life. Call us today to find out more about our treatment programs for heroin addiction.
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