Heroin is an extremely dangerous, addictive opioid drug that is often used illicitly by those attempting to experience an intense high. While the drug’s risks are well known, many individuals still misuse it, which can lead to serious effects. If you or someone you love is addicted to heroin and needs help, we can match you with the best rehab program for your safe, effective recovery; call 800-442-6158 Who Answers? now.
According to the National Library of Medicine, “Heroin is a white or brown powder or a black, sticky goo.” Most of the time, it is sold as a powder that is between off-white and brown, due to impurities in the drug. The goo substance is known as black tar heroin and is usually made in Mexico and found in the southwestern United States.
The drug is most often mixed with water and injected, but it can also be snorted through the nose or smoked. These three types of abuse cause the drug’s effects to come on extremely quickly, which is one of the reasons why it is so addictive.
Heroin use is extremely dangerous, but because it is also very addictive, many users experience an inability to stop using it once they start. As stated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 4.2 million Americans 12 or older admitted in a 2011 study to having used heroin at least once in their lives, and “it is estimated that about 23 percent of individuals who use [the drug] become dependent on it.”
Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use
There are a number of side effects a person can experience when using heroin. In general, users experience a rush of euphoria and then become drowsy. For several hours afterward, the individual may go “on the nod,” or experience a state of alternating sleep and wakefulness. Other common signs and symptoms of acute heroin abuse include
- Small pupils
- Slowed breathing
- Slowed heart rate
- Flushing of the skin
- Heaviness in the extremities
- Dry mouth
- Confusion and clouded mental functioning
- Severe itching
When a person has been injecting heroin consistently for a long time, they will often have track marks on their arms and legs. Many people will try to cover these by wearing long sleeves and pants all the time. They will also become apathetic toward the things that used to matter to them, and their performance in work and/or school will usually take a sharp downturn.
Dangers of Heroin Use
Some of the most serious side effects associated with heroin abuse can occur even when a person uses the drug for the first time. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, “Because heroin abusers do not know the actual strength of the drug or its true contents, they are at a high risk of overdose or death.” Respiratory depression occurs when a person uses the drug, and when high doses are taken, the individual can stop breathing altogether.
As stated by the National Library of Medicine, some of the signs of heroin overdose include
- Not breathing or breathing shallowly
- Discolored tongue
- Extremely small pupils, also known as pinpoint pupils
- Weak pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Bluish tint to nails and skin
- Stomach spasms
- Uncontrolled muscle movements
Unfortunately, there are a host of other serious, physical side effects associated with the drug as well. These can include
- Collapsed veins
- Infection of the heart lining and valves
- Liver disease
- Pneumonia and other lung-related complications
- Clogged blood vessels due to additives in the drug
Users also have a strong likelihood of contracting HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other dangerous, transmittable diseases because of the drug’s ability to cause users to make risky decisions (like having unprotected sex) and because of the frequent sharing of needles. A person abusing heroin can experience severe psychological side effects as well, including issues with depression and anxiety.
Heroin Dependence and Withdrawal Symptoms
Dependence can occur very quickly when an individual abuses heroin, especially if they are already dependent on opioids once they start taking the drug. According to the NIDA, almost half of the individuals asked in a recent survey stated that they began using heroin because it was cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids. This type of behavior often occurs when one is already dependent on these drugs and then turns to heroin, which can cause its own severe dependency syndrome.
As stated by the NLM, the common withdrawal effects associated with heroin abuse feel similar to a bad case of the flu and include
- Abdominal cramps
- Dilated pupils
- Runny nose
- Increased tearing
- Muscle, joint, and bone pain
Unfortunately, these effects, though not usually life threatening, can be extremely dangerous to the user. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, “Many users continue abusing [heroin] even after they no longer experience the euphoric effects, simply to provide relief fro the painful, flu-like withdrawals symptoms.” These symptoms usually last about a week after an individual discontinues their heroin abuse, but it is extremely dangerous for one to attempt to go cold turkey after abusing the drug.
Heroin Abuse Statistics
Heroin abuse is, sadly, on the rise across the US among all genders and economic levels (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). It is likely that part of this issue is the widespread availability and prescription of opioid drugs. Circumstances have led to an outbreak of heroin abuse in recent years, and in nearly all cases, treatment is necessary.
- “Heroin use more than doubled among young adults ages 18-25 in the past decade.”
- People who are most at risk of heroin addiction include
- Prescription opioid addicts
- Marijuana, cocaine, and/or alcohol addicts
- People living in large cities
- In a study by the University of Michigan, it was found that almost 2 percent of high school 12th graders in the U.S. had used heroin at least once in their lifetime (National Drug Intelligence Center).
Many people who abuse heroin will become addicted to the drug. Those who have certain risk factors, such as a comorbid mental disorder, a family history of addiction, a home environment where drugs were available at an early age, etc., are more likely to experience this outcome, but it is possible that anyone can become addicted to the drug.
When a person does become addicted to heroin, they will experience severe cravings and will seek out more of the drug regardless of the harm or danger they inflict on themselves or others. Heroin is so addictive than many individuals require years of intensive treatment in order to avoid a relapse after becoming dependent on the drug.
Heroin Addiction Treatment
Treatment for heroin addiction usually starts with ensuring that the patient is stabilized and placed on a maintenance medication for their withdrawal symptoms. Because of the severity of the dependence that heroin usually causes, naltrexone is often not the best treatment choice, and patients are placed on a medication that can reduce their severe withdrawal symptoms. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Management of withdrawal without medications can produce needless suffering in a population that tends to have limited tolerance for physical pain.” Antidepressants may also need to be administered if the individual is experiencing severe depressive symptoms.
Once the patient is stabilized, their full treatment program can begin (as detox alone is not treatment for addiction).
- Medications: Methadone or buprenorphine may be used to treat heroin addiction. Both drugs are beneficial for those who require maintenance, and the latter is much safer from the potential of abuse and overdose. Still, methadone is more effective for those with severe dependencies.
- Behavioral therapies: Behavioral therapies are extremely helpful for heroin addiction treatment. Patients often learn how to recognize and avoid triggers, how to cope with stress and cravings, and how to practice better life skills that will allow them to live safely in recovery. Some of the most commonly used behavioral therapies for heroin treatment include
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Group therapy
- Contingency management
- Family therapy
- 12-step facilitation therapy
- Motivational enhancement therapy
- Support groups: Support groups can be a wonderful supplement to the evidence-based practices in professional treatment, either during treatment itself or afterward. Many rehab centers offer 12-step meetings for programs like Narcotics Anonymous as part of treatment. SMART Recovery is another option for those who would prefer not to use the 12-step method.
- Holistic modalities: Holistic treatments that focus on healing the entire individual can also be an excellent supplement. Many rehab centers offer programs like these as a part of care, including
- Tai Chi
- Pet therapy
- Art and dancer therapy
- Massage therapy
Seek Help for Opiate Addiction Now
The longer your heroin abuse continues, the more dangerous it will become. This is why it is time to seek help now. Call 800-442-6158 Who Answers? to find safe, reliable rehab centers that will cater to your needs.