Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive drug that acts primarily as a central nervous system depressant. Heroin is a Schedule I substance in the U.S., meaning that heroin use has no currently accepted medical purpose and has a high potential for abuse. Knowing the signs of heroin use can be vital if you believe a friend or loved one is using it.
The raw material that becomes heroin, morphine is a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. Heroin can be white or brown powder or a black sticky substance. There are many street names for the drug, one of which is “black tar heroin”.
Keep reading to find out the ‘red flags,’ that will let you know someone may be using heroin and how to get them effective help!
Heroin addiction – the facts
Heroin addiction is a growing problem in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that nearly half a million Americans have used heroin at least once in their life, and an estimated 23 percent of people who use heroin develop an addiction to it.
When this illegal drug enters the brain, it binds to opioid receptors, which are located throughout the brain and spinal cord. This causes them to release dopamine (a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure) and produce a rush of good feeling — also known as a “high” — similar to what occurs when someone takes cocaine or prescription painkillers like oxycodone or hydrocodone, according to NIDA.
Understanding heroin addiction requires knowing how substance abuse generally works. Over time, the more heroin that is used, the more there starts to be a physical dependence and a psychological dependence on the drug. The body becomes physically dependent on the substance is a result of it becoming used to the presence of the highly addictive drug in its system. This can result in incredibly potent and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when heroin users quit.
The psychological dependence is also of note as its implications for mental health are staggering. Some of the effects of heroin addiction as it relates to mental illness involve the exacerbation of mental health disorders and can even lead up to suicidal ideation.
How does heroin abuse affect your body?
Heroin addiction can affect the body to a staggering degree. Most people suffering from substance abuse, heroin specifically, cannot fathom how the uncontrollable drug-seeking behaviors of that addiction can affect their bodies.
The truth is, that prolonged heroin use can have an enormous impact. Read on for some of the short and long-term effects of heroin abuse on the human body. We’re going to divide some of the more common effects of heroin abuse into both short-term and long-term effects.
- Feelings of euphoria
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sedation (drowsiness)
- Slowed breathing and heart rate
- Dry mouth, nose, and throat
- Small pupils (black centers) in the eyes
- Involuntary muscle spasms.
- Needle-sharing. Sharing needles can lead to infection at injection sites with hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases.
- Heart problems. Long-term heroin use can increase the risk of heart disease by damaging the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle.
- Infections. Tissue damage from poor nutrition and lack of cleanliness can cause abscesses (pus-filled pockets) in the skin, lungs, liver, and other organs.
- Liver disease. Heroin use can cause liver failure, especially when users inject it into their veins because this type of injection bypasses most of the body’s natural filters for removing toxins from the bloodstream before they reach the liver.
- Lungs and respiratory system damage. The chemicals in heroin are harmful to lung tissue and can cause coughs or wheezing that won’t go away, fever, chills, and breathing problems such as pneumonia or lung abscesses (lung infections).
Signs and Symptoms of heroin abuse
Heroin addiction can be fairly easy to spot if you know the signs and symptoms to look out for. Let’s go over some of the more common signs and symptoms of heroin addiction that you should be aware of if you are concerned for a loved one. Heroin abuse signs and symptoms can range from physical to behavioral symptoms.
- Needle tracks or injection marks on the body
- Finding IV drug paraphernalia (like needles) hidden or even in plain view
- Trouble breathing
- Deterioration in personal habits including grooming and hygiene
- Dramatic weight loss
- Slurred speech
- Constricted pupils
- Massive change to sleep habits (either huge increase or decrease)
Both physical and behavioral symptoms can affect a person negatively, and recognizing these signs early forms a top way of preventing drug abuse from getting worse.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms
Drug use has massive implications for one’s life, but what about heroin withdrawal? The severity of withdrawal symptoms is actually one of the most commonly cited causes of relapsing disease as it relates to heroin.
At times, the physical symptoms can be so debilitating that they act as a motivator for people to either avoid quitting or relapsing back into the habit despite the fact that they might deeply desire to stop. For the most part, these unpleasant symptoms begin developing for the heroin user within a few hours of them taking the last dose.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of alcohol withdrawal, but they can be more severe. Some common symptoms of heroin abuse can include:
- Muscle and bone pain
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Runny nose and sneezing
- Goosebumps (piloerection)
- Chills or shivering
The risk factors for heroin addiction
Heroin abuse is considered an epidemic. The causes and risk factors of addiction are varied and don’t include just any one thing. However, there are some factors that make someone more likely to become addicted to heroin than others. These include:
- Genetics. Genetics may play a role in people who end up abusing drugs, but it’s not the only factor. Where there is a family history of drug abuse, there may be an increased risk. You can inherit certain traits from your parents, such as how easily you become addicted or how quickly you develop tolerance to drugs. But you do not necessarily have to inherit this trait from your parents for it to affect your risk for addiction.
- Environment. Your environment can also affect your risk of becoming addicted to heroin or other substances. For example, if you live in an area where there are many people who use heroin, there’s more than a good chance that you will meet them and try heroin yourself at some point in time during your life. This increases the likelihood that you’ll become addicted at some point in time during your life — especially if you try it with friends who already use it regularly.
- Co-occurring disorders. Persons who have experienced active trauma and have post-traumatic stress disorder or behavioral health issues and mental health issues are at increased risk of falling prey to a physical dependence on heroin or other drug use. This includes anxiety, depression, or even certain forms of neurodivergence. All of these are risk factors for, potentially, heroin abuse. Co-occurring disorders may happen alongside addiction treatment.
Heroin overdose – the facts
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin overdose causes more than 8,200 deaths each year in the United States alone. That’s why it’s important that you know what to do if someone you love has overdosed on heroin. The effects of heroin that are often responsible for overdoses are centered around the drug’s effects on respiration, which can slow down or stop completely over time. This can be deadly because it makes it harder for your body to get oxygen into its bloodstream and keep vital organs like your brain working properly.
No matter what, an overdose should be considered a medical emergency and can be life-threatening. It should be treated as such. Knowing the physical symptoms that are a result of a heroin overdose can help prevent death. Some of the more common ones are:
- Slowed breathing or shallow breathing
- Shallow or slow heartbeat
- Dizziness and confusion
- Seizures (convulsions)
- Blue lips, nails, and fingertips (cyanosis) due to lack of oxygen in the body
Take back your life from heroin addiction today!
The intervention of a high-quality treatment center can be life-saving. A good treatment center features experts in behavioral health who are trained to aid with the symptoms associated with overdose, withdrawal, and addiction to heroin in general. Also, they will be well equipped to treat the co-occurring disorders that may have led to the addiction in the first place.
Addiction to heroin or other drugs is not just a physical issue. The underlying mental illnesses that predispose persons to become heroin users require intervention. If you have noticed signs or symptoms of heroin abuse, or any other drugs in a loved one, reach out to us at Pathfinder’s today and let us provide the help they need. Our expert team is standing by to help.