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Understanding Heroin Addiction – Signs, Symptoms and Effects

heroin addiction

Heroin is an opioid drug extracted from the Asian opium poppy flower, is highly addictive, highly dangerous, and illegal. First, the substance is derived from the opium plant, refined to morphine, and modified to heroin.

According to National Institute on Drug Abuse, “In 2011, 4.2 million Americans aged 12 or older (or 1.6 percent) had used heroin at least once in their lives. It is estimated that about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it.” The drug is used in various forms, such as powder (white or brown), tar heroin (black substance), and solid chunks that can be sniffed, smoked, snorted or injected. The drug affects the brain’s pleasure center and alters the opioid receptors, dopamine, and endorphins. 

heroin addiction

Recently, the heroin crisis shook America, when people massively started abusing the drug, many transitioning from prescription painkillers to heroin. The intensity of the sensation after intake depends on the amount of drug and the speed of entering the brain. If the drug is injected, usually the rush starts after a few seconds, compared to ten minutes when smoked or sniffed.

People abuse heroin because of the pleasurable feelings such as: 

  • Positive, enjoyable feelings, called ‘rush’.
  • A feeling of being in a ‘dream’ where everything is slower.
  • Increased confidence
  • A warm, calm feeling of enjoyment

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction symptoms are different from heroin abuse symptoms. An addicted person develops high tolerance and physical and psychological dependence. They need to use the drug because they can’t withstand the withdrawal symptoms. Many times, people combine heroin with other drugs to get the desired effect. The longer they use, the more heroin destructs their immune system.

heroin addictionThe risk of overdose is high because heroin suppresses heart rate and breathing, that can cause permanent brain damage at any time. Those who experiment with the drug can easily become addicted.

Another reason people use heroin is because of it’s effect on pain. Consequently, people who abuse painkillers are at high risk to become addicted to heroin. Some painkillers, such as OxyContin activate the same brain receptors as heroin which classifies them in the opioids group. 

When one is addicted to heroin, the symptoms are more severe and include:

  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Sleepiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Chilled Feelings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Health Effects

Heroin addiction destroys the body. It affects every normal function, therefore causing short-term and severe medical conditions that can directly or indirectly cause death. For example, heart problems, infections, pneumonia, tuberculosis, bacterial infections, liver disease, seizures, kidney disease, blood clots, HIV, hepatitis type B or C.

heroin addiction health effectsAside from physically, heroin affects the person’s mental functions, causing a number of mental illnesses that co-occur with heroin addiction:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorder
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Alcoholism and other substance addiction
  • Personality disorder

How to Know if Someone is Addicted to Heroin?

If you suspect that someone you love is abusing heroin, then you should notice the following symptoms:

  • Small pupils
  • Watery eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Shortness of breath
  • Droopy appearance (as if the person has heavy extremities)
  • Disorientation
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Changes in behavior from sudden hyperactivity to sudden calmness
  • When injected – needle marks on arms and legs, or abscesses
  • When smoked – sores on nostrils and lips
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • The person avoids contact when talking
  • Itching (from histamine release)
  • Incoherent speech
  • Lack of hygiene
  • At the beginning, they might seem sleepy, making it hard for you to notice, so it’s important to look for other signs.

heroin addiction helpOther signs:

  • Missing money or valuable things from your home
  • Missing prescription pills such as Vicodin, Codeine, or OxyContin
  • Come across needles,aluminum foils, or miss shoelaces
  • Come across bottled water – for mixing, and bottle cap – for heating the heroin
  • ID’s, credit cards with white powder
  • Your loved one spends their time with the same crowd all the time, or alone
  • Check their car mileage. If it’s increased, that’s a sign they go to distance places to get the drug.

How to Help a Love One with Heroin Addiction?

Noticing the early signs of heroin abuse can save your loved one’s life. After you recognize the signs, try to get as much information as you can. Learn everything about the drug. What are the risks, how it affects the body, what are the withdrawal symptoms… everything. Also, try not to panic. It’s a difficult situation, but after noticing the signs, it’s on you to take action.

Early intervention is the key. Your loved one will deny, fight, get angry, but you need to help them realize they put their life at risk. They think they don’t need help. A high percentage don’t want help. After the intervention, take them to a medical facility. The facility’s staff evaluates the person and the level of abuse and suggests the best treatment method.

Read more: Addiction Intervention Methods and Techniques

heroin addiction medicationThe first step is detox. It must be medically supervised and should relieve painful withdrawal symptoms. The goal of detox is to assure drug-free, long-term treatment. For heroin addiction, the person gets medicated, with properly described dose of medications that relieve cravings. For example:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Suboxone
  • Subutex
  • Vivitrol
  • Naloxone

After the successful treatment, the goal is to prevent relapse. The person should involve in various activities, get supports by the family, continue counseling – group, individual, and family. Also, support groups as Narcotics Anonymus, offer excellent, continual support among people that experience the same situation.

For more information please call our Addiction Treatment Helpline at (844) 439-4765. This is a Free and completely confidential call. We are available 24/7. In many cases, your health insurance company will cover 100% of the treatment cost. So please call now.

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