Heroin is an opiate drug that is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the Asian opium poppy plant. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.”
Current figures indicate that almost 950,000 U.S. adults and teenagers use the drug at least once a year, and its popularity has risen steadily since 2007. Close to a quarter of all heroin users ultimately develop a physical dependence on the drug and become addicted to heroin.
The American Psychiatric Association categorizes heroin addiction as a subtype of a condition known as opioid use disorder, which includes all forms of opioid addiction and opioid abuse.
Is It Time for Inpatient Heroin Treatment?
People from all walks of life get lost to substance abuse. You are not alone. If you or a loved one is abusing opiates, heroin addiction treatment can help. See if you recognize these symptoms of heroin abuse in yourself or a loved one.
Symptoms of Heroin Abuse
- Seeking illicit opiates like heroin after prescription drug addiction
- Constantly thinking of getting high
- Focusing your whole day around getting drugs
- Drug cravings you cannot control
- Inability to stop using the drug
- Heroin withdrawal symptoms if you don’t take the drug
- Mental health issues that appear or worsen due to drug abuse and addiction
- Problems with relationships, work or finances as a result of substance abuse
Effects of Heroin on the Brain and Body
Heroin is converted to morphine once it enters the brain. It binds quickly to opioid receptors and the body’s natural chemicals that release hormones, regulate pain and give a sense of internal peace. The reward center of the brain is activated, which causes the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. Like all other mind-altering substances derived from the opium poppy, heroin’s effects include:
- A “rush” of sensation
- Intense feelings of pleasure
- Pain disruption
The desirable effects of heroin quickly deteriorate. Heroin also slows down the rate at which nerve cells in the brain and body communicate with each other. Among other things, this impaired communication results in significantly slowed breathing and changes in normal blood pressure levels. Physical symptoms of heroin addiction may include:
- Warm flush of the skin
- Drowsiness or nodding off
- Dry mouth
- Feeling of heavy limbs
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe itching
- Slow heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Runny nose
In addition, heroin produces a clouding of the mind and reduced mental function.
Heroin Addiction Onset
All methods of using heroin can lead to addiction and other severe health problems. Since heroin ramps up sensations of pleasure, users of the drug sometimes take it repeatedly in an effort to extend or recreate its pleasurable effects. Unfortunately, as is true with all other opiate drugs, recurring heroin use alters the part of the brain responsible for producing pleasurable feelings and sets the stage for opioid addiction.
Once addicted, heroin users experience:
- A powerful urge to consume more of the drug
- Lack of control over the amount of the drug consumed
- The need to use increasing amounts of the drug in order to feel its effects
- Painful withdrawal symptoms in the absence of opiates
- A dysfunctional pattern of behavior that puts heroin use above all other priorities
These issues can be addressed in heroin abuse treatment.
Causes and Risk Factors
Early trauma, genetics and exposure to drugs can all play a role in causing heroin addiction. One of the most harmful, lasting effects of heroin use is addiction. Heroin produces profound problems along the road to addiction including:
- Physical dependence – Physical dependence develops with continued use or higher doses of the drug. The body adapts to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced abruptly.
- Heroin withdrawal symptoms – Depending on the level of physical dependence on heroin, withdrawal symptoms can range from uncomfortable to extremely painful and life-threatening.
- Diseases – Heroin addiction poses special problems because of the potential transmission of HIV, hepatitis and other diseases through sharing needles or other injection equipment.
- Overdose – Because heroin users often do not know the actual strength of the drug or its true contents, they are at high risk of overdose or death. Additionally, those with substance use disorders tend to “push the limits,” taking more and more of a drug to get a stronger high.
- Chronic medical complications – Prolonged heroin use can result in:
- Scarred and/or collapsed veins
- Bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves
- Abscesses (boils) and other soft-tissue infections
- Liver or kidney disease
- Lung complications (including various types of pneumonia and tuberculosis)
- Immune reactions to contaminants contributing to arthritis or other rheumatologic problems
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. Quitting heroin is extremely difficult and dangerous on your own. Detox should take place in a medically monitored detox setting where medical professionals treat pain with evidence-based medications. Major heroin withdrawal symptoms typically peak between 24 and 48 hours after the last dose of heroin and subside after about a week. However, some people have shown persistent withdrawal signs for many months.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Intense cravings
- Muscle and bone pain
- Cold flashes
- Abdominal cramps
Heroin Overdose Dangers
Heroin can be injected, snorted/sniffed, or smoked — routes of administration that rapidly deliver the drug to the brain. Since heroin is not made in regulated conditions, it also commonly contains impurities or additives that can produce a range of potentially harmful effects.
Bad heroin or too much heroin can easily lead to a deadly overdose. Heroin abusers are also in danger of overdose when they have a dual diagnosis, such as a mental health disorder or other substance use disorder like alcohol addiction or prescription drug addiction.
Get Your Life Back With Heroin Addiction Treatment
Heroin claims thousands of lives every year. But there is hope even in the darkest times. The first step is to reach out for help. Once you are stabilized and beginning to heal from the physical effects of the drug, you can start addressing the psychological and emotional issues behind addiction.
Lucida Treatment Center can help you recover from heroin addiction. We offer:
- Treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
- Drug abuse treatment
- Mental health care
- Nutritional support
- 12-step alternatives
- Traditional and alternative therapies
- Family program
- Continuing care
Lucida offers compassionate residential treatment for addiction. We also treat primary mental illness. We can help you get to the heart of your problem. Speak confidentially with a Lucida recovery specialist at 844-878-1996.