Heroin use has spread rapidly in recent years. Derived from a flower, the opium poppy, it can be found as a white or brown powder, or a sticky, black tar-like substance. Heroin can be abused in numerous ways including injecting, snorting, or smoking it. It is commonly known by other street names including smack, horse, hell dust, and big H.

Heroin works by binding to receptors on cells and can create feelings of euphoria that are often described as a “rush” or “surge”. Much of the recent growth in abuse of heroin can be attributed to the increased availability of prescription painkillers. Prescription opioids produce similar side effects which can create a path to heroin use. Many who are addicted to heroin often report that they first misused opioid painkillers. While using prescription painkillers does not mean you will begin using heroin, it can be a precursor to continued misuse of substances.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Abuse

The powerful side effects of heroin abuse can cause a person to develop physical dependencies quickly. Over time, dependency is coupled with increased tolerance, causing a person to need greater doses in order to achieve the same effects. Even if a person were to try to stop using heroin, they would experience withdrawal symptoms that may be so debilitating that they would need to continue using just to avoid them. This makes addiction to heroin especially difficult to overcome alone.

Signs of Heroin Use

When a person is high on heroin, they may exhibit a number of physical and psychological symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Itchiness
  • Flushed skin
  • Drowsiness
  • Clouded thinking
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Heaviness of limbs
  • Slowed heart rate

Physical Side Effects of Heroin Use

In some cases, other side effects may occur. While not as common, it is possible to experience the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tremors
  • Headache
  • Palpitations
  • Chest pain

Behavioral Signs of Heroin Addiction

There are several behavioral signs that may indicate there is a growing problem with addiction. If you suspect your loved one is using heroin, you may observe the following behaviors or changes:

  • “Track marks” on the body
  • Legal trouble
  • Lying or secretive behavior
  • Missing valuables or money
  • Use of slang referencing heroin
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Changes in mood

Long-Term Side Effects of Heroin Addiction

Heroin is an incredibly potent drug with a high risk of death due to overdose. Those who use heroin also put themselves at risk for a number of other diseases and illnesses that may be life-threatening. Many experience any of the following:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Infections of the heart lining and valves
  • Skin infections
  • Lung disease
  • Increased risk for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C

Signs of Heroin Overdose and Heroin Withdrawal

The evolution of heroin addiction varies from person to person and no two people will have identical experiences. In most cases, however, withdrawal symptoms may begin to show within 6 to 12 hours after the drug was last used. Withdrawal symptoms may last anywhere from a couple of days to over a week. Many symptoms of withdrawal are incredibly uncomfortable, and they can become life-threatening depending on their severity.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Diarrhea
  • Body aches
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depressed feelings

Signs of Heroin Overdose

Heroin is incredibly addictive and withdrawal symptoms can be impossible to manage alone. These factors can cause abuse of the drug to continue in perpetuity and increase the risk of overdose. The most common signs of overdose are:

  • Blue-colored lips and/or nails
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Muscle spasms
  • Drowsiness
  • Weak pulse
  • Delirium
  • Low blood pressure
  • Coma

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Relapse is incredibly common in heroin addiction making it especially critical for a person to enlist the help of professionals in order to improve recovery outcomes. Treatment for heroin addiction often requires a person to complete a medical detox first. This ensures the withdrawal process is safe and as comfortable as possible. Under the care of medical professionals, a person may have access to medications, therapy, and other resources to start the recovery process as quickly as possible. In most cases, it is in a person’s best interest to move directly from detox into an inpatient treatment program.

Inpatient or residential treatment followed by intensive outpatient treatment and aftercare is extremely beneficial to recovery from heroin addiction because it minimizes the risk of relapse and the influence of enabling peers and environments. This form of treatment completely fills a person’s day with activities that are entirely focused on healing from addiction. This may include individual therapy, group therapy, experiential treatment, and other forms of behavioral treatment. By helping clients identify the underlying causes of substance abuse, they may begin working to develop the life skills and habits needed to support long-term sobriety.

Even after completing a long-term treatment program, the risk of relapse is always present. Sobriety is a life-long journey that requires active engagement and care to maintain. For those recovering from heroin addiction, aftercare services are a vital part of maintaining sobriety. This allows a person to stay closely connected with the sober community and continue receiving the benefits of therapeutic intervention. For some, this may mean transitioning into a sober community before resuming independent living. For others, it may mean simply enrolling in outpatient treatment or joining a support group to continue working on their recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.

References
americanaddictioncenters.org/heroin-treatment
drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
americanaddictioncenters.org/heroin-treatment/signs

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