What Is Heroin?
Heroin is a naturally-derived opioid drug which owes its origins to the opium poppy. Synthesized from morphine, heroin quickly forms extreme physical dependencies and dangerous addictions. Heroin is found as either a white to brown powder or a brown to black tar or coal-like substance called black tar heroin.
Heroin’s effects are fairly immediate, with sensations being felt in as little as seven seconds to 15 minutes. Like other opioids, heroin creates intense states of relaxation, euphoria, and pain relief, all factors which recreational drug abusers pursue.
These feelings result from heroin’s ability to fit into our brain’s naturally-occurring opioid receptors, a factor which both increases the pleasurable effects of the drug and its potential for addiction.
As an opioid, heroin exerts a heavy impact on your central nervous system (CNS), an important regulatory system tasked with overseeing critical life support systems within your body. These include breathing, blood pressure, heart, and temperature rates. In addition to the rush or high recreational abusers seek, heroin causes these critical systems to become depressed (or slowed), sometimes to fatal extremes.
Signs and Symptoms Of Heroin Abuse
Addiction is characterized by chronic and compulsive substance abuse, among other things, including strong cravings, continued use despite knowledge of physical and mental harm, tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal upon cessation of drug use.
As a loved one of a suspected heroin abuser, an awareness of these and other signs can help you to intervene on their behalf, so that they have the opportunity for the care and treatment they deserve.
Additionally, heroin abusers may:
- Encounter persistent and unexplainable constipation and stomach troubles.
- Experience severe nausea, to the point of vomiting.
- Exhibit warm, flushed skin.
- Go “on the nod,” (alternating between a wakeful and drowsy state).
- Have itching spells.
- Move slowly and experience heaviness in their limbs.
- Be intensely preoccupied with the drug and go to great lengths to find it (stealing, trading sexual favors. etc.).
- Put drug seeking and using above all else (family, career, schooling, etc.)
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, even in hot weather, to cover up signs of injection drug use.
Heroin abuse requires paraphernalia, the knowledge of which can help you to spot a problem. Examples include syringes, pipes, spoons, burnt foil, and even a simple straw or hollowed out pen for snorting the drug through.
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How Is Heroin Abused?
Heroin is often injected, with the preferred mode of injection being directly into a user’s vein (intravenously). Users may also inject it directly under the skin (“skin popping”) or into the muscle. Black tar heroin is frequently injected, though any form of heroin may be used this way.
While heroin is well-known for its use as an injection drug, users may also smoke, sniff, or snort it. More pure, powdered versions are commonly snorted, while black tar is also smoked.
Further compounding heroins dangers is the fact that users often mix it with other drugs to intensify its feel-good effects. This may include “speedballing,” which is when heroin is injected with cocaine, or “crisscrossing” which occurs when the drugs are snorted back-to-back (some people also use speedballing to refer this practice).
Dangers Of Heroin Abuse
From the first time to chronic use, and everything in between, heroin abuse begins changing a person’s physical and mental states in a way which sets the stage for a variety of adverse health effects and disease, including:
- Brain damage
- Cardiac complications
- Damaged nasal tissues (from snorting it)
- Hormonal imbalances
- Mental disorders
- Sexual dysfunction
- Unsafe sexual practices
Injecting heroin increases the risk of the following dangers due to its invasive and dangerous means of administration:
- Abscesses and soft-tissue infections, including cellulitis
- Collapsed veins
- Infection of the heart’s lining and valves
- Infectious disease, such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C
- Organ damage and disease
- Track marks
- Vein damage and infection
Using heroin on it’s own is dangerous and deadly but today it’s become even deadlier as it’s increasingly cut with other, deadlier opioid drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil.
Signs Of A Heroin Overdose
Heroin overdoses are rising. Since 2010 heroin overdose deaths have quadrupled. Overdose doesn’t just happen to chronic users; first time users can overdose from only one dose of heroin.
Signs of a heroin overdose include, but are not limited to:
- Intense drowsiness
- Lips and fingernails take on a blue hue
- Muscle spasms
- Pinpoint pupils
- Shallow, slow, or stopped breathing
- Weak pulse
As an opioid of this potency, heroin severely depresses a user’s CNS, slowing, or even shutting down, the user’s life-support functions. As overdose progresses, a person’s breathing, heart, temperature, and blood pressure rates begin to plummet, which could result in respiratory failure, coma, or brain death. A heroin overdose can quickly turn fatal without medical intervention.
Seeking emergency medical help could save your loved one’s life by providing them with the opportunity to receive the lifesaving Narcan (generic name naloxone) antidote.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Once a person is physically dependent on heroin their body malfunctions without it. Side effects of withdrawal occur if a person suddenly stops “cold turkey,” either because they’re trying to quit on their own, or because they’ve run out of heroin. Some individuals may also experience these effects even when they keep using, should they take a significantly smaller dose than usual.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Cold flashes
- Goose bumps
- Involuntary leg movements
- Muscle and bone pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Heroin withdrawal can advance to painful and debilitating levels. For these reasons, for many, treatment is best initiated with a medical detox.
Medically-Supervised Heroin Detoxification
The best way to detox is under strict medical supervision. A medically-supervised detoxification takes place within a skilled treatment facility, where a person is monitored 24-hours a day.
During a medical detox a person receives supervised care from doctors and/or nurses. Various medications, intravenous (IV) fluid administration, and nutritive support will be administered as needed to help you or your loved one stay as safe and comfortable as possible through this time.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), or a combination of medications (pharmacotherapies) and behavioral therapies, works to address the strain of withdrawal on all levels: physically, mentally, and emotionally. To counteract the at times exhausting strain of withdrawal, companionship and counseling may also be offered.
Heroin withdrawals may be treated with the following medications:
- Buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex, and Zubsolv)
Certain programs also use these pharmacotherapies as maintenance medications to help a person maintain abstinence from heroin after detox is complete.
Treatment For Heroin Addiction
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for addiction treatment. And this is good news. Choosing an inpatient drug rehab program which adapts its care to your unique needs guarantees you a better treatment experience and a higher likelihood of long-term sobriety.
As addiction is behavioral, habitual, and chemical in nature, providers must get to the root of each element and devise treatment which supports a person in managing each concern. This care is difficult to achieve within an outpatient setting.
The most effective treatment programs address all of these needs and strengthen your sobriety by a blend of behavioral therapies and treatment modalities.
Find Freedom From Heroin Today
Overcoming a heroin addiction can be a challenging journey, one which is made much easier by the expert guidance of a good treatment program.
Don’t let the opportunity for a sober and more fulfilling life pass you by. Our knowledgeable staff at InpatientDrugRehab.org is standing by to offer you more information on heroin abuse, addiction, detox, and treatment. Contact us today.
CBS Evening News — Overdoses now leading cause of death of Americans under 50
MedlinePlus — Heroin Overdose
National Institute on Drug Abuse — Heroin: Research Report Series