Heroin Addiction

According to a study by the center for disease control, the number of heroin related deaths in the United States quadrupled between 2002 and 2012.1 Knowing the facts about heroin and opiate addiction can save your life or the life of someone you love.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid derived from morphine that can become addictive when abused over time. It is also sometimes known as smack, junk, or dope. Heroin in its pure form is usually a white, pink, or beige powder that is odorless and bitter when tasted. Heroin can be abused through snorting, smoking or injecting directly into the veins. It can be diluted with sugar, baking soda, and aspirin. Heroin is known for its high potential for abuse, no recognized medical uses and its strong negative impact on society.

Once taken, heroin produces its effects rapidly causing people to feel more relaxed and euphoric.

Heroin is extremely addictive and over a series of uses the body builds up a tolerance to the effects. This leads the user to need a higher dose of the drug to achieve similar sensations. As the dosage gets higher, the risk of physical dependence grows immensely.

What are the symptoms of heroin use?

Heroin users abuse the drug because of the “rush” or the euphoric sensation felt when it enters a user’s bloodstream and reaches the brain. The intensity and duration depends on how much of the drug is taken and how it was administered. If a user injects the heroin directly into their bloodstream, they will feel the effects in seconds. Snorting or smoking takes longer to absorb so the user will not feel the effects for several minutes. While the rush from heroin only lasts a few minutes, the remaining high often lasts a few hours. Heroin also blocks the brain’s ability to perceive pain.

Other than the initial rush and the high that follows, you may be able to identify a user by symptoms that appear as:

  • Flushed skin
  • Small pupils
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Itching

Young or first time users often are not aware of the drug’s harmful effects because heroin does not leave a hangover or sickness after the high.

What are the signs of addiction?

1 in 4 people will develop an addiction to heroin after trying heroin.4 If you suspect heroin addiction in someone you know, there are indicators to look for. Clinical clues of heroin use include erratic mode change with feelings of euphoria, drowsiness, nausea or vomiting and visible needle tracks. Needle tracks are marks left behind when an area is used for frequent injections. These areas can be in the bends of arms or other areas of the body where veins are accessible.

If an addict goes for too long without heroin use, their body can show withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can resemble the flu but range in severity based on the level of addiction. In severe cases, addicts going through withdrawal can have convulsions, heart attacks, strokes and can become suicidal.

Financial problems and appearance changes can be a sign of addiction as well. Addicts will spend a great deal of money on the expensive drug and neglect important obligations like food and bills. If you suspect someone is an addict, pay close attention to changes in their physical appearance. If they are wearing long sleeves or pants they may be covering needle tracks. Addicts tend to appear pale and unhealthy and can lose large amounts of weight quickly.6

What are the health risks of a heroin addiction?

There are several serious health risks associated with an addiction to heroin:

  • Overdose: The desire of addicts to need more heroin with every use, results in a high risk of overdose. Heroin overdoses are especially dangerous because they happen quickly and medication to initiate withdrawal often cannot be given fast enough. There are portable overdose kits available that addicts or families of addicts can use if an overdose occurs.
  • Neurological Damage: Heroin abuse creates long-term imbalances and can decrease the white matter in your brain. White matter is responsible for sending and receiving messages from one part of the brain to another. This affects a user’s ability to make decisions and respond to stress.8 Once matter is lost, the damage cannot be reversed.9 Infections and disease are also common among heroin users.
  • Consequences of Needle Use: The use of needles by heroin addictions creates unique risks and complications. Hepatitis B, C, and HIV are common due to unsterilized and the sharing of needles. Bacterial infections of the blood vessels can also occur when a user does not properly clean or insert needles.

Need more guidance?

If you feel you are starting to abuse heroin or have already become addicted, there are many programs and facilities that are dedicated to help you at any time, day or night.

Here is a compiled list of National Addiction Helplines.
For more help and information, visit Treatment for Heroin Addiction

View Source Last Edited: May 29, 2016

Sources and Citations:

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db190.pdf
  2. http://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ds.shtml
  3. http://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/heroin-state-and-federal-penalties.html
  4. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-long-term-effects-heroin-use
  5. http://www.vumc.com/branch/Children-White-Matter-Disorders/419542/
  6. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/44322/1/9789241599405_eng.pdf