Heroin addiction is among the oldest and most notorious of all drug addictions. Individuals addicted to heroin constantly play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with their tolerance and addiction to the drug. As the first and oldest opiate used, heroin addiction has a long and destructive history, especially in the United States population.
Heroin addiction effects hundreds of thousands of people, and unfortunately, more than half of those who try heroin become addicted to the drug. According to National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), 57.4% of all heroin users become addicted to the drug. The extreme euphoria associated with heroin is the most alluring aspect of the drug, and addiction usually develops rather quickly in those who use heroin on a regular basis.
Heroin addiction develops as a result of psychological dependence.
- When an individual takes heroin, he or she is overcome with a sense of euphoria and wellbeing. As dopamine floods the brain, the reward center is stimulated, which reinforces the repetition of the causal action.
- If heroin use is repeated, it will have the same effects, but after a few days, the brain will begin to produce less dopamine on its own. This change is a result of the imbalance of dopamine produced by heroin. Dopamine is a major neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure and wellbeing, so when it is not present, an individual feels depressed, in a state of malaise, and lacks motivation or pleasure in life.
- Without any sense of wellbeing or pleasure, if a user goes back to heroin so he or she can feel good again, it will produce another flood of dopamine, euphoria will come rushing back. This is the beginning of heroin addiction, as the individual is psychologically dependent on the drug in order to feel okay.
In addition to psychological dependence, heroin also produces a physical dependence, that results in painful and sometimes severe withdrawal symptoms when heroin use is drastically reduced or stopped.
Heroin Effects and Withdrawal Symptoms
Herion is a powerful opiate with equally powerful effects and withdrawal symptoms in addicts. The psychological effects of heroin use create the addiction, but the depressant physical effects are drastic, and many of them are evident in the way an individual appears and behaves while under the influence of the drug. Some of the effects of heroin use include:
- Reduced heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Constricted (pinpoint) pupils
- Slurred speech
- Heavy limbs
- Droopy eyelids
- Intermittent periods of awake and asleep (nodding off)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle relaxation
Heroin begins to take its effects almost immediately, and within a few seconds, users feel a rush of euphoria and have likened the experience to being wrapped in a blanket of warmth. Most heroin addicts have described the feelings produced by the drug as the greatest feeling in the world, although these feelings come at a high cost.
Heroin is most often used in one of three ways:
- Snorting through the nose
- Smoking by melting heroin on aluminum foil and smoking the vapors
- Intravenous injection
The most common form of heroin use is through intravenous injection, and is most often the eventual method of administration for addicts. Even if heroin addiction did not begin with intravenous use, it is the fastest way to feel the effects of heroin. Therefore, when an addict is in withdrawal, and needs a dose of heroin fast, resorting to needles is very common. Usually, once a heroin addict begins shooting up (intravenous injection of heroin), he or she will not return to any other method. There are significant dangers in any kind of heroin use, as overdose is always a possibility. Intravenous injection of heroin is notoriously blamed for facilitating the spread of diseases like Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS through shared and dirty needles.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be just as intense and severe as the effects, and depending on the length and severity of the addiction, individuals who are in withdrawal from heroin may have a horrific experience. Heroin withdrawal can begin in as little as 24 hours after the last dose, but this depends on the frequency with which the individual regularly uses heroin. The withdrawal begins subtly and includes autonomic nervous system responses like frequent yawning and sneezing. For addicts who have experienced heroin withdrawal before, these initial signs are ominous of the impending full withdrawal if they do not use more heroin. Within 36 hours after the last dose of heroin, addicts will begin to feel the full effects of withdrawal, which include:
- Cold sweats
- High fever
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle pain and spasms
- Intense cravings
- Dilated pupils
- Runny nose
While none of these symptoms are life threatening, they can be very severe and lead to dangerous behaviors, and most frequently relapse on heroin to make the addict feel better. When heroin withdrawal is experienced outside of a controlled detoxification facility, there is nothing to stop an addict from using more heroin to ease his or her pain and discomfort.
Often heroin withdrawal lasts for up to 10 days, and while the physical symptoms begin to fade during that time, the psychological effects tend to linger for several more days, weeks, and even months or years. Addicts may continue to have intense cravings for heroin and their ability to feel pleasure and well-being may allude them for extended periods of time while their brains readjust and rebound from the heroin use.
Dangers and Signs of Heroin Addiction
Since heroin is illegal in the United States, addiction to it always involves illegal activity which puts addicts at constant risk for legal trouble and criminal charges. The dangers of heroin addiction are endless, but include such risks as:
- Arrest and criminal charges
- Personal safety risks when buying heroin in dangerous neighborhoods and from dangerous dealers
- Health risks when using shared or dirty needles, and if providing sexual favors or prostitution for heroin money
- Risk of overdose from dealers cutting heroin with other substances like Fentanyl (100 times stronger than morphine)
- Risk of collapsed veins, infection, and abscesses at injection points from intravenous heroin use
Along with these dangers are the risks to the loved ones of the addict, which are often overlooked in the big picture of addiction. Most heroin addicts have friends and family members who love them, and watch them suffer with no understanding why or how to help. When loved ones remain in the lives of addicts, they suffer numerous assaults. Most of these assaults are not intentional or aimed at the loved ones of the addict, but they suffer, nonetheless. Some of the things loved ones of addicts endure are by their choices to remain in the life of their addicted loved one. Other pains cannot be avoided with separation from the addict:
|Pain by Choice||Pain With Separation|
|Driving addicts to pick up heroin from dealers||Valuables being stolen by addicts to buy more heroin|
|Providing a home for heroin addicts||Fear of where an addicted loved one will sleep|
|Bailing addicts out of jail||Pain of knowing an addicted loved one is incarcerated|
|Spending life savings, selling valuables, and taking loans and liens to pay for an addicted loved one’s care and legal fees||Trying to cope with knowing your addicted loved one is struggling alone|
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to deal with a loved one addicted to heroin, and many families struggle with knowing that enabling an addict isn’t helping, but cannot accept allowing their loved one to suffer alone.
Signs of Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction signs can be subtle in the beginning, but as time passes and the addiction progresses, addicts become more noticeable, no matter how they may try to hide their addiction to heroin. Some of the signs of addiction are as follows:
- Increased and urgent need for privacy, such as locking doors and retreating by any means necessary for solitude
- Discovery of paraphernalia, such as baggies, needles, spoons, excessive amounts of lighters, aluminum foil
- Change in friends and associates to known drug users and/or dealers
- Poor personal appearance and decreased maintenance of hygiene
- Reduced sexual interest
- frequently appearing under the influence of heroin
- Pinpoint pupils in dim light
- frequent absences for “a few minutes”
- Drastic mood swings
- Weight loss
- Increased isolation
- Track marks on hands, arms, feet, legs, and neck from intravenous injection of heroin
- Wearing long sleeves and pants in very warm weather to hide track marks
- Unexplained financial problems
When someone is displaying signs of heroin addiction, he or she may not be aware of it at the time because of the nature of addiction. When an individual is addicted, all he or she cares about is getting and using the drug of choice, with little regard for how he or she may look to others, or what others may think or feel. This is not because heroin addicts are bad people, but because they have a horrible disease that changes the way they think, and are motivated in life. Without the addiction, heroin addicts are normal, everyday people with compassion, drive, and sensibility. This is a large part of the reason families are so devastated by heroin addiction. Suddenly, they do not know the person before them, and only want their loved one back from the disease of addiction. The good news is that heroin addiction can be treated and the person under the addict can re-emerge with effective and appropriate drug rehab program.
Help for Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction is a horrific condition that gets worse as time goes by without treatment. The process of helping a heroin addict to overcome his or her addiction comes in three steps.
- Admission of a problem with heroin addiction and willingness to get help
- Detoxification from heroin
- Enter into a drug rehabilitation program
No one of these steps can be overlooked if heroin addiction is going to be treated and overcome because addiction treatment can only be as effective as the addict is willing to get better. The goal of any addiction treatment program is to empower each individual and equip him or her with the tools, knowledge and skills to keep him/herself sober after treatment has been completed. Addiction does not have a cure, so it is not up to the rehab center to “fix” addicts, but rather prepare them in the most effective possible way to avoid relapse and live a healthy and sober life.
If you, or a loved one is struggling with a heroin addiction, and in need of treatment, please call us now at 1 (866) 445-4137 to speak with a trained counselor who will talk with you about the needs and preferences for yourself or your addicted loved one. There is no time to waste when heroin addiction is placing lives at risk. Call us now and we will work with you to narrow down all the best choices for addiction treatment that will be most effective for your personal situation and life. We are dedicated to helping in every way we can because we understand the dangers and urgency associated with heroin addiction and treatment. Please don’t wait. Call us now, and let us help you find your own personal path to recovery from heroin addiction.