Substance Use Disorders

Understanding Heroin Addiction

Heroin is a highly addictive drug that is part of the opioid family. It works in much the same way as some prescription painkillers because they are all derived from the opium poppy plant. Heroin is synthesized from morphine, a well-known pain reliever. Some people turn to heroin after developing an addiction to prescription painkillers. When their prescription runs out, they opt for a cheaper alternative that may produce stronger effects. Other people begin experimenting with heroin for other reasons.

Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain. Not only does it reduce feelings of pain, it can also provide a rush of euphoria and relaxation that many find pleasurable. However, heroin can also take a toll on both the body and the mind. It can produce uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that make it difficult to overcome addiction without professional treatment at a drug and alcohol rehab center. It also comes with the risk of overdose which can be potentially fatal.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

One of the first steps in overcoming heroin addiction is understanding heroin addiction and recognizing the signs and symptoms. Early detection can allow people to get the help they need before their addiction becomes more severe. Heroin can be injected, inhaled or smoked. It is typically mixed with another drug or a substance such as sugar, powdered milk or starch before use. If someone is injecting heroin, you may notice marks on their arms from the syringe. You may notice that after someone uses heroin their eyes are watery, their nose is runny, their mouth is dry and their pupils are very small. They may also walk around as though their arms and legs feel very heavy. Some other signs and symptoms of heroin addiction to be alert for include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Slow breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Severe itching
  • Skin flushing

What are the effects of heroin?

The subsequent effects of heroin cause destruction not only to the physical and mental health of the users, but also to their relationship with their families and the society.

Once heroin is inside the body, breathing and heart function become fatally slow, with high probability of coma during these moments. These are only short term effects of heroin. The long term effects on the body include:

  • Chronic muscle pains
  • Slow destruction of brain physiology  
  • Heart illnesses
  • Respiratory problems such as pneumonia
  • Liver diseases
  • Blood clots
  • Deterioration of the immune system
  • HIV or other contagious diseases due to usage of syringes
  • Overdosing that can lead to death

Aside from these, heroin abuse also causes mental problems such as:

  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Clouded judgment
  • Mental impairment
  • Loss of interest

These effects have serious impacts to the family and friends of the drug user. Their parents, spouses and children might experience stress disorders and financial problems which are prime causes of strained relationships. Friends might also walk away from them because the person they knew is no longer there – the friendship has been sacrificed for a substance. A heroin abuser is often seen as a danger to the community, especially to those who have limited understanding of heroin addiction.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Due to the highly addictive nature of heroin, when use is stopped, it can lead to withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be very uncomfortable and unpleasant making withdrawal difficult to deal with on one’s own.  However, it is necessary to detox the body of all addictive substances before intensive treatment and recovery can occur. Sometimes the experience of going through withdrawal can drive people back to using heroin. Experiencing heroin withdrawal symptoms can also be a sign that addiction has developed:

  • Severe drug cravings
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle pain
  • Cold sweats

Heroin Addiction Statistics in the United States

While the opioid epidemic often refers to the misuse of prescription painkillers, heroin is also consider an opiate. Heroin addiction is a serious problem. Heroin addiction statistics in the United States show a disturbing trend since the turn of the century. Studies have found that between 2000 and 2013, heroin overdose deaths almost quadrupled. Between 2010 and 2013, heroin overdose rates increased by an average of 37 percent per year, a drastic rise from the 6 percent increase per year between 2000 and 2010. In addition, studies have found that four out of five new heroin uses began by misusing prescription painkillers.

  • Approximately 23 percent of people who use heroin develop opiate addiction.
  • An estimated 586,000 people had a substance use disorder involving heroin in 2014.
  • Approximately 4.8 million people have used heroin at some point in their lives.

How to Get Yourself or a Loved One Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Fortunately, there is treatment available to support lifelong recovery from heroin addiction. If you believe that you or a loved one may have a heroin addiction, Crossroads offers gender-responsive treatment options ranging from residential treatment for women to outpatient treatment and support groups for both women and men for an in-depth understanding of heroin addiction. Treatment is customized to your individual needs and incorporates therapy, counseling, holistic activities, support groups and family programs to address the widespread impact of addiction on your life and help you to begin the road to recovery.

Heroin addiction does not have to control your life and recovery is possible. Have confidence in the belief that you can change and create a healthier lifestyle with the right approach and support in place from Crossroads.
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This was definitely a life changing experience. The staff was wonderful and I am leaving here sober, happy and healthy. I thank everyone for their love and care.”
– Back Cove Women’s Residential Program Client

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