Heroin Addiction: Side Effects, Detox, Withdrawal, and Treatment

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What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive illegal drug that is made from morphine, which is a substance that is naturally found in the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. Many people who are addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers will transition from using prescription drugs to using heroin because it is cheaper, provides a stronger high, and is easier to obtain.

Heroin is an opioid and acts as a depressant, initially causing a rush of euphoria which is then followed by a slowing of overall body functioning. During this time, breathing and heart rate are decreased, mental cognition is impaired, and arms and legs often feel heavy.

Heroin is most often produced in powder form and sold as a white or brown powder, but it can also be a black sticky substance, known as black tar heroin. To use it, people typically inject, snort, sniff, or smoke it. Some people also mix heroin with crack cocaine, which is called speedballing.

Slang for Heroin

The following terms are street names or slang for heroin:

  • Big H
  • Horse
  • Hell dust
  • Junk
  • Smack
  • Dope
  • A point
  • H
  • Chasing the dragon
  • Speedballing
  • Brown sugar

How Common Is Heroin Addiction and Abuse?

According to Medical News Today, the number of heroin users in America increased exponentially from 90,000 in 2006 to 669,000 in 2012. Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health concluded that the number of heroin users had increased since then, reaching a total of 808,000 heroin users in 2018About 526,000 people aged 12 or older in 2018 had a heroin use disorder.

The effects of heroin use are typically felt very quickly, and users will experience relief from emotional pain and anxiety almost immediately. In fact, many people begin abusing heroin to relieve feelings of anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions and one study even found that 75 percent of heroin users also had mental health problems. Of course, many people also turn to heroin after being introduced to prescription painkillers.

Heroin is often used with alcohol or other drugs, which is especially dangerous and further increases the risk of overdose.

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What Are the Effects of Heroin Abuse?

The physical effects of heroin abuse are devastating and can cause a number of serious medical conditions over time.

Immediate short-term effects of heroin abuse include:

  • Euphoria
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme itching
  • Impaired mental functioning
  • Flushed, warm skin
  • Heavy feeling in arms and legs
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed heart rate

Long-term effects of heroin abuse include:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Damaged nasal tissues
  • Infection in the lining and valves of the heart
  • Constipation
  • Stomach cramping
  • Skin infections
  • Miscarriage
  • Lung disease
  • Mental illness
  • Increased risk of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis

What Are Signs of Heroin Use?

There are several different signs that may indicate a loved one is using heroin:

  • Constricted pupils: Heroin will constrict the pupils of the user of the heroin drug. Someone using heroin may avoid making eye contact or wear sunglasses indoors to try to conceal this.
  • Poor hygiene: A typical addict neglects the use of good hygiene and grooming, and this could be a sign of heroin use. Examples may be not showering for days on end, wearing the same clothes day after day, and neglecting to brush teeth.
  • Excessive itchiness: Heroin can cause an excessive “scratching” for the addict who uses the heroin drug.
  • Sudden drastic changes in weight: Weight loss and gain due to on and off use is also a sign of heroin use.
  • Nodding off: This is a term used by many heroin addicts. Heroin use can and usually causes long hours of drowsiness. Mental and physical sluggishness or slurred speech and the inability to stay away while having a conversation can be a sign of heroin use.
  • Track marks: Heroin Addicts will sometimes hide their arms due to tack marks on their injection sites. Long sleeves in the summertime can be an indicator of heroin use. These marks are generally located on their arms and hands but can likely be found elsewhere on their body such as their ankles, feet, and between their toes.
  • Severe changes in mood: Mood swings are common for heroin users, if an addict is withdrawing from heroin their behavior can become violent.
  • Sickly appearance: Heroin users may also look pale and sick due to the physical addiction to heroin.
  • Sudden social changes: Heroin users also often hang out with others who use heroin, so a drastic change in friends may be another indication of drug use.

Other signs of heroin use may be showing up late to events or curfew, becoming aggressive when questioned about the possibility of heroin use, and speaking in slang, or code when around others.

Common Heroin Paraphernalia

Finding drug paraphernalia in your loved one’s home or room may also indicate heroin use. Common household items that may be used as heroin paraphernalia include:

  • Syringes: Syringes are a popular method for using heroin. The heroin enters the bloodstream directly, although this method may be used by long-time heroin users, a syringe can be a red flag that someone is using drugs. Along with the syringe, a spoon, cotton, and a lighter or candle are used to cook the heroin by heating it, and then injecting it into the bloodstream. Addicts use belts, ropes, or something to tie off the user’s arm to find a vein. The entire “kit” is usually kept together.
  • Aluminum foil: Aluminum foil is another common form of drug paraphernalia used to smoke heroin. The heroin is placed on the aluminum foil and acts as a board for holding the heroin. The addict uses a lighter to heat it and a straw to inhale the heroin.
  • Straw-like objects: Items that resemble straws are often used by heroin addicts. This includes pens, rolled-up tin foil, or anything else that resembles a straw. A residue will form on the inside of these straw-like instruments.
  • Small plastic baggies: Heroin is usually sold inside small plastic baggies or even balloons. Look around for small rubber balloons or plastic bags no bigger than the size of your thumb.

What Are Common Signs of Heroin Addiction?

Heroin is a highly addictive drug and a person may become addicted after just one use. Although heroin addiction can affect anyone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies several clear risk factors.

A person may be more likely to develop a heroin addiction if they:

  • Are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers
  • Are addicted to cocaine
  • Do not have insurance or are enrolled in Medicaid
  • Are a non-Hispanic white
  • Are male
  • Are addicted to marijuana and alcohol
  • Live in a large metropolitan area
  • Are 18 to 25 years old

If a person is addicted to heroin, he or she will most likely display all or some of the following symptoms:

  1. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the effects of heroin wear off.
  2. Being unable to control heroin usage.
  3. Neglecting obligations like school or work to use heroin.
  4. Experiencing severe cravings for heroin.
  5. Continuing heroin use despite the negative physical, emotional, and social effects.
  6. Requiring more heroin to achieve the desired effect. (Developing a tolerance)
  7. Getting into dangerous situations while under the influence of heroin.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms and Detox

Heroin addiction may result in overdose or death if it is not addressed appropriately and in a timely manner. Treatment for opioid addiction, such as heroin, should always begin with a medically assisted heroin detox program.

Heroin withdrawal and detox can be extremely uncomfortable and dangerous, so it is best if an addicted individual completes this process in a safe, comfortable, and clinical environment with 24/7 medical assistance. Medically assisted heroin detox programs provide individualized programming with consistent medical care to ensure the safety and comfort of the client at all times.

Although heroin withdrawal can be uncomfortable, medical staff at a detox center will be able to treat the physical symptoms of withdrawal to help clients comfortably reach a state of sobriety. Some common symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Strong heroin cravings
  • Sweating

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

6-12 hours after the last dose:Mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms may begin to appear, including abdominal cramps, sweating, chills, tremors, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle and bone aches. More severe withdrawal symptoms during early heroin detox may include insomnia, depression, impaired breathing, and extreme cravings.
1-3 days after the last dose:Heroin withdrawal symptoms usually peak during the first few days of detox, but the severity of symptoms will vary based on how much heroin was taken each time, how long heroin was abused, and how it was used.
5-7 days after the last dose:Heroin withdrawal symptoms typically subside but some may persist for weeks or months if left untreated.
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How to Beat Heroin Addiction

The use of drugs like heroin, opioid painkillers, and fentanyl is on the rise in America. An estimated 23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs, for every 10 people in America, one of them has a drug addiction over the age of 12. The population of Texas is less than the population of the current drug addicts roaming around America’s streets. The sad truth is, only 11% of those addicts will receive treatment.

Addiction is a chronic, but treatable condition, and our health care systems have been slow to recognize the severity of this devastating disease. Many Americans do not understand why people become addicted to drugs. It is often believed that these addicts lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs simply by saying no. This is not true.

Drug addiction is a disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions. For many drug addicts, drug addiction treatment is needed to overcome their addictions and for a life in recovery. Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that causes drug-seeking and drug-using, despite health problems and consequences.

Usually, the first initial drug use is voluntary for most drug addicts. The brain changes that occur over time make it challenging for an addicted person to control their drug use, the disease hinders their ability to resist intensive impulses to take drugs.

It is mindboggling to think that we would need a drug addiction treatment in Texas, the size of Texas, just to help the current drug addicts in America. Full-blown heroin addiction might have already set in for some addicts, but early prevention and intervention can help. Heroin addicts may try to lie and hide their habits, but if you think a loved one is addicted, professional care at an addiction treatment center can help.

Long-Term Rehab for Heroin Addiction

Long-term rehab of 90 days or more is necessary to achieve lasting sobriety and relief from heroin addiction. While there are many different options for heroin treatment, 30 and 60-day programs simply do not provide the time needed to fully overcome heroin addiction.

Unfortunately, many individuals may return to a harmful living environment after detox, severely compromising their newfound sobriety. Long-term heroin rehab is designed to provide a safe, supportive place to be sober for an extended period of time after completing a heroin detox program.

During heroin rehab, individuals in recovery work with clinical counselors, therapists, sober coaches, and their peers in recovery to learn and practice essential coping techniques they will need to maintain their sobriety. Therapeutic interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy, family behavior therapy, contingency management, and 12-step facilitation therapy are all used in conjunction with other specialized therapies and evidence-based heroin treatment methods to help individuals overcome addiction for good.

Long-term inpatient heroin rehab usually takes place at a comfortable addiction treatment center where clients are required to stay on a daily basis. Outside interaction with family and friends is encouraged but must be scheduled in advance and monitored by the client’s treatment team. Conversely, outpatient heroin rehab gives the client more flexibility to attend to other obligations such as school or work while still completing an addiction rehab program. Outpatient meetings are typically held in a drug treatment center and are facilitated three or more times per week.

With drug and alcohol rehab, whether it be inpatient or outpatient, the overall goal is to address the underlying causes of the person’s addiction, modify negative behaviors that contribute to the addiction and apply coping strategies to prevent future relapse and heroin use.

The cost of heroin rehab will vary, depending on the program and the rehab center. Most addiction treatment centers will accept medical insurance to help offset the cost of treatment. Other payment options for heroin treatment may include third-party loans or out-of-pocket payments. Many employers also provide their employees with Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) which may help reduce the cost of heroin rehab.

Continued Care Options for Heroin Addiction Treatment

After detox and long-term heroin rehab, a person may choose to continue with their addiction treatment by enrolling in a sober living program and/or an aftercare program for alumni.

Sober Living Programs

A sober living program is a program that is designed to bridge the gap between inpatient rehab and independent sober living. Transitional living programs like these provide individuals with a safe, clean, and group sober home in which they can live for an extended period of time while they learn to live sober on their own.

A transitional housing program can also be combined with other recovery support services such as personal monitoring, drug and alcohol testing, employment and education assistance, and peer-guided support groups to enhance the program’s overall benefits.

During their time living in a sober home, individuals will learn to manage their finances, prepare their own meals, cope with cravings and high-risk situations, establish a peer support community, and gain confidence in their own abilities to maintain their sobriety. While enrolled in a transitional housing program, individuals must also adhere to the community policies of their sober living home.

The cost for sober living programs will vary based on the type of residence, the location, and the additional recovery support services offered. Payment for the program is typically collected on a monthly basis, similar to rent.

Aftercare Programs

An individual in recovery may also choose to enroll in an aftercare program for alumni after completing drug and alcohol rehab for their heroin addiction. These aftercare programs are usually facilitated once a week and are designed to assist people in recovery as they face the everyday challenges of sobriety while living independently. Each group meeting serves as a sobriety check-in and is facilitated by a licensed counselor.

If you are addicted and searching for heroin treatment, you’ve come to the right place. At Nova Recovery Center, our experienced and compassionate professionals are dedicated to helping you establish a stable and sober life. Call us today to learn more about your heroin treatment options.

Nova Recovery Center offers a large range of substance abuse treatment services: detox, residential, outpatient and sober living.

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Nova Recovery Center is dedicated to helping you or your loved one get help. Please call or fill out this form for a confidential consultation. One of our understanding, dedicated advisors will contact you about your options. Begin healing today.

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