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Understanding
Heroin Addiction

Across the United States, nearly everyone has been touched in some way by opioid addiction. Whether it is a friend, family member, loved one, or your addiction that you face, many have struggled with addiction to opioids or even lost their lives to overdose. The impacts of opioids are not restricted to any one community, state, or economic status. An opioid is a broad term that encompasses a variety of prescription and illicit drugs, including prescription painkillers and “street drugs” such as heroin. 

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Understanding Heroin

What is Heroin and What Are Its Effects?

Heroin is an opioid drug manufactured from morphine, a naturally occurring substance taken from the seed pod of the opium poppy plants grown in Asia, Mexico, and Columbia. Heroin can be a white or brown powder or a black sticky substance, also referred to as black tar heroin. Heroin also goes by other names, including hell dust and smack. Heroin can also be taken into the body in several different ways. It can be snorted, smoked, inhaled through the nose, or injected. Some people also mix heroin with crack cocaine to create a more potent drug. This practice is known as speedballing. 

The effects of heroin on the body are often very rapid. Upon entering the brain, heroin binds to specific opioid receptors on the brain as well as in the spinal column in other areas of the body. These particular receptors are involved in sensing and transmitting feelings of pain and pleasure. They are also involved in controlling breathing, heart rate, and sleeping patterns. In recent years, the rate of heroin use has increased dramatically. It is believed this is partially due to efforts across the nation aimed at reducing the number of opioid prescriptions. Because prescription pain medicines such as Oxycontin and Vicodin have similar effects to heroin, research suggests that prescription painkillers are often gateway drugs to heroin. Surveys conducted within the last few years show a percentage of those who misused prescription opioids often switched to heroin. 

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Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Heroin is a highly addictive drug with a significant risk of overdose. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for someone who chronically uses heroin to develop a tolerance for the drug. Once this tolerance develops, they require more and more of the substance to maintain or achieve the high they reached early on. as their tolerance builds, so does the risk for overdose. 

The signs and symptoms of heroin use can be challenging to notice in some cases. Depending on the duration of someone’s addiction, symptoms may be mild at 1st and progress rapidly as they continue to use, or their dosing increases due to tolerance. In many cases, the physical symptoms of heroin use occur quickly. After someone injects heroin, they will feel symptoms of euphoria and happiness, often within a matter of seconds. Other means of using heroin do not produce a reaction as quickly; however, signs and symptoms of “being high” will present once the drug reaches their brain. Some of the most common physical symptoms of heroin use include dry mouth, flushed skin, constricted pupils, itching, vomiting, decreased respiratory rate, and gastric disturbances. Another common symptom that is easily noticed is constricted pupils. People who use heroin regularly often need laxatives or stool softeners as ongoing use can cause chronic and severe constipation. You may also see nonphysical signs and symptoms, including new or worsening financial difficulties, drug-seeking behavior, the presence of drug paraphernalia, increased isolation, and new or worsening legal problems. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it is a starting point of some of the more common things that you may notice if a friend or loved one is struggling with heroin addiction. 

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Heroin Withdrawal & The Need for Detox

Those who are addicted to heroin and have developed a tolerance and subsequent physical and psychological dependence on the drug experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop or reduce their use. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms those who have developed a substance use disorder may experience when withdrawing from heroin include: 

  • Jitters or shaking 
  • Fever or chills 
  • Stomach issues such as vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea 
  • Body pains including bone and muscle pain 
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in eating patterns 
  • Uncontrollable leg movements 

In other more severe cases, withdrawal symptoms from heroin (as well as other opioids) could include severe and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. These may consist of delirium tremens (DTs), abnormal heart rate, abnormal respiratory rates, and seizures. Depending on the duration and severity of your addiction, withdrawal symptoms can occur in as few as six hours after your last dose of heroin and may last for up to two weeks. 

Because heroin withdrawal can result in severe and sometimes life-threatening symptoms, medically supervised detox is highly recommended for those looking to quit heroin. In a medically supervised setting, a team of highly trained medical professionals is available throughout the detox process to ensure your safety. While detoxing, they will continuously monitor vital signs and potentially administer medications designed to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms making detox more manageable. More importantly, the medical team is available should emergency care be needed. Unfortunately, the pull of heroin addiction is often quite intense, and those who try to “cold turkey” heroin detox are often unsuccessful. Within a matter of time, withdrawal symptoms become overwhelming, and relapse often occurs.

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How to Find a Heroin Treatment Program Near You

If you, a friend, or a loved one struggles with heroin addiction, don’t wait to seek treatment. Chronic heroin addiction can result in detrimental physical and psychological effects. Ongoing regular use often makes it difficult to admit that you have an addiction. Across the nation, there are thousands of medically assisted detox programs available to help you start on the path to sobriety. If you are ready to seek addiction treatment, contact the team at My Recovery today. Our caring team of professionals can help you determine your treatment goals and decide on the best type of treatment program to meet your needs. Let us help you find the best heroin treatment program near you. 

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