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Heroin addiction is a serious issue and one that can be incredibly difficult to overcome. Recent studies found that the number of people who admitted to using heroin doubled in less than 10 years, making it one of the most rapidly growing addictions in the United States. Trying to identify the symptoms of someone on heroin isn’t easy, particularly if you’re not entirely sure how to find evidence of opiate use or even precisely what you are looking for. Heroin addiction is notoriously difficult to spot, too, because users are heavily invested in keeping their secret. No one wants to be that person who was kept in the dark by their friend or loved one who is actually an addict, but it happens frequently.
This article will explore everything you need to know about heroin addiction and how to get help if you or someone you love is struggling with it. Keep reading to learn more.
What Is Heroin?
For those who don’t know, heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug made from morphine, an opium-derived substance. People who abuse heroin use it for a powerful “high” feeling and to feel relief from physical and emotional pain. Heroin can be injected, smoked, snorted or inhaled as a “skyball,” which is when a person crushes the drug into a fine powder and snorts it. People who abuse heroin sometimes mix it with other substances, like fentanyl, a synthetic drug that is significantly more dangerous.
Signs And Symptoms Of Heroin Abuse
The signs and symptoms of heroin abuse can vary greatly between individuals. Some people may experience few physical symptoms, while others may exhibit behavioral traits that are associated with heroin abuse. Some of the signs of heroin abuse include:
– Changes in mood or behavior – People who are abusing heroin may experience sudden shifts in mood and become unusually happy, calm or sedated. They may also demonstrate unusual irritability, restlessness, or aggressiveness.
– Respiratory issues – People who abuse heroin have an increased risk of respiratory problems, including slowed breathing and an increased risk of an overdose due to decreased oxygen levels in the blood. They also have an increased risk of contracting blood-borne diseases, such as HIV.
– Skin issues – Some people who abuse heroin will develop skin infections, discoloration on the skin, or sores, especially if they inject the drug into their veins.
– Poor hygiene – People who abuse heroin may appear unkempt and disheveled and have trouble taking care of their hygiene needs, like showering and eating.
The Dangers of Heroin Addiction
Heroin is a serious and dangerous drug. Some of the dangers of heroin abuse and addiction include:
– Death – The most obvious danger of heroin use is death, as overdose is extremely common. Studies have shown that nearly half of all people who die from an opioid overdose die from a heroin overdose.
– Infections – Sharing needles or syringes, which many people do with heroin, can put you at risk of contracting infectious diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, parasites and infections like tuberculosis.
– Mental health issues – Heroin abuse can lead to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, psychosis and mania.
– Social problems – Heroin abuse can lead to problems at work, in school, in friendships and with family members. It can also lead to financial problems and legal issues, such as problems with the law due to drug-related incidents.
How To Help Someone with a Heroin Addiction
If you suspect a loved one is abusing heroin, there are a few things you can do to help them get the treatment they need.
– Talk to them – One of the most important things you can do is engage in open, honest communication with the person suffering from the addiction. You don’t have to wait for them to ask for help or bring up their issues. Be proactive in your approach, and talk to them about their drug use and any concerns you have.
– Don’t shame them – While you should definitely express your concerns about their drug use and urge them to seek treatment, you also don’t want to shame them for their decisions. This can only drive them further away from addressing their issues.
– Offer your support – Let the person know that you are there for them and that you want to help them with their issues. Let them know that you care about them and don’t want them to hurt themselves with the drug use.
– Get them help – If your loved one isn’t ready or open to treatment, you can still help by getting them in contact with a rehab center. There are many rehabilitation facilities that will take patients without an official referral.
How to Detox from Heroin
Effective treatments and support are available for those seeking to recover from heroin addiction, including both pharmacological (medications) and behavioral strategies. Both approaches can help someone struggling to regain control of their life to restore some element of normalcy to their behavior and brain function. Research shows that for most people, an integrated, holistic approach is most effective.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use?
Although we’ve all heard of heroin, trying to identify the symptoms of someone using the drug may not be as easy as you think. Identifying a heroin abuser is made even tougher by the universal goal of the user: keeping their use secret. Common physical symptoms of heroin use include:
- Bags and dark circles under the eyes
- Burn marks on the fingers or mouth from smoking
- Chest pain
- Cotton mouth
- Cuts, bruises, and scabs
- Excessive yawning
- Flu-like symptoms (such as fever, aches, vomiting, or a persistent chill)
- Hacking cough
- Infections and abscesses
- Itchy skin
- Legs and arms that seem heavy
- Loss of appetite
- Low sex drive
- More energy
- Muscle spasms or cramps
- Needle marks or “track marks” (which look like little red dots or bruises)
- No menstrual cycle
- Pinpoint pupils
- Puffy eyes
- Rapid heart rate
- Respiratory problems
- Runny nose, sniffling
- Sleep disturbances
- Sores or burns on the nostrils or lips from smoking
- Sudden weight loss
- Watery eyes
No one of these symptoms by itself would prove heroin abuse, but the more signs you see together, the more likely there is a problem. Furthermore, the signs of heroin abuse are not just physical. In fact, people who abuse heroin also typically display behavioral changes, and you are almost certainly going to notice the different version of your family member or friend. Here are some behavioral signs and symptoms of heroin addiction:
- Avoiding other people, including family and friends
- Bad performance at school or work
- Excessive sleeping
- Garbled, incoherent speech (words may be understandable, but still don’t make sense)
- Hiding things
- Hostility toward others
- Hyper alert or jittery moods followed by sleeping and fatigue
- Keeping needle marks covered with long sleeves, pants, and closed shoes, even when it’s hot
- Lack of hygiene
- Letting one’s physical appearance go
- Loss of interest in activities and hobbies that used to be important
- No motivation
- Poor coordination
- Slow movement
- Slurred speech
- Spending time with a new friend that also use heroin
- Wearing sunglasses all the time, even inside and at night
- Won’t make eye contact
Also watch for less direct signs and symptoms of heroin addiction—behavior that isn’t directly related to heroin use, but tends to come with it, being related to acquiring or using the drugs themselves:
- Antihistamines in bulk (to counteract the release of histamines from heroin)
- Asks to borrow money frequently
- Bottle caps
- Bottled water
- Burn marks on aluminum foil or gum wrappers (from smoking)
- Cotton balls or bits of cotton
- Empty capsules
- Empty plastic pen cases (for snorting or smoking)
- Missing or “lost” valuable possessions or money
- Missing or “lost” prescription medications
- Rolled up money
- Rubber bands or straps
- Shoelaces that are gone
- Small plastic bags
- Spoons with burn marks
- Straws with burn marks from smoking, or used for snorting
- Syringes, needles, or tiny caps for syringes
- Unexplained jumps in mileage on car
- Water pipes for smoking
What are the Risks and Effects of Heroin Abuse?
Repeated use of heroin changes the brain’s physiology, leading to long-term imbalances in hormonal and neuronal systems that cannot simply be reversed. Heroin use can also cause the white matter in the brain to deteriorate, negatively affecting decision-making, behavior regulation, and stress responses. Heroin use leads to tolerance and physical dependence. Tolerance means that it takes more and more heroin just to get the same effects. Physical dependence means that the body adapts to heroin being present, and triggers withdrawal symptoms if it goes away.
Chronic heroin users experience various medical complications, no matter how they ingest the drug. These include constipation and insomnia. Lung diseases including pneumonia and tuberculosis, can also occur. Mental disorders such as antisocial personality disorder and depression are also common. Sexual dysfunction is common in male users, and female users often experience disrupted menstrual cycles.
People who repeatedly snort heroin often damage the tissues in their noses and their septum. People who smoke experience more serious respiratory illnesses and burns. Chronic injectors experience collapsed and/or scarred veins, bacterial infections of the heart valves and blood vessels, boils or abscesses, and other infections of the soft-tissue. Heroin additives can clog the blood vessels that lead to the kidneys, liver, lungs, or even the brain, causing infection or even death of patches of cells in these vital organs. Immune reactions to contaminants may lead to arthritis or other rheumatological problems.
People who inject drugs are also at much higher risk for infections with hepatitis B and C, HIV, and other blood-borne viruses, which they sometimes then pass on to their family members. Smoking and snorting users are still at risk, particularly through risky behavior and proximity to more infected people.
Finally, overdose is a potentially deadly consequence of using heroin. A sufficient dose of heroin slows the heart rate and respiration enough that survival is impossible without medical help—and sometimes in spite of it.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin is difficult to quit in part because it causes such awful withdrawal symptoms. Some of these include:
- Excessive sweating
- Goose bumps
- Hot and cold flashes
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- Stomach cramps
- Teary eyes
These are uncomfortable and even painful, but usually not life-threatening. As your heroin detox progresses, though, other risks can arise, including:
- Aspiration (breathing vomit into your lungs), which can cause a lung infection
- Dehydration from diarrhea and vomiting
- Increased risk of relapse which carries overdose risk with it
- Increased risk of suicide
- Self-medication to relieve withdrawal symptoms
Finally, you will experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which produces symptoms such as:
- Emotional blunting
- Sleep disturbances
It can be extremely difficult to endure PAWS and heroin cravings. The urge to use can be overpowering. The right heroin detox program may help you avoid the worst of these problems.
Heroin Detox Timeline
Among opioid drugs, heroin is relatively short-acting. This means that the human body processes it fairly quickly. When the effects of heroin begin to wear off, that’s when withdrawal symptoms can begin. These usually emerge within 6 to 12 hours of the user’s most recent heroin fix, and they peak in their intensity within 1 to 3 days. Withdrawal symptoms resolve gradually, often within 5 to 7 days—although for many, the acute phase of withdrawal from heroin is followed protracted withdrawal symptoms or post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). These ongoing PAWS withdrawal symptoms can last for up to 6 months.
Finding a Heroin Treatment Program
Choosing the right heroin treatment program is essential for your success. You have the absolute best chance with our ibogaine treatment center Clear Sky Recovery. Our holistic approach and high-end facilities will give you the edge you need to get through this. Contact Clear Sky to find out more about why our heroin treatment program is like no other.
Dr. Sola is one of the world’s leading experts in medically-based ibogaine treatment; he has more clinical experience with safe and effective ibogaine administration than any other M.D. in the world today.