If you’ve been worrying about a friend, family member, or loved one who could be abusing heroin, you’re facing an uphill battle, starting with knowing for sure whether or not the abuse is happening. Drug users almost always have keeping their addiction a secret as one of their prime directives. They are rarely honest about what they are abusing, or how much.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is a non-addictive form of morphine. It was originally synthesized in 1874 and introduced as a “cure for coughs.” Since that time, heroin abuse and addiction have become major problems worldwide.
Heroin quickly enters the brain and binds to the brain’s opioid receptors, including those that control feelings of pain and pressure. Consuming heroin often leads to a sudden surge of euphoria. A person who regularly consumes heroin may start to crave the surge of pleasure that goes along with the drug. As a result, this individual may suffer the consequences of heroin addiction.
In addition to a euphoric feeling, a person may experience one or more of the following short-term side effects due to heroin abuse:
- Dry mouth
- Heaviness in the arms and/or legs
Additionally, there are many long-term effects associated with heroin abuse, and these include:
- Collapsed veins
- Kidney and/or liver disease
- Stomach cramps
For those who are dealing with a heroin addiction or know someone who is abusing heroin, it is important to seek immediate medical treatment. That way, a person can get the assistance that he or she needs to overcome a pattern of heroin abuse.
Is Heroin Abuse Common?
The Foundation for a Drug-Free World reports approximately 13.5 million people worldwide take opioids. Among these people, 9.2 million use heroin.
Also, the number of overdose deaths associated with heroin in the United States is increasing. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes there was a 7.6-fold increase in the number of heroin overdose deaths in the United States from 2002 to 2016.
Signs of Heroin Abuse
It’s unfortunate, but this can put you in the role of investigator. You may not be a professional detective, but now it’s on you to search for the signs of heroin abuse. But how can you tell if someone is on heroin? This is probably an accusation you want to be very sure about.
Heroin is usually snorted, smoked, or injected. Depending on how the person is using it, you are likely to find leftover evidence of drugs or paraphernalia that go along with drugs. Heroin itself can look many different ways, ranging from an off-white powder or crumbs to a dark brown or almost black sticky substance, in the case of black tar heroin.
It is common to find syringes used for injecting drugs when a friend or loved one is using heroin. You might also find small metal or glass pipes for smoking, or even homemade smoking devices made from sturdy tubes (like a plastic pen case). A person who is injecting heroin first dissolves it for use; this is what they need their “works” for, paraphernalia like dirty spoons and lighters. Injectable drug users also need to be able to find a vein readily, so watch for items that can be used as a tourniquet, such as belts, rubber tubing, or even shoelaces.
Perhaps one of the biggest telltale signs of heroin use, however, is track marks.
Heroin Track Marks
Injecting drugs is extremely dangerous. Drugs that you inject enter your system rapidly, causing the most intense possible high, immediately. This means that injecting drugs is often very popular among seasoned users, for whom snorting or smoking is no longer enough.
Although we think of intravenous drug use when we think of injected drugs, not everyone who injects drugs injects them directly into veins. Some inject drugs subcutaneously or into the muscle instead. Of course, intravenous injection or IV drug use is the quickest, most intense way to receive that high, so many users end up with the habit in the end. When they do inject into veins, they create track marks.
The veins in the crook of the arm are most frequently used for injecting drugs, so that’s the first place to look for track marks. However, other locations are possible. Look for injection marks in the non-dominant arm, since most users inject with the hand they write with. Some people may have help from a fellow user so they can use both arms and other locations.
Some other locations that are popular among drug users include the hands, legs, feet, and groin. Many users switch locations and sides to more readily hide track marks. Others might find existing injection sites becoming too scarred or inflamed to use, forcing them to switch.
What Do Heroin Track Marks Look Like?
Many commonly abused drugs can be administered via IV injection—not just heroin. Commonly injected drugs include:
- Cocaine and crack
- Ketamine or special K
- Methamphetamine, crystal, glass
- Opioid painkillers
- Prescription stimulants such as Adderall
Drug abusers may also mix drugs and inject them together. For example, cocaine and heroin injected together is called a speedball—an uncertain experiment every time, even for experienced users. Add in potent opioids to a classic speedball, as so many current users are doing, and you are much more likely to see an overdose or even a fatality.
Perhaps one of the most telltale signs of a serious drug abuser, track marks are the scars which are left behind after injecting drugs. These track marks are caused by a range of factors, but here are the three most common causes:
- Chronic abuse. Repeated and prolonged abuse at the same injection site makes you more likely to develop track marks. Over time, as that same location gets used for injecting drugs over and over again, a person continuously damages the vein, causing scars to form and build up.
- Old, dull needles. Needles that are used repeatedly become dull and blunted. If they are used anyway to inject drugs, this damages the vein, placing excess pressure on it.
- Impure drugs. Street drugs are not pure, and each one is a little different. They are cut with different compounds and manufactured in different ways, which means they all contain different impurities and contaminants. These toxins build up in the body, and cause discoloration of the track mark scar.
While track marks are one of the best and clearest signs that a person is abusing injectable drugs, looking for them can be tricky. Because different factors play a part in the formation of track marks, they can look very different from person to person, and even in the same person over time. Depending on which healing stage they’re in, an addict’s track marks might look very different than they used to; in fact, the same person might have many old scars interspersed with fresh track marks.
Still, there are some specific things to look for:
- Recent marks. Recent track marks are fresh looking lesions, unhealed sores. They look at first like just what they are: puncture marks. They can also resemble bruises or scabs, like what you might see after a blood draw.
- Old marks. Over time, an addict’s drug use advances. This causes the skin at injection sites to bleed, crack, and become infected. You can sometimes see scarring and individual track marks along the length of the vein; these places look a little darker usually and appear slightly raised compared to other areas of skin.
- Hiding injection sites. Another tell-tale sign with track marks is hiding them. When it’s a hot July and your friend or loved one is wearing long sleeves, long pants, and closed shoes all of the time no matter what, they may be hiding something like track marks. Some longtime drug abusers even get tattoos to cover track marks (although this is not a wise move if the skin is already damaged).
Track marks can last for years of time after an addict stops using, unfortunately, so seeing them doesn’t mean that someone is using right now. Still, it’s a good thing to know what track marks look like, how they’re caused, and how to get help when you spot heroin track marks.
How to Treat Heroin Addiction
Ongoing heroin abuse may lead a person to build a tolerance to the drug. To achieve the same euphoric feeling with heroin, this individual may consume higher doses of heroin than ever before. As a person consumes high doses of heroin over an extended period of time, he or she may struggle to function properly. Perhaps worst of all, the longer a person continues to consume heroin, the more difficult it may become for him or her to treat a heroin addiction.
Proper treatment of a heroin addiction usually requires medical intervention. To better understand why this is the case, let’s consider what happens during heroin withdrawal.
Acute heroin withdrawal typically starts about six to 12 hours after a person’s last dose. It often peaks at one to three days, and physical symptoms may continue for one to three weeks. Furthermore, residual heroin withdrawal symptoms may persist for many months or years.
People dealing with heroin withdrawal may experience a variety of symptoms, such as:
- Muscle and joint pain
Even a single use of heroin may lead to an overdose. If a person overdoses on heroin, the consequences could be fatal.
A heroin overdose may cause a person’s heart to slow down or stop. It may also lead to a reduction in oxygen that reaches the brain; in this instance, a person may suffer short- and long-term damage to the nervous system and brain.
A person dealing with a potential heroin overdose requires immediate medical attention. Failure to address heroin overdose symptoms may lead to a coma or permanent brain damage. Or, a person may die if his or her heroin overdose symptoms go untreated.
Naloxone is commonly used to immediately treat a heroin overdose. It binds opioid receptors in the brain to block heroin’s effects. In some instances, an individual may require multiple naloxone doses to recover from a heroin overdose.
Research indicates people who try to detox from heroin may be susceptible to relapse. American Addiction Centers reports one study of heroin addicts showed 91% of opiate detox program participants suffered a relapse. Among these participants, 59% relapsed within one week of completing their detox program.
Meanwhile, some people try to detox from heroin at home. Yet doing so may be problematic due to the psychological effects of heroin withdrawal.
Heroin withdrawal sometimes causes hallucinations, tremors, and suicidal thoughts. If a person going through heroin withdrawal alone at home, this individual may put himself or herself in danger.
Whereas traditional heroin addiction treatment involves the use of various detoxes and rehabs, this treatment offers no guarantees. Thus, regardless of the number of detoxes and rehabs a person uses, he or she may struggle to overcome a heroin addiction.
Ibogaine treatment now provides a gentle and effective heroin detox. It has been shown to help people manage their heroin cravings and reduce or eliminate their physical dependence on heroin.
Ibogaine for Heroin Addiction: What You Need to Know
To treat a heroin addiction, a person needs to account for his or her short- and long-term recovery. In the short-term, this individual may experience physical symptoms due to heroin withdrawal. These symptoms may last about a week and may be severe at time. Next, an individual may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) that lingers for months or years.
Ibogaine treatment for heroin addiction is designed to address the short- and long-term effects of heroin withdrawal. It has been shown to eliminate up to 98% of heroin withdrawal symptoms and alleviate PAWS.
During an ibogaine treatment for heroin, ibogaine hydrochloride (HCI) is used to help an individual alleviate his or her addiction symptoms. Ibogaine HCI allows a heroin addict to reset his or her drug dependence, and ultimately, kick a heroin habit.
An ibogaine treatment is backed by a team of expert medical professionals as well. These professionals work with an individual and develop a custom treatment plan based on his or her mental and physical health. Then, these professionals implement the treatment plan and monitor a patient’s progress. This ensures each patient can get the help that he or she needs to achieve the optimal results.
Heroin detox is a challenge, but an ibogaine treatment may boost the likelihood that an individual can avoid a heroin relapse, too. Ibogaine treatment focuses on the emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical aspects of heroin addiction. As such, ibogaine treatment may help people gain the skills, confidence, and support they need to address a heroin addiction for years to come.