Heroin addiction is serious and can negatively affect someone’s life in many ways. With proper treatment and support, heroin addiction can be overcome.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine. It is often found as a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance called black tar heroin. This drug is commonly produced, bought, and sold illegally for recreational use due to the euphoric high it creates. Heroin addiction is very serious and can negatively impact someone’s life in many ways.1
How Addictive is Heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive substance. When someone becomes addicted to it, they can develop both a physical and psychological dependence on the drug. This dependence can lead to them feeling like they cannot function normally without taking it. If someone is struggling with heroin addiction, they must receive proper treatment and support to recover.
Heroin is part of the opioid drug class. Opioids are highly addictive drugs that are commonly misused and abused.
Heroin is a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it is a highly addictive substance with no current medical uses.
Since heroin is often bought and sold illegally, it may be referred to under different street names. Common heroin street names include:2
- Brown sugar
- China White
- White Horse
How is Heroin Used?
When this substance is in powder form, it can be snorted. Snorting heroin is often seen as the easiest way to use the drug since it does not require the use of any extra tools or steps. Snorting heroin is often preferred for those who feel uncomfortable injecting the substance.
Heroin may also be smoked. Smoking heroin involves putting the powder on a piece of foil that is then heated underneath with a lighter. The smoke that is coming off the substance is inhaled with a straw. Regularly smoking heroin will result in lung problems among many other adverse effects.
Injecting heroin is the most common method of use. Injecting the drug straight into the bloodstream causes it to take effect almost instantaneously and be more powerful than other forms of use. Injecting heroin is very dangerous and can lead to many health problems with continuous use.
Signs of Heroin Addiction
Look for these common signs of heroin use to determine if someone is struggling with heroin abuse. It is critical to contact professional help to overcome this addiction.
How Heroin Affects Your Eyes
One of the common signs of heroin use is called “heroin eyes.” When someone is struggling with heroin addiction, their eyes may appear bloodshot, droopy, and will often have very small pupils.
Aside from heroin’s effect on one’s eyes, other physical symptoms of this type of addiction may include:
Heroin Addiction’s Effects
Many short and long-term heroin effects can negatively impact someone’s life.
When heroin is first taken, it binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, which creates a pleasurable sensation, often referred to as a “rush.” The strength of this rush depends on the dosage and how the drug was taken.
Other short-term heroin effects may include:4
- Arms and legs feeling heavy
- Clouded mental state
- Decreased heart rate
- Dry mouth
- Severe itching
- Slowed breathing
- Warm, flushed skin4
When heroin is taken over a long period, many serious heroin effects may occur. Long-term heroin abuse can change the physiology of the brain which will alter someone’s behavioral patterns. It can also impact the body’s hormonal systems leading to many negative health consequences. Some of these long-term heroin effects are not easily reversed which is why it is critical for someone struggling with heroin addiction to get help as soon as possible.
Long-term heroin effects may include:5
- Deterioration of the brain’s white matter
- Developing a physical and psychological dependence
- Developing a tolerance, leading to taking increasingly higher doses
- Inability to regulate behavior
- Poor decision making
- Spread of communicable diseases
Life-Threatening Heroin Effects
A heroin overdose is a very serious issue. Since you can build a tolerance to heroin, it will lead to taking increasingly higher doses to receive the same effects. When high doses are taken, it can lead to a heroin overdose. Heroin overdose can be fatal, and if someone overdoses on heroin, immediate medical attention is required to perform critical treatment.
Common signs of a heroin overdose are:
- Blue lips and fingernails
- Breathing is slow, irregular, or has stopped
- Limp body
- Loss of consciousness
- Making choking or gurgling sounds
- Pale face
- The person is conscious but unresponsive
- Slow or erratic pulse
If someone is exhibiting these symptoms, call 911 immediately. When paramedics arrive, it is essential to tell them an overdose may have occurred so they can perform the right procedures for the individual’s needs.6
If someone suddenly stops taking heroin after using it for a long time, heroin withdrawal symptoms will occur. Proper treatment is necessary during the withdrawal process to ensure safety and make sure the process is as comfortable as possible.
Common heroin withdrawal symptoms are:7
- Agitation and restless moving
- Muscle aches
- Trouble sleeping
How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?
Heroin stays in the blood up to six hours, urine up to three days, saliva up to twenty-four hours, and hair up to ninety days.8
Dosage and frequency of use can affect the half-life of a drug. With mild infrequent use, heroin may only be detectable in the urine for one or two days. However, with chronic use, heroin may be detected in the urine for almost a week.
Risks of Heroin Addiction
Overdose is a very serious risk of heroin addiction. Overdose does lead to high heroin death rates. According to the CDC, nearly 130,000 people died from overdoses related to heroin from 1999 – 2019.9 This issue is why it is so vital for those struggling with heroin addiction to get proper treatment and support.
Some health risks are more common with heroin use than other drugs. Since heroin is often injected, reusing and sharing needles can lead to the spread of communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C. Sharing needles can cause many lifelong health consequences as a result of heroin addiction.
Treatment for Heroin Addiction
One of the first parts of addiction treatment is detox. During the detox process, an individual may experience heroin withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable, but proper treatment and support can help make the process easier and will lead to higher success rates.
During the treatment process, medications may be used to help ease heroin withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse from occurring. Common medications that are used for heroin addiction treatment are buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone. These medications have been scientifically tested and shown to have high success rates.10
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used in addiction treatment. CBT helps patients address problematic thoughts and feelings that are contributing to their addiction. By finding connections in how thoughts and feelings affect behavior, patients can gain awareness of how they impact their recovery and ultimately find ways to create more positive thoughts, feelings, and behavioral patterns.