Heroin Addiction: Signs and Symptoms
Heroin is a powerful opioid and highly addictive substance. In the past 20 years, heroin use has contributed to the severity of the opioid crisis we are facing in the United States. The rate of opioid related overdose deaths has more than doubled in the last decade, with many overdoses involving heroin and Fentanyl laced heroin.
The opioid crisis started with a surge of OxyContin overprescription in the 1990s and 2000s. In recent years, heroin has become a popular drug of choice for many opioid users, and often, heroin laced with Fentanyl. Heroin can be cheaper than buying prescription painkillers, and easily accessible. One trend in the opioid crisis has been a shift from using opioid pain medications to heroin and Fentanyl laced heroin. This has contributed to increased accidental overdose deaths. Today, drug overdose is a leading cause of accidental death for adults in America.
Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
Heroin, a highly addictive substance, can be even more powerful when it is cut with Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times more powerful than morphine and heroin. When someone uses regularly for a period of time they will develop a tolerance to heroin, which creates a need to use more and more in order to feel the same effects. Heroin can be snorted, swallowed, smoked and injected. A smaller amount of heroin will produce a larger effect when injected as opposed to snorted.
Paraphernalia for using heroin includes needles, spoons, and pipes. Proponents of harm reduction work to increase access to clean using supplies as a way to prevent the spread of infectious disease and reduce overdose deaths. This is meant to “meet people where they are” and keep them alive until they are ready or able to take the next steps in treatment.
How to Tell If a Loved One Has A Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction can impact every aspect of a person’s life, as well as the lives of those who are close to them. If you believe a loved one is struggling with heroin addiction, you may feel powerless, out of control, fearful and confused. Confronting loved ones in a compassionate, non-threatening way can make it easier to have conversations about heroin use. Some sign of heroin use may include:
- Changes in attitude, personality changes or mood swings
- Lack of control for use
- Isolation, or appearing to be secretive
- Needle marks or “track marks” on the body from IV use
- Decline in work, school, or personal relationships
- Miosis, or construction of the pupils
- Slow breathing
- Legal trouble
- Weight fluctuations
- Presence of drug paraphernalia
Dangers of Heroin Addiction
Heroin overdoses can be fatal, and if heroin is unknowingly laced with Fentanyl the risk of overdose increases. Increased tolerance and using larger quantities of heroin also increases the risk for overdose. Likewise, if someone has not used heroin for a while and then uses, they are at high risk for overdose. Tolerance increases with regular use, but when someone stops using their tolerance drops. If someone with a low tolerance uses the same amount they used when they had a high tolerance, their risk of overdose is extremely high.
If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing signs of a heroin overdose, call 911 immediately.
It is possible to reverse an overdose and save someone’s life with Naloxone or Narcan. Narcan is very safe and has no side effects other than reversing an opioid overdose. Narcan can be obtained easily from most pharmacies, and anyone can administer it.
There are a number of other health risks associated with heroin use. Those who inject the drug may experience bruised and scarred veins, serious infections at the injection site, and risk of contracting blood-borne illnesses such as HIV, AIDS, or hepatitis. Sharing needles can be common among many heroin users and lead to outbreaks of these diseases. Syringe exchanges, which provide clean paraphernalia, are geared towards mitigating these risks.
Heroin use can also cause damage to the kidneys, lungs, and liver as well as cause respiratory issues that can lead to pneumonia, tuberculosis or other infections of the lungs.
Dangers of Heroin Detox
While detoxing from heroin is not fatal, it can be extremely difficult and uncomfortable, as well as emotionally exhausting. Withdrawal symptoms often last between five to ten days, however symptoms for each person vary. Quitting “cold turkey” on one’s own can be hard, and medical supervision is sometimes recommended to ensure safety and comfort. Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Bone and muscle pain
- Fever and chills
- Muscle cramps
- Flu-like symptoms
Addiction does not end with simply by making it through detox and withdrawals. Recovery from any addiction involves addressing underlying emotional and mental health issues that may have impacted use, as well as learning new behaviors coping mechanisms to handle cravings. Therapy and support groups are recommended to help maintain healthy recovery.
Medication can also be used to treat heroin addiction. The most effective medication in treating opioid use disorder and preventing overdose related deaths is Suboxone. There is abundant research that supports the use of Suboxone in opioid use disorder treatment. Suboxone should be an available option anywhere opioid use disorder is being treated.
Other medications for opioid use disorder, known as medication assisted treatment , or MAT, include Methadone and Vivitrol.
Who Becomes Addicted to Heroin?
Heroin addiction does not discriminate. Anyone can become addicted to heroin regardless of age, gender, or socio-economic status. It is common for many people to have used opioid pain medications prior to using heroin, with the rates of heroin use among young people ages 18-25 having nearly doubled in the last decade. Some demographics impacted by opioids include:
Getting Sober & Rehab for Heroin Addiction
Recovery from heroin addiction is possible. Everyday, there are people who find help and freedom from the devastating grips of heroin addiction. However, the most important and necessary step to gaining recovery is reaching out for help. If you or a loved one are struggling with heroin addiction, help is not far. There are resources and addiction treatment to recover from heroin addiction.
Recovery Resources for Heroin Addiction
Getting sober from heroin addiction is a lifelong process. Along with rehab, there are many who have found likeminded people in support groups helpful to help learn how to live life without heroin.
Read Sober Stories from those who have overcome heroin addiction.