Heroin is one of the most addictive commonly used illicit drugs. Within the United States, this use has greatly fueled the rising opioid epidemic. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that heroin use is on the rise. The CDC presents some harrowing statistics, noting that within the age demographic of 18-25 year olds, heroin use has doubled within the last decade.
Understanding This Drug
Heroin is an opioid drug that is synthesized from morphine, a substance derived from the poppy plant. It may come in several forms, either in white or brown powder, or in a sticky or hard substance that is dark in color, called black tar heroin. Depending on its form, heroin may be snorted, smoked or injected.
The increase in heroin use may be attributed to several things, however, experts agree that the prescription opioid painkiller epidemic has played a large part in its high-velocity rise. The National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens elaborates, telling us that of those who use heroin, almost 80 percent first abused prescription opioids. Why is this?
Foremost, there exists a greater number of prescriptions for these drugs within our country. Secondly, once a person begins abusing them, or becomes addicted, either due to limited access or an inability to shoulder the financial burden attributed to them, they often turn to heroin. Heroin becomes a popular choice due to its increasing availability and cheaper cost, a recipe for disaster for many.
Behavioral Hallmarks Of Addiction
First, to better understand how to evaluate concern if a person is addicted to heroin, we will speak in general terms of the behaviors associated with addiction. When a person suffers from an addiction, it begins to change the way their thoughts, behaviors and moods function, often in very recognizable ways. According to Mayo Clinic, the following behaviors are indicative of a drug addiction:
- Experiencing an intense need or urge to use the drug (cravings)
- Encountering a compulsion to use the drug on a constant basis, even multiple times a day
- Developing a tolerance (finding that you need increasing amounts of the drug to create the same feelings)
- Going beyond your financial means to procure it
- Withdrawing from things that previously interested you, including family or other social obligations
- Dropping the ball in work- or school-related activities or responsibilities
- Engaging in behaviors that are not typical to your nature as a means to obtain the drug (i.e. stealing or trading sexual favors)
- Taking risks while you’re using—such as driving under the influence or engaging in unprotected sex
- Taking careful measures to make sure you have regular access to the drug
- Expending increasing amounts of energy to obtain and use the drug
- Finding that you are unable to stop using it, even if you want to
- If you suddenly quit without weaning yourself, you experience withdrawal symptoms
Because withdrawal can be one of the more pronounced and difficult to hide signs, it is important to understand how it manifests. When someone encounters heroin withdrawal, they may become restless or agitated, be unable to sleep, suffer from pain of their muscles and bones, have involuntary leg movements, become cold and develop goosebumps and become physically ill to the extent they suffer from diarrhea or vomiting.
If you experience any of this symptoms in yourself, or witness them in someone close to you, there is cause for concern. Seek help immediately in order to prevent the addiction from gaining further momentum or even jeopardizing your life. Withdrawal should never be attempted on your own; instead, a medical supported detox and inpatient drug rehab program, such as ours, is highly recommended to provide a safe and comfortable detox. With heroin, medication-assisted therapies have shown vast success at achieving sobriety and positive results.
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In addition to these, there are some other behaviors that may point to an addiction. A person may experience mood swings, exhibit less and less concern about their appearance and personal grooming habits, or become secretive, closed off or overtly paranoid. These individuals may struggle to speak correctly, instead slurring their words. Because of the way the drug impacts the central nervous system, they may stumble or have trouble coordinating their movements. Lastly, they may seem overly and suddenly tired and lethargic, sleeping at uncommon hours or exhibiting decreased amounts of motivation for their life and responsibilities.
Despite its relatively cheaper price in relation to some other drugs, a chronic and compulsive heroin habit requires significant amounts of money. A person may fail to pay their mortgage or other bills, they may ask you for money or even be caught stealing money or objects to pawn from you to fuel their habit.
Identifying Drug Use Equipment
When a person uses heroin, they need various equipment or paraphernalia to use the drug. Many times, a person will keep all of these items assembled in a kit. This collection may include, as listed by the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), items for sniffing or snorting heroin, such as razor blades, straws, rolled bills or hollow pens. If a person smokes it, you may find a pipe.
Individuals who choose to inject require the most tools, including: burnt spoons or bottle caps (for heating the drug), lighters, syringes, cotton balls and an item to “tie off” with (forces the veins to bulge so injection is easier), like a belt or rubber tubing. CESAR also reports that some people may put liquified heroin in a spray bottle to administer it nasally, so keep your eyes out for these. Lastly, people commonly purchase heroin in small quantities, so look for tied off balloons in which it may have been transported.
Physical Signs Of Use
When a person uses heroin, even once, they are likely to exhibit physical cues of their use. With prolonged and excessive use, more serious and persistent signs arise. A person may have:
- Constricted pupils
- Flushed complexion
- Sores within their nose
- Runny nose
- Sweaty skin
- Needle marks or “track marks”
- Skin lesions
Because injecting heroin is a highly invasive method, which can leave the above physical marks, a person may seem to wear long-sleeved shirts more and more, even in nice weather when other clothing would be more appropriate.
In addition to these physical cues, heroin addiction creates a host of other side effects, which we explain next.
Additional Side Effects
Heroin use can be dangerous and even deadly the first time a person uses it. In the short term, heroin abuse manifests in certain ways, including:
- A person may itch themselves excessively
- Cognitive difficulties; a person may seem confused
- Gastrointestinal trouble, specifically nausea and vomiting
- A person’s breathing may be slowed (respiratory depression)
- They may not experience as much pain
- Saying their arms and legs feel heavy
- Miscarriage in pregnancy
In the long term, a person may have hormonal imbalances you may witness—men may have sexual dysfunction, whereas women may have missed or irregular periods. The mood changes may become more pronounced, as a person may, as NIDA tells us, develop depression or antisocial personality disorder. The cognitive impairment may become greater as well, becoming evident as a person struggles to make decisions, control their behavior or handle stress in an appropriate manner.
Risks Of Heroin Use
Heroin is like Russian roulette. Even one dose could be enough to kill you. Due to its potent nature and highly addictive qualities, heroin carries a large capacity for overdose, a serious situation that may in many cases prove life threatening. The CDC illustrates exactly the extent of this devastation, citing that “Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled.” With the advent and growing practice of heroin being laced with other more potent and deadly drugs, the potential for overdose is even greater.
In addition to this risk, a person may contract various transmissible diseases, which may also result in death. These risks are higher in those who inject, due the rate of shared, dirty needles, however, individuals who use this drug in any capacity experience greater risk. This is due to a person’s impaired judgement and propensity towards risky behaviors, like unsafe sexual practices, that can transmit these as well. Heroin users contend with heightened rates of HIV and hepatitis infection, most notably hepatitis C, though the risk of contracting hepatitis B is also greater.
Heroin is quite rarely pure. This is to say that it is often cut with other drugs or contaminants. When heroin is liquified, these drugs may not break down as readily as heroin, thus they can irritate a person’s delicate tissues, and even obstruct the vascular system. This blockage may create damage to various organs, including liver and kidney disease, and may also cause certain areas within these organs to experience cellular tissue death or infection. Some people also develop arthritis or other rheumatological concerns.
Don’t Sit Back Any Longer
The longer heroin abuse or addiction remains unchecked, the greater the capacity for damage. We implore you—if anything we’ve presented to you today seems familiar, either in your life or a loved one’s, please don’t hesitate—contact us at TreehouseRehab.org today. We can offer you more information on our comprehensive and compassionate treatment program.
National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens — What is heroin?
Mayo Clinic — Diseases and Conditions: Drug Addiction: Symptoms
Center for Substance Abuse Research — Heroin
National Institute on Drug Abuse — Heroin: Research Report Series