Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction occurs when someone who is using the drug develops a dependence and experiences cravings and withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit.

Heroin (diamorphine) is an illegal opioid drug synthesized from morphine. As a Schedule I narcotic in the United States, heroin has no accepted medical use but is a relatively common recreational drug due to the euphoric effect it produces.

In recent years, heroin abuse has increased to pandemic proportions, claiming tens of thousands of lives due to overdoses alone. According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin-related fatalities rose by 39% between 2012-2013. In addition, deaths as a direct result of a heroin overdose jumped fourfold over the 11-year span from 2002-2013.

How Heroin Works

When heroin is consumed, it enters the brain quickly and attaches to opioid receptors, affecting the brain’s reward center impacting the individual’s perception of pleasure and pain.

Moreover, when heroin bind to opioid receptors, it causes an increased sense of pleasure and well-being due to the large surge of dopamine it releases into the body. This extremely high level of dopamine produces the heroin high.

Upon repeated use, the brain adapts to heroin’s presence and as a result, diminishes its response. This is also known as tolerance.

Effects and Side Effects of Heroin

An initial rush is followed closely by an intense high that can persist for many hours. At this time, a heroin user will often be “on the nod” as if experiencing a warm, drowsy state between waking and sleep.

In addition to the rush of euphoria, heroin can cause short-term side effects, such as the following:

  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Heavy hands and feet
  • Clouded thinking
  • Impaired judgment

In addition to side effects, warning signs of heroin addiction may include the following:

  • The avoidance of withdrawal symptoms through the repeated use of heroin
  • A lack of control over the amount of drug use
  • Life is revolving around obtaining and using heroin
  • Lack of interest in activities once deemed enjoyable/important
  • Avoidance of social situations, family or friends
  • Continuance of heroin use despite adverse life consequences

Psychological warning signs that may indicate someone is addicted to heroin include:

  • Appearing to be anxious or afraid
  • Lacking motivation and appearing lethargic or “spaced out”
  • Exhibiting sudden bursts of energy or mood instability
  • Personality or attitude changes not explainable otherwise

Heroin Overdose

The most common sign of a life-threatening heroin overdose is shallow or stopped breathing. Other signs may include:

  • Tongue discoloration
  • Vomiting
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Constricted pupils
  • Faint or weak pulse
  • Blue or purplish skin, nails or lips (cyanosis)
  • Uncontrollable muscle movements
  • Delirious and unresponsive even while awake

Also, heroin overdose victims may fall unconsciousness or into a coma-like state. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms after using heroin, please call 911 immediately.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction is a potentially life-threatening condition that can and often does result in illness, overdose, and death. Fortunately, it can be treated effectively through the use of a comprehensive, evidence-based addiction treatment program. Our center offers partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient formats that include behavioral therapy, counseling, and group support.

We have the tools you need to recover from heroin addiction, regain your life, and enjoy the long lasting sobriety, well-being, and happiness you deserve!


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