Signs of Heroin Addiction

Signs of Heroin Addiction | Harmony Treatment and Wellness

Heroin is an illicit semi-synthetic opiate and powerful central nervous system (CNS) depressant. Due to its euphoric effects, heroin has a high potential for abuse, dependence, and, ultimately, addiction.

Heroin creates a “downer” effect that rapidly induces a state of relaxation and intense feelings of well-being. This effect is related to chemical changes in the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. Just like other opioids, heroin use alters the brain’s perception of pain, reducing feelings of discomfort.

Signs of Heroin Addiction and Use

Heroin users, especially those with a history of drug abuse, may, at least in the beginning, be able to conceal signs of their heroin use. After a while, though, their loved ones may notice several signs of heroin consumption, which may be evident both during and after use:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Constricted pupils
  • Disorientation
  • Abrupt changes in behavior or actions
  • Cycles of alertness followed by sudden drowsiness, or being “on the nod”
  • Droopy appearance and heaviness in the extremities

The aforementioned signs are not necessarily unique to heroin use. A more conclusive warning sign of heroin abuse is the presence of paraphernalia used to administer heroin, which may include the following:

  • Needles or syringes
  • Straws or tubes (used to inhale fumes)
  • Pipes
  • Burned spoons, gum wrappers, or aluminum foil
  • Missing shoelaces (used as a tie for injection sites)
  • Small plastic bags containing white powdery residue
Behaviors of a Heroin Addict

Behavioral signs of heroin addiction include the following:

  • Deceptive or secretive behavior
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Significant increase in time spent sleeping
  • Slurred, garbled or incoherent speech
  • Sudden downturn in performance at school or work, including suspension or loss of employment
  • Neglect of hygiene and physical appearance
  • Lack of motivation and apathy about future goals
  • Withdrawal and isolation from friends and family, instead choosing to spend time with new, questionable friends with no former history of interaction
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities once enjoyed
  • Stealing or repeated attempts to borrow money from family and friends, or unexplained missing valuables
  • Antagonistic behaviors toward loved ones, such as blaming them for withdrawal or unfulfilled commitments
  • Frequent comments indicating a drop in self-esteem or worsening body image
  • Wearing long pants or sleeves to conceal needle marks, even in warm weather

Regular users begin to build a tolerance to heroin, resulting in increases in the frequency and amount of heroin consumption. With increased use, more obvious physical symptoms of heroin addiction tend to emerge:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Chronic runny nose
  • Needle track marks visible on arms, legs, and other areas of the body
  • Infections, sores, or abscesses at injection sites
  • Cuts, bruises, and scabs from picking at skin

Side Effects of Heroin Withdrawal

Signs of Heroin Addiction | Harmony Treatment and Wellness

Heroin users will frequently continue consuming the drug due to the fear of painful withdrawal symptoms that manifest when they stop. Heroin withdrawal symptoms are a sure-fire sign of physiological dependence. These symptoms can onset within a few hours after the cessation of prolonged use, and may include the following:

  • Intense cravings
  • Excessive sweating
  • Bone aches and pains
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Intense cramping in limbs
  • Depression
  • Episodes of crying
  • Insomnia
  • Cold sweats and chills
  • Runny nose
  • Fever

Someone experiencing withdrawal symptoms following prolonged heroin dependence is at risk for further adverse and severe medical consequences, including death when other medical complications are present.

Signs of Heroin Use

Side effects of heroin use and dependence will vary as the disease advances. Other chemical dependencies may compound substance abuse complications and the effects of heroin use.

Following heroin use, the user experiences an initial “rush” that usually includes a warm feeling and flushing of the skin and a heavy sensation in the arms and legs. Given the difficulties of accurately calibrating the dosage of such a powerful unregulated narcotic, this initial rush can later be followed by nausea, vomiting, and relentless itching.

Short-term physical side effects of heroin use may include the following:

  • Depressed respiration and slowed breathing
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Decreased pain from physical conditions and emotional issues
  • Compulsive scratching or picking at skin

Heroin dependence can produce serious health conditions and potentially-life-threatening complications, including the following:

  • Heart problems
  • Bacterial infections
  • Liver disease
  • Arthritis
  • Seizures
  • Overdose
  • Chronic pneumonia or other pulmonary conditions
  • Blood clots and tissue death from collapsed veins or drug impurities

Because heroin addicts are usually unaware of the strength of the heroin they purchased or what it may be adultered with, they are at high risk of overdose and death. Moreover, research has shown that after five years of use the average heroin user has a 90% likelihood of having contracted hepatitis C. Someone who injects heroin is also at heightened risk for the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases due to the sharing of non-sterile needles.

Signs of Overdose

Signs of Heroin Addiction | Harmony Treatment and Wellness

If you are concerned that someone close to you is getting too high, it is critical that you do not leave them alone. If the person is still conscious, make sure they stay alert and try to walk them around. Also, continually monitor their breathing rate and quality.

If they are unconscious and unresponsive, stay close to them and call 911 immediately.

The following are signs of a heroin overdose:

  • Unresponsive to stimuli
  • Awake, but unable to talk
  • Vomiting
  • Extremities are limp
  • Face is very pale or clammy
  • Pulse is slow, erratic, or absent
  • Breathing is labored or stopped
  • Cyanosis (bluish lips and nails)
  • Choking or gurgling sounds

Keep in mind that it is quite unusual for someone to die immediately from an overdose. When people survive, it’s usually because someone else was there to respond and the overdosing individual received prompt medical attention and naloxone to reverse the CNS depressant effects.

Heroin Administration and Basis for Addictive Properties

Heroin can be administered by snorting, smoking, or injecting. Injection induces the fastest rush and greatest effects, usually within seconds. When smoked from a pipe or other apparatus or snorted intranasally, effects are typically felt within 10-15 minutes.

After administration, heroin crosses the blood-brain barrier and is then converted to morphine, which attaches to opioid receptors. Opioid receptors then produce a surge of dopamine, one of the body’s most powerful feel-good neurotransmitters.

Dopamine is a chemical released naturally in response to evolutionary rewards, such as eating and sex. However, heroin creates an abnormally large amount of dopamine, which inundates the CNS and effectively produces feelings of euphoria. Due to these intense, pleasurable effects, the user understandably seeks to re-experience the high.

He or she may use heroin repeatedly in an attempt to recreate those feelings, and upon repeated use, the body begins to develop tolerance and dependence. Dependence compels the person to continue using, and tolerance compels them to use increasing amounts. This pattern of use will rapidly lead to addiction, which is characterized by persistent, compulsive, drug-seeking behavior in the face of adverse consequences.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Heroin use and addiction are serious medical conditions and may require extra care from addiction specialists experienced in opioid detox and withdrawal. Discontinuing long-term heroin use abruptly without medical intervention can cause serious medical complications and result in relapse.

Harmony Treatment and Wellness is a leading recovery center for men and women who are suffering from heroin abuse, other drug addictions or alcoholism, and co-occurring mental health disorders. We employ highly-trained clinical staff who specialize in addiction and deliver evidence-based, therapeutic services to clients in desperate need of professional medical assistance and compassion.

Call us today to discuss treatment options and learn how we can help you on your path to sobriety and long-term wellness!

Can You Die From Heroin Withdrawal?

Can You Die From Heroin Withdrawal? | Harmony Treatment and Wellness

Heroin withdrawal that is not medically-induced is typically not life-threatening, despite the tremendous discomfort the person may endure. That said, in rare cases, persistent vomiting and diarrhea may result, and if left untreated, severe dehydration, hypernatremia (elevated blood sodium level), and heart failure.

Also, in the event of an overdose or in settings of ultra-rapid detox where antagonistic drugs such as naloxone are used to reverse the effects of heroin, some of the body’s systems may not be able to handle the sudden chemical changes that occur.

While these medications tend to have a low incidence of harmful effects, careful administration and cardiorespiratory monitoring are warranted. Catecholamines, such as dopamine and adrenaline, are hormones generated by the adrenal glands and can be released from large or rapid doses of naloxone. This can result in cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and pulmonary edema.

Medications more commonly used in non-emergency settings, such as methadone or buprenorphine, do not carry this same risk, however. These drugs are opioid “agonists” that moderately mimic – but not reverse – the effects of heroin.

What is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal from a substance is characterized by the onset of psychological and physiological symptoms if a person sharply reduces their dose or discontinues use of the substance.

For a withdrawal to transpire, the individual must have used the substance repeatedly and have developed a physical/chemical dependence on the substance. Physical dependence has developed when a person’s system is no longer able to function correctly without the drug’s presence.

In almost all cases of physical dependence, the substance has been used over a prolonged period and in large doses. When the body no longer receives these regular doses to which it has become accustomed, it will no longer function normally, and a number of uncomfortable or painful symptoms will ensue.

Most Common Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal typically involves three stages of symptoms that manifest over hours to days since the last occurrence of drug use, generally.

First-stage symptoms usually appear up to 6-12 hours after the last dose. Second-stage of symptoms usually onset 8-24 hours after the last dose. Third-stage symptoms may occur up to 3 days after the last dose.

Symptoms usually peak between 24-48 hours after first developing but may continue for several days. Each person will likely encounter a unique set of symptoms while undergoing heroin withdrawal. Nonetheless, there are several withdrawal symptoms, both physiological and psychological, that tend to occur in each stage.

Stage 1

During the first stage, drug cravings begin. Heroin-dependent people have acclimated to the continual presence of the drug in their system. As such, those in the throes of an acute withdrawal may feel intense, nearly irresistible cravings for heroin.

Along with these cravings, individuals in this first stage may suffer extreme mood swings, feelings of anxiety, irritability, depression, and even suicidal ideations.

Stage 2

During the second stage, people often experience stomach cramps and flu-like symptoms, including runny nose, sweating, and tearing. Restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, and body aches are also common.

Stage 3

During the third stage, individuals may suffer from diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, and flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills persist. Muscle spasms, joint pain, and tremors are typical. Heart rate and blood pressure may also increase.

Psychological Symptoms

The psychological symptoms of heroin withdrawal tend to be longer-lasting than physiological symptoms. As such, they may or may not occur within this three-stage timeline. Some psychological symptoms can persist for a long time after detox, and some of them may have been pre-existing conditions that were only exacerbated by the withdrawal.

Anxiety

Symptoms of anxiety during heroin withdrawal are likely associated with feelings of withdrawal stress. Moreover, individuals may feel anxiety about life without heroin and may feel increasingly anxious or nervous while considering the prospect of long-term abstinence.

Irritability

In addition to anxiety, irritability is a normal and common occurrence. Due to the stress of enduring heroin withdrawal, individuals are easily triggered and frequently rude, cold, or downright mean to those around them.

Depression and Suicidal Thoughts

Depression occurs because a person’s body is no longer able to produce its own pleasurable sensations without the assistance of heroin. Some symptoms can include negative or low mood, a lack of motivation, social isolation and withdrawal, helplessness, and hopelessness.

In extreme cases, the individual may be suffering so much that depressive thoughts lead to suicidal ideations or behaviors.

Treatment for Heroin Withdrawal and Addiction

While withdrawal from heroin is rarely fatal, it can and does frequently result in highly unpleasant and sometimes painful effects. Those seeking treatment are urged first to undergo medical detox where patients are monitored by medical staff around-the-clock for several days during the withdrawal process.

After detox, patients are encouraged to participate in long-term inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment. Our center offers services in both formats, which include integrated, evidence-based modalities such as psychotherapy, psychoeducation, group support, and individual and family counseling.

We can help you restore sanity to your life and achieve the long-lasting sobriety and wellness you deserve! Contact us today to find out how!

Related Posts: Signs of Opiate Abuse

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use

Symptoms of Heroin Use

Heroin is a semi-synthetic opiate known for it’s intense euphoric and relaxing/sedating effects. For this reason, it has an extremely high potential for abuse and addiction. Heroin is usually found as a whitish powder or dark sticky substance (black tar heroin) and can be taken orally as a pill, smoked, snorted or injected.

Heroin use is associated with the development of tolerance and dependence. The former is characterized by the brain’s propensity to reduce response to a substance after repeated exposure, which results in the user needing increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the same effect. The latter occurs when the brain adapts to heroin’s presence and can no longer function normally without it.

Withdrawal symptoms that manifest upon cessation of heroin are a hallmark of physical dependence.

Moreover, when a person discontinues heroin use or significantly cuts back, he or she will usually experience uncomfortable symptoms as a result. Thus, these effects are often among the main catalysts for relapse.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use

The physical, psychological, and behavioral signs and symptoms of heroin use are similar to its side effects. There are a variety of different side effects related to heroin use, including common side effects, and withdrawal and overdose symptoms.

Side Effects

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the following are some of the common side effects that can occur following heroin use:

  • An initial rush of euphoria
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Severe itching
  • Slowed heart rate after initial rush
  • Drowsiness for hours
  • Heaviness of limbs
  • Clouded thinking

Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use

When heroin use evolves into a priority, a person’s entire life shifts and this drug becomes the focus. For this reason, there are likely to be noticeable changes in the person’s outward appearance and behavior. Oftentimes, despite the myriad of problems heroin use can cause, a person who is in the throes of addiction will continue to prioritize the drug over personal responsibilities and relationships.

The following are some typical behavioral signs and symptoms related to heroin use that can warn concerned loved ones that there is a need for treatment:

  • Presence of drug paraphernalia (needles, burnt spoons, etc.)
  • Negative changes in behavior
  • Changes in social group
  • Use of street slang related to heroin (“H”, Horse, Smack, Dope, etc.)
  • Friends/family missing valuables or money
  • Neglect of important obligations such as work, school, and family
  • “Track marks” on the body – injection wounds, abscesses
  • Wearing pants/long sleeves even in warm weather to cover injection sites
  • Disheveled appearance, poor hygiene
  • Legal and financial problems
  • Deception and secretiveness
  • Adamant denial of a problem despite clear evidence to the contrary
  • Chipping (intermittent heroin use)

Overdose Symptoms

A severe reaction to heroin abuse (overdose) requires immediate medical attention. Toxicity levels of heroin may be associated with the purity of the heroin or the presence of more potent additives such as fentanyl.

The following are common signs of a heroin overdose:

  • Bluish lips and/or nails (cyanosis)
  • Disorientation
  • Shallow, difficult, or stopped breathing
  • Delirium
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Drowsiness
  • Weak pulse
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Coma

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can manifest as a sign of physical/chemical dependence in regular heroin users or after a binge or a period of heavy drug use. Heroin withdrawal symptoms typically begin 6-12 hours after the last use, peak within 1-2 days, and subside over the course of 5-7 days.

In some cases, loved ones of those using heroin may not realize that it has been occurring or the extent of use. However, if they gain knowledge that withdrawal symptoms are present, they may quickly become aware of the extent of the heroin use problem.

The following are common withdrawal symptoms related to heroin:

  • Dysphoria (bad mood, irritability)
  • Insomnia
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Drug cravings
  • Body aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Runny nose
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea and vomiting

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Our center offers comprehensive addiction treatment programs in partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient formats. These programs are designed to meet every person’s individual needs, and various mental, emotional, and medical care options are available.

As you begin to experience the freedom of a life that no longer revolves around drugs or alcohol abuse, our programs can help you sustain sobriety by offering continued support through all phases of your recovery.

If you are ready to end the cycle of addiction, call us today and let us help you find the best treatment option you need to start your journey to recovery and long-lasting wellness!