Heroin abuse is a growing problem in the United States. Thousands of cases of overdose, physical dependence and other serious side effects are reported in the country each year. Although the signs of heroin abuse can vary, generally, users will lack motivation, may lose interest in activities and can suffer from a wide range of adverse health consequences as a result of the drug use.
According to Medline Plus, "heroin is a white or brown powder or a black, sticky goo." It is made from morphine which is derived from the opium poppy plant which naturally grows in Asian countries. This drug is smoked, snorted or injected to produce euphoric effects and sedation. Unfortunately, heroin use has grown in popularity with the increase in the number of people who have become addicted to prescription medications and as a result, there are more and more cases of fatal overdose and other serious complications being reported in the United States each year.
According to the DEA, heroin can be known on the streets by a range of different terms. Most users, especially drug dealers, will use a name other than heroin in order to describe the drug so that people who are not familiar with the drug will not recognize what is being discussed. The most common street names for heroin include:
- Big H or H
- Black Tar or Tar
- Hell Dust
These are just a few of the names that are commonly used to talk about heroin on the streets. As users find new ways to use the drug, they are equally likely to come up with additional terms to discuss the drug too.
Heroin is most often injected, snorted or smoked to produce euphoric effects. While many of the effects of the drug are similar, each method of use can show a specific set of abuse symptoms. For instance, snorting the drug can lead to sniffles or runny nose; likewise, smoking heroin may lead to chronic cough or respiratory illness. Injecting this drug can cause sores, needle marks or other adverse effects that are noticeable to others.
- changes in behavior that are unexplanable
- hyperactivity that is later followed or abruptly followed by extreme fatigue
- lacking responsibility at work, home or school
- telling lies about where one has been or what they were doing
- lying about money
- becoming disorientated and unable to focus
- falling asleep randomly (the telltale "nod")
- having sores on the body or bruises on from picking
- extreme weight loss that occurs without explanation
- track marks or needle marks on the arms, legs or other areas of the body
- wearing long sleeves or pants to cover up needle marks
- runny nose, watery eyes or allergy-like symptoms
- acting irrationally
Many dangers can arise as a result of heroin abuse including overdose, death and physical dependence. Repeat use of the drug will lead to an increase in tolerance. Continued use is likely to result in physical side effects such as damage to the heart, lung damage, disease or infection. Repeat us of heroin will cause addiction that is both difficult to treat and equally difficult to cope with.
- physical dependence
- risky behavior
- lack of decision making or poor judgment
- increased tolerance
Heroin addiction is not too difficult to spot, even for an outsider. Early signs of an addiction may include changes in mood, behavioral changes and possession of paraphernalia. As the addiction progresses, the user will likely become preoccupied with heroin use and may miss work or school or begin to neglect responsibilities.
Additional Heroin Addiction Symptoms
- feeling sick or suffering from symptoms of withdrawal when heroin is not used.
- Feeling as if you cannot cope with life unless you are using heroin.
- Wishing that you had more heroin, even when you haven't run out yet.
- Using heroin instead of talking with someone about your problems.
- Suffering adverse consequences as a result of heroin use, but continuing to use anyway.
- Taking heroin instead of going to a doctor for legitimate pain.
- Allowing heroin to interfere with your relationships.
- Trying to quit heroin, and failing.
- Relapsing after you have already quit using heroin.
Users will often exhibit various other physical signs of heroin addiction as well. Such signs may include:
- having needle marks on the arms
- having infections on the arms or legs
- being admitted to the hospital for pain in order to obtain opiates
- acting upbeat and happy one minute, followed by depression or fatigue the next
- being unable to talk or having slurred speech
- having heavy limbs that seem to hang low and drag as if the user is extremely tired
Early detection or recognition of an addiction can help you to determine whether professional help is necessary. Without help, there is an increased risk for long-term physical and psychological consequences associated with continued heroin abuse.
Heroin can cause abrupt abortion in pregnant women. Additionally, babies that are born to women who abuse heroin are more likely to be born premature and to suffer from chronic health problems such as respiratory illness, lung problems, or abnormal development. Low birth weight is very common in babies born to heroin addicted mothers.
Health Effects Associated With Heroin Abuse
- physical dependence
- increased tolerance which causes an increase in the use of the drug and may lead to other serious complications including overdose
- collapsed veins resulting from the chronic injecting of heroin
- sores or abscesses resulting from the injection of the drug
- infection of the heart lining or the valves of the heart
- rheumatologic arthritis or similar problems with the joints or bones
- HIV, AIDs, Hepatitis or other STDs
Heroin is a highly addictive drug that will cause adverse complications within the body even long after the drug is no longer used. Users report feeling various symptoms of withdrawal when they quit or dramatically reduce their daily dose of heroin. These symptoms can make it difficult to remain abstinent from the drug, even for someone who really wants to get clean.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
- bone pain
- joint pain
- post nasal drip
- runny nose
- watery eyes
- flu-like symptoms
- cold chills
Most of these symptoms will dissipate and go away as long as the user remains abstinent. It can take up to 5 days or sometimes a few days longer for the symptoms of heroin withdrawal to fully subside.
Although the symptoms of heroin withdrawal may be painful or uncomfortable, they are generally not life-threatening. Medications, rest and support can help to ease symptoms and keep you on the path to recovery.
When heroin is used with other drugs, or when an overdose amount of the drug is taken, there is a heightened risk of overdose. Heroin overdose can cause:
- slowing of the heart which can cause stroke
- heart attack
- respiratory depression
- renal failure
If you suspect that someone has overdosed on heroin, seek immediate medical attention by calling 911. It's important to get help as quickly as possible to help defray the potential for long-term side effects as a result of the overdose.
Patients who quit using heroin quickly reduce their tolerance to the drug. As a result, it is very common for overdose to occur following a relapse. The user will believe that he or she can still use a specific amount of the drug and, upon doing so, overdoses because the body has already adjusted to life without the drug.
Medications are commonly used in the treatment of heroin addiction. The most common medications include:
Each of these drugs can be prescribed to the patient to help control symptoms of withdrawal, keep cravings at bay and reduce the likelihood of relapse. During the early days of recovery from an addiction to heroin, such medications may make the difference between whether a user remains abstinent and on track or opts out of recovery and resorts back to his or her previous habits of drug use.
In addition to medication, support through friends, family, peer groups and counselors will also play a key role in your recovery. NA and similar 12-step programs of support play a pivotal role in the recovery for many heroin addicts. Here, users are able to seek support through others in recovery and find ways of learning how to interact and have fun without the use of drugs.
Counseling and behavioral therapy is also important. Heroin addicts often suffer from chronic depression which is best treated using a combination of counseling, therapy and medication. The most common methods of behavioral therapy in heroin addiction treatment include:
- incentive rewards
- motivational rewards
Motivation and incentives are highly effective means of therapy for heroin addicts because they often have suffered brain changes that make it difficult for them to experience comfort, happiness and contentment. If you or someone you love is addicted to heroin, seeking help may save your life.