What Is Heroin Addiction?
Heroin Addiction: Signs, Dangers and Recovery
Heroin is one of the most addictive substances in existence. It is a potent opiate drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and South America. It comes in a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin. Users inject, sniff, snort or smoke heroin.
Heroin binds to opioid receptors on cells located in the nervous system, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and in controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing. Heroin produces ‘highs’ by influencing the production of neurotransmitters, the “feel-good chemicals” in the brain, such as dopamine and endorphins. In normal circumstances, the brain naturally releases these chemicals to reward behaviour necessary for survival, like eating and helping people cope with pain. Once heroin enters the system of the user, it quickly links to the activation of these chemicals and they stop naturally producing without the drug. Eventually the user becomes addicted and cannot function without the drug. This, along with the withdrawal symptoms of heroin, makes it very difficult for users to quit on their own.
Out of everyone who tries heroin for the first time, almost one in four will become addicted*.
If you, or someone you know, is addicted to heroin it is essential that professional help is sought immediately.
Recognizing the Signs of Heroin Use
Signs of heroin use vary from person to person, but some of the most common signs and symptoms include:
(Symptoms and direct signs of heroin use)
- Bloodshot eyes
- Constricted “pinpoint” pupils
- Sudden weight loss
- Changes in appearance
- Lack of motivation
- Extreme drowsiness or “nodding off” (a back-and-forth state of being conscious and semiconscious)
(Indirect signs of heroin use/addiction)
- Continuing use despite heroin-related problems
- Trying and failing to quit or cut down use
- Having persistent cravings
- Secretive behaviour
- Building a tolerance to heroin
- Financial problems, borrowing money
- Relationship problems
- Experiencing withdrawal or feeling “junk sick”
- Severe itchiness
- Collapsed veins
- Abscesses from injection sites (swollen tissue filled with pus)
Needing escalated doses of heroin to get high, or starting to inject the drug, are strong indications of an addiction. Once addicted, what may have once seemed like a cheap way to have fun, becomes a necessary habit to function in day-to-day activities.
Heroin users have described the drug’s high as an intense feeling of euphoria and well-being. When heroin hits the system, a “rush” (sudden surge of pleasure or euphoria) from the drug is experienced as it quickly reaches the brain.
The rush from intravenous heroin use lasts about two minutes. Intravenous users have likened the rush to an orgasm in terms of pleasure. As heroin travels through the bloodstream, the high lasts for four to five hours.
The general effects of using heroin include:
- Reduced anxiety
- Relieved tension
The effects of heroin can seem harmless to those who are experimenting with the drug. Although it may produce some dizziness and drowsiness, these effects feel enjoyable. Unlike substances such as alcohol or ecstasy, there generally isn’t a hangover or comedown from initial heroin use, which is an attractive benefit to new users.
What may seem like “harmless” or occasional heroin use often devolves into addiction because tolerance builds quickly. Eventually, the user cannot feel normal without taking the drug because their brain cannot produce natural amounts of dopamine on its own. As the user increases their doses, they are at a greater risk of fatal heroin overdose.
Signs of a heroin overdose include:
- Shallow breathing
- Dry mouth
- Tongue discoloration
- Very small pupils
- Slow pulse
- Bluish lips
The Dangers of Heroin
Most people know that heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs because of its addictive potential. There are also short- and long-term effects of the drug, as well as indirect risks that can be life-threatening.
Blood-borne viruses (including HIV and hepatitis) pose a risk for people addicted to heroin because they often inject the drug and share their needles. Risky sexual behaviour can also contribute to higher rates of viruses among heroin users. There is also a high risk of spontaneous abortion for pregnant women.
People who are addicted to heroin have an increased risk of attempting suicide. Sometimes suicides are committed through intentional overdoses. Heroin abusers who are also suffering from underlying mental health conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder, have a compounded risk of suicide.
Sometimes the resulting depression that comes with withdrawal is enough to trigger a suicide attempt. If you or someone you love is struggling with a heroin problem, get in touch with us immediately for an honest and open discussion about your next steps..
Other side effects of heroin addiction include:
- Slurred speech
- Shortness of breath
- Collapsed veins
- Severe itchiness
- Dry mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
The side effects of heroin use get worse over time. The longer someone uses heroin, the more destruction the drug can wreak on the immune system and internal organs. The risk for getting both communicable and noncommunicable diseases increases. Prolonged heroin abuse can also lead to heart, lung and liver disease.
Heroin suppresses breathing and heart rates, so there is a high risk of fatal overdose. Even a nonfatal overdose can cause permanent brain damage or coma.
The Centers for Disease Control estimated that approximately 8,000 Americans died from heroin-related overdoses in 2013.
Withdrawal from Heroin
Heroin addiction is especially characterized by the physical dependence that develops with abuse, as well as psychological dependency. Factors of physical dependence include withdrawal symptoms and a need for markedly more heroin to achieve intoxication.
Withdrawal symptoms for heroin addiction can cause severe physical pain and sometimes occur as quickly as within two hours of the last use. There are also psychological symptoms of heroin withdrawal.
Some of the symptoms of heroin withdrawal may include depression, muscle pain and cold sweats, nausea and diarrhea. These symptoms typically last about one week after the last use of heroin, but residual symptoms (also known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms or PAWS) may last for several months.
The Lighthouse Bali is one of only a few rehabs in Southeast Asia that offers medically assisted detox for heroin addiction. Our medical and support teams have extensive experience helping addicts withdraw from heroin. This is by far the most comfortable way to detox. Medical detox is part of our 28 day Primary Inpatient Program for those who require it.
Inpatient Care and Rehab
The Lighthouse Bali’s 28 day Primary Inpatient Program has helped countless heroin addicts get their lives back on track. Through professional, expert care and therapy, individuals are given the tools they need to ensure the best possible chances of a long term recovery.
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, we urge you to reach out and contact us. Our private programs are tailormade to suit individual needs in complete confidence and our doctorate level clinical staff have extensive experience in the field of addiction. If you are not currently in Bali but would like to begin a recovery program immediately, we also have online recovery options available which can be taken in this interim period before Bali reopens international borders on September 11th.
To talk to one of our team members, contact us today. We understand that making the first call is never easy, but it’s the first step to getting back on track.
*USA Addiction Center 2018 Statistics Report