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Heroin is an opioid substance that is made from morphine. Morphine derives from pods of poppy plants and is often in the form of a brown powder (sometimes white) or a sticky black resin. Users consume heroin intravenously or by smoking it. Some users may snort the substance, but this can be extremely dangerous. When a user takes heroin, the substance enters the bloodstream, and the body absorbs this.

Heroin 1 highly addictive, because of the effect it has on the brain. It triggers the opioid receptors to associate the drug with pleasure and stimulates dopamine production. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that also triggers the brain to establish feelings of pleasure and reward with the substance.

Heroin Addiction & Prescription Drug Use

Many heroin users find themselves turn to heroin after developing a dependence on prescription drugs. Prescription pain medications like OxyContin, Vicodin and Codeine all contain opioids that can lead to addiction. A substantial 2 of people that use heroin have a history of misusing prescription pain medication. However, many users do develop opioid addictions through heroin use alone.

Common Effects of Heroin

Heroin use causes initial effects to users that are extremely pleasurable. This is often why many people try heroin again after their first use. It is easy to understand why a person who is having a hard time in life would turn to heroin for comfort. This is because it can make users feel warm and relaxed after a rush of euphoria. However, there are many negative side effects that come with heroin use. These include:

  • Skin itching
  • Confusion and a clouded sense of awareness
  • Vomiting
  • Altered states of consciousness

The short-term side effects of heroin use are fairly mild compared to the long-term effects and risks that come with use. Injecting heroin can put you at risk of contracting diseases such as HIV and HCV. This is because these viruses transmit through bodily fluids, which is why sharing needles is so dangerous. Long-term effects include insomnia, erectile dysfunction, and menstruation problems and stomach cramps, and constipation. There are more severe long-term effects that make heroin such as dangerous substance, these include:

  • Vein collapse
  • Infections to the valves and lining of the heart
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Abscesses
  • Lung infections and pneumonia
  • Depression and other mental health issues

The long-term side effects can seriously affect a person’s quality of life and many heroin users experience several, if not most of these. The risks associated with heroin use are very high. There are other effects relating to ingesting common additives that are found in heroin. Heroin can contain starches and powdered milk, as well as sugar, which can cause lifelong damage to the body if injected. Injecting these substances can cause blood vessels to clog, which can damage organs such as the brain, lungs, liver, and kidneys permanently.


Overdose is a real possibility for opioid users, especially those with addictions. Over 70,000 people3 died from opioid-related overdoses in 2019 alone. This demonstrates how the risk of overdose is incredibly high, it is also continuing to increase. Overdose results from consuming more of the drug than the body can tolerate, which becomes increasingly likely when an addict builds a tolerance.

The effects of overdose usually relate to hypoxia. This is when not enough oxygen gets to the brain because a person’s breathing stops or slows down. This can lead to both short and long-term effects on the brain and nervous system, which may lead to a coma or lifelong brain damage.

Some addicts are lucky enough to survive an overdose, but many aren’t. This is because many overdose alone or are not given immediate medical treatment. To treat heroin overdose, the user must receive the drug Naloxone 4 injection or a nasal spray right away. The drug helps the user return to breathing normally by halting the effects of opioids on the opioid receptors. Sometimes a user may require additional doses of Naloxone after an overdose to recover from an overdose.

Users often overdose because they have built a tolerance to heroin. When an addict builds a tolerance, they have to ingest more of a drug to feel its effects. This means that they are more likely to consume a quantity that their body cannot handle, which can lead to overdose.

Additional Risks of Heroin Use For Pregnant Women

As well as the risk of overdose or disease transmission, there are many potential risks associated with heroin use. It’s important to understand that heroin is a very powerful drug that comes with many risks for users. Heroin use is especially problematic for pregnant women as it can cause a miscarriage. Heroin use during pregnancy can also impact the baby. If a mother uses heroin during her pregnancy, the baby can develop an addiction to heroin and have to detox when they are born. This is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome5 and means the baby will experience withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin use.

Heroin Addiction

Heroin is a highly addictive drug and as a person uses heroin regularly, their tolerance becomes higher. Continued use leads to the body craving the drug and the user increasing their dose and dependence. A substance use disorder is often defined as continued usage which results in effects on health and everyday life. A severe substance use disorder is considered an addiction. This means that the use of heroin is causing damage to an individual’s health and stopping them from fulfilling their responsibilities at home, at work, or in education.

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms is a clear sign that an addiction is present. These can happen fairly quickly after discontinuing use. For example, you can start to experience them within a few hours of taking a dose. There are many common withdrawal symptoms relating to heroin, some examples of these are:

Muscular pain – Feeling pain in different muscles and sometimes in the bones.

Restlessness – An ability to sit still or feeling anxious or “on edge”.

Difficulty sleeping – You may struggle to get to sleep or wake up frequently.

Cravings – An intense desire to use heroin, often uncontrollable.

Shivering or goosebumps – This is where the phrase “cold turkey” comes from. You may experience incidents of being extremely cold.

Stomach problems – You may have diarrhea or vomit.

Leg shaking or movements – Addicts can experience uncontrollable leg shaking or movement when their body withdraws.

With regular use, users may experience withdrawal symptoms that relate to cognitive function. They may find it difficult to manage stress, make sensible decisions or control their behavior.

Recognizing Heroin Addiction

For many users, admitting they have an addiction can be tough. Denial is common among addicts and it can take a long time for someone with a severe substance use disorder to access treatment. If you have concerns about your heroin use, there are several common signs of addiction that you might display. Some common signs of heroin addiction are.

A strong desire to use heroin – You may think about using heroin often or be trying to access it when you’re not using it.

Withdrawing from social activities – You may withdraw from activities that do not involve heroin use. This may include dropping hobbies and only be socializing with people that use substances.

Hiding your use from loved ones – If you hide your substance use from loved ones or lie to them about how much you’re using, you may have an addiction.

Neglecting yourself – Addicts often neglect themselves and have difficulty keeping on top of their health and personal hygiene.

As well as the signs listed above, there are several physical signs that you may notice if you have a heroin addiction. Some of these include:

  • A dry mouth
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Narcolepsy
  • Itchiness to the skin
  • Stomach aches and constipation
  • Feeling a loss of control over yourself
  • Feeling as if you may vomit
  • Changes to your breathing
  • Pupil constriction
  • Experiencing a loss of memory
  • Having trouble with decision-making
  • Feeling heaviness in your body
  • Feeling disorientated or confused

The signs of heroin addiction often happen gradually, so it can be difficult to identify addiction right away. If you have concerns about your heroin use and are noticing changes in your life because of it, then you likely have an addiction. Although this is an incredibly hard realization, you can get treatment and become drug-free as many other addicts have done.

Recognizing Heroin Addiction in Others

Recognizing a heroin addiction in others isn’t always straightforward. If you have concerns over a friend or family member, there are some signs to look out for. Many addicts display similar physical and psychological symptoms and signs that you may notice. Some of these include:

Unusual marks on the body – You may notice that the individual has needle marks, bruising, or marks known as “track marks” that may follow the veins on their arms, hands, legs, or feet.

Behavioral changes – They may start to behave differently, have mood swings or be unpredictable. You may notice that they seem on edge or anxious. Addicts may also become aggressive suddenly because of the severity of the withdrawal symptoms they are experiencing.

Paraphernalia – If you notice things like spoons with burn marks, tourniquets, needles, or charred aluminum foil in their home, then this can be a major sign of heroin addiction. You may also notice glass or metal pipes, small plastic bags, or balloons in the house.

Using slang – Most non-users will refer to heroin simply as “heroin”. Addicts may use street slang when referring to heroin. Some examples of this are Smack, Scag, Brown, Horse, Junk, Dope, H.

The trouble with the law – If someone you know suddenly starts getting in trouble with the law, then this could be a sign of addiction. This is especially true if they have no previous convictions and the troubles relate to theft or burglary.

Money troubles – A heroin addiction can be extremely expensive to maintain. Because of this, many addicts have money troubles from funding their addiction. If you notice that the individual can no longer afford basic items, have pawned their possessions, and taken out loans, then this can be a sign.

Missing valuable items – If the person lives with you, look out for valuable items disappearing. These may belong to them or yourself. Many addicts will steal valuable items from friends or family members because of the severity of their addiction.

Lying – You may notice the person starts to lie more than they usually would. They may tell you they’ve been grocery shopping but come back with no groceries for example. They may also lie about things like money problems or not showing up to work.

Depression – Although anyone can experience depression, it can be a sign of addiction. If someone you know suddenly appears depressed, withdraws socially, and has a low mood, then addiction could be a possibility.

Not fulfilling commitments and responsibilities – As addiction takes hold it can be difficult to keep on top of responsibilities and commitments. An addict may miss work or school, neglect their children or miss social events.

Changes to personal appearance – As with commitments and responsibilities, addiction can make it difficult to care for oneself. You may notice that the person smells of body odor, doesn’t wash their clothes, and stops taking care of themself.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

A treatment program is the most effective way for an addict to beat their addiction. However, it’s important to recognize that heroin addiction is a chronic disease and doesn’t “go away”.Instead, most addicts require ongoing treatment throughout their lives to stay drug-free.

There are several treatment methods for heroin addicts based on medication and therapy. The best method of treatment will depend on the individual. However, a comprehensive treatment program that combines medication with therapy is often the most successful. This is because heroin addiction centers on both physical and psychological factors. As an addict, your body will experience withdrawal symptoms when you quit heroin, so using opiate-based medication to taper is often the most effective.

People often forget the true impact of addiction and focus solely on physical withdrawal. However, a large part of addiction is behavioral and requires therapy to work on the complex issues that relate to it.

Heroin Detox

Detox is the first stage of treatment and involves getting rid of the traces of heroin in your body. The reason that heroin detox is the first stage is to enable you to move on to the next steps of recovery which focus on the psychological side of addiction. Detox is very tough for many people, but it is key to recovery. Entering a heroin treatment program will mean you’ll receive support through detox and all stages of the recovery process.

When you detox, your brain adjusts to chemical changes that altered with your addiction. As your body adjusts, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. Although this can be highly unpleasant, it’s a normal part of the process and is just your body getting used to life without heroin. If you enter a heroin treatment program that includes professional supervision, then you’ll receive a treatment program that focuses on making detoxing and withdrawal as comfortable as possible for you.

Your experience of heroin detox will be specific to you. Not everyone experiences detoxing in the same way, your experience is also dependent on several factors. These include the severity of your addiction and your overall mental and physical health. It’s normal to experience withdrawal symptoms6 such as sweating, increased heart rate, and blood pressure, fevers, exhaustion, and tremors. Detox usually lasts between 7 and 10 days, but again this is dependent on the individual. Some people choose to detox at home, but this can be very dangerous. You need professional help and medication to ensure you detox safely and reduce the risk of relapse. Detoxing alone increases the chance7 of relapse and overdose.

Typical Heroin Treatment

Heroin treatment can help you to live a drug-free life and feel in control again. Typical treatment programs focus on detox and rehabilitation. Rehabilitation can come in many forms, including inpatient and outpatient programs or a mixture of both. It is best to choose a comprehensive program that tackles all areas of addiction and provides support from medical professionals. Relapse is very common for heroin addicts, so it’s important to do all you can to decrease your risks.

Things to Remember

If you have made the decision to get help, then you are one step closer to getting clean. Recognizing that you have a problem takes a lot of courage and many people never make it as far as you have already. Although heroin treatment is a scary process, many addicts have been in the same position as you. Remembering your reasons for wanting to get help throughout the treatment process can be an excellent motivator.

Remember the risks that come with continued heroin use. Halting your addiction as early as possible can help you regain control. It’ll also reduce your risk of overdose and help you feel healthy again. If you have an addiction, it is crucial that you get help before it’s too late. For many addicts, treatment is something they never consider. However, addiction doesn’t get better without treatment, it worsens, so be sure to get the help you need as soon as possible.

Starting Heroin Treatment

If you’ve realized that you need to undertake heroin treatment, then be sure to take the next step. After admitting you have an addiction and that you need help, reaching out to those that can help is the next step. Learning about addiction and withdrawal can also be beneficial before you enter treatment. Understanding your addiction can mean you know what to expect through the different stages of treatment and help you realize you are in the same boat as other addicts.

You can call us on (855) 491-7694 for advice or to book yourself into a treatment program. You can also email us if you’d prefer. Remember that you’re already one step closer to living a drug-free life and praise yourself for recognizing your addiction.

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