Drugs, Addict, Addiction, Problem, Syringe, Health
man under a bridge about to inject himself

Heroin is a drug that originates from opium poppies. It is incredibly addictive, and its use comes with numerous risks. This page looks at the ways people consume heroin and the risks associated with these. It also includes information about how to recognize heroin addiction and how to get help with addiction.

Forms of Heroin and Methods of Use

Heroin comes in several forms1 Brown powder or a black, tar-like substance are the most common forms, although it also comes as a white powder. People use heroin in different ways, these include smoking it, injecting it into their veins, and snorting it (which can be very dangerous).Smoking – People smoke heroin by heating the substance (often on aluminum foil) and inhaling the vapor that it produces.Injecting – Injecting heroin is the most effective method of getting the drug into the bloodstream. This is because someone can inject directly into the veins or into a muscle, decreasing the time it takes to become intoxicated.Snorting – Some people may snort heroin, which means sniffing powdered heroin through the nose.Injecting and smoking heroin get the drug into the body quickly, and this can lead to an overdose2 This is because it’s difficult to control how much of the substance enters the bloodstream. Users often feel a euphoric rush when taking heroin. This then subsides and feelings of relaxation and drowsiness take over. People often continue using heroin because of the effect it has on their brain chemistry. It triggers the reward sensors in the brain and associates heroin use with pleasure and reward.

Dangers of Smoking Heroin

Although many people smoke heroin by heating it on aluminum foil and inhaling the vapor, there are other ways to smoke it. This includes using a glass pipe or adding it to tobacco or cannabis and rolling it into a joint. Users often start by smoking heroin as it is less intimidating than injecting, but over time, they may move to injecting to feel a more intense rush. Smoking heroin can come with fewer risks than injecting, but there are still many negative effects a user may experience from smoking it. Some of these include:Lung problems: Like all forms of smoking, smoking heroin can lead to respiratory problems. A user may have trouble breathing, experience wheezing, fluid in the lungs and feel short of breath. They also may be at risk of developing chronic lung problems such as COPD and have a higher chance of suffering from emphysema and pneumonia. Risk of addiction: As smoking heroin can bring intense feelings of euphoria and allow the substance to enter the bloodstream quickly, this can put users at risk of addiction. Permanent brain damage: There is a risk of developing permanent brain damage from smoking heroin. There are links between smoking heroin and developing toxic leukoencephalopathy3 This is a form of brain damage that worsens over time. Individuals suffering from TL may experience slurring of the speech, changes to their speech, difficulty processing and retaining information, twitches and trouble thinking clearly.

Dangers of Injection Heroin

Injecting heroin is usually the method of use that most people are familiar with. Many addicts use this method to get the drug into their bloodstream quickly. The user will commonly heat the drug with a lighter on a metal implement such as a spoon to create a liquid to inject. They will then use a hypodermic needle to inject the drug into the veins or muscle. This allows the drug to enter the bloodstream quickly, resulting in a euphoric rush. Although this is a popular method of use, there are many risks4 that can come from injecting. These include:Risk of contracting diseases: Injecting heroin puts you at a greater risk of contracting diseases such as HIV or hepatitis if you share needles with others.Greater risk of infection: Injecting may lead to infections in blood vessels and the heart, which can lead to complications.Abscesses: These are pus-filled areas of the skin that are painful and unsightly, caused by a bacterial infection.Organ damage – Damage to organs such as the heart, kidneys, brain, lungs or liver is a risk. Blood vessel damage caused by injecting heroin can lead to organ damage. This is commonly associated with impurities that may be found in heroin, which can clog the blood vessels.Vein collapse and scarring: Injecting heroin into the veins regularly can cause them to collapse and also lead to scarring. Collapsed veins may lead to intense, painful swelling.Breathing difficulties: As with smoking heroin, injecting can also lead to lung problems. These include wheezing, fluid in the lungs, pneumonia and general difficulty breathing.Tetanus: Injecting substances into your veins can also lead to infections such as tetanus. Dirty needles can be very dangerous and put you at risk of infection.

Dangers of Snorting Heroin

Snorting is becoming a popular way to use heroin, particularly for first-time users. Snorting the drug can seem less risky, but it can be extremely dangerous. There is no safe way to take heroin, each method of use comes with its own risks. Users of other powdered drugs may try heroin by snorting it, but it’s important to know the risks of this. These include:Loss of smell: Over time, snorting heroin can cause irreversible damage to the nose. This can result in a loss of smell, among other things.Sinus infections: Your sinuses can be affected by snorting heroin. Someone who snorts heroin may experience more sinus infections than usual, including fungal infections.Bleeding: As snorting heroin damages the lining of the nose, nosebleeds are a common side effect. These can happen after snorting the drug or at random times because of continued use.Hepatitis C: Snorting heroin can put you at risk of contracting hepatitis C from sharing bank notes, pipes or other snorting paraphernalia.Deviated septum: If you snort heroin regularly, the cartridge between the nostrils known as the septum can deteriorate. Over time, this can lead to users developing a hole between their nostrils. Issues swallowing and speaking: As snorting heroin will lead to some of the drug going down the throat, users may experience trouble swallowing or notice changes to their speech. Inflammation and breathing difficulties: Users that snort heroin may experience inflammation in their nostrils, which can cause discomfort and make it difficult to breathe through the nose. Increased overdose risk: The biggest risk of snorting heroin is overdose. Overdosing on heroin can be fatal. In 2019 alone, over 36,000 people5 in the US died because of an opiate overdose.

Dangers of Heroin Overdose

The risks of overdosing on heroin are high. As an addict increases their tolerance to the drug, they often take more of it than their body can deal with. This often leads to overdosing, which has a high fatality rate6 There are several warning signs7 that someone is experiencing a heroin overdose8 Knowing what to look out for can help to increase the chance of saving someone’s life if they overdose. A heroin overdose requires medical attention quickly to give the user the best chance of survival. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Slow or shallow breathing.
  • Making noises that sound like the person is choking or gurgling.
  • Having a limp body.
  • Very small pupils, almost like pinpoints.
  • Drowsiness or drifting in and out of consciousness.
  • A total loss of consciousness.
  • Pale and cold skin, some users may appear to have blue skin when they overdose.

What To Do if You Think Someone Is Overdosing

Seeing someone overdosing can be very distressing. If you think someone is experiencing a heroin overdose, try to keep calm and follow these steps9

  • Call the emergency services right away.
  • Give the person naloxone if you have it.
  • Make efforts to keep the person conscious and breathing.
  • Roll the person on their side to help prevent them from choking.
  • Don’t leave the person unattended until medical professionals arrive.

What Is Naloxone?

Naloxone10,Naloxone%20is%20a%20medicine%20that%20rapidly%20reverses%20an%20opioid%20overdose,with%20opioids%20in%20their%20systems. is a drug that can save the life of someone having an overdose. It works by stopping the effects of heroin on the brain by blocking opioid receptors. The drug should be given to the user as soon as possible, either by medical professionals or by anyone that has access to it. Naloxone is now available to the public in some states. It comes as an auto-injection or nasal spray and is useful for family members of addicts or those that come into contact with addicts to have. Once the user is given the dose, the effects of heroin will subside. However, it only works for a limited time. Therefore, it’s crucial to get the user to the emergency department as soon as possible.

Dangers of Heroin Addiction

Addiction can occur after repeated heroin use. Heroin addiction11 relates to changes in brain chemistry that happen when using the drug. An addict’s brain develops a dependency on heroin over time, which results in an intense compulsion to continue using and withdrawal symptoms. The body also develops a tolerance to heroin, meaning the user has to consume higher doses to feel the effects and relieve withdrawal symptoms. Heroin addiction often gets worse with time and being addicted to heroin is a chronic illness that only gets better with treatment. An addict can never be cured of heroin addiction, but they can live a drug-free life by learning to manage their addiction through treatment and rehabilitation.Addicts will experience withdrawal symptoms shortly after discontinuing use. Some people can start to feel symptoms of withdrawal just a few hours after their last dose. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Pain in the muscles and bones.
  • Feeling on-edge, anxious or restless.
  • Craving the drug and feeling an uncontrollable desire to use heroin.
  • Goosebumps, feeling cold or shivering.
  • Trouble sleeping, waking throughout the night or having trouble getting to sleep.
  • Involuntary body movements, such as twitching or leg shaking.
  • An upset stomach, leading to vomiting or diarrhea.

Signs of Heroin Addiction in Other People

If you’re worried about someone and think they may have a heroin addiction, there are signs to be aware of. These include things such as changes to a person’s behavior, financial situation, personal appearance, or social life. Knowing what to watch out for can give you a greater chance at helping them enter treatment in the future. Some common signs are:Social or emotional withdrawal: Avoiding events or activities that they would usually attend. Seeming distant or incapable of processing information.Acting anxious or aggressive: You may notice that they seem more anxious than they would normally, or see changes in their mood and ability to cope with stress. As a response to this, they may become aggressive verbally, physically or both.Marks on their arms, legs or other body parts and other visual signs: Many heroin addicts display marks of their use on their bodies. If someone you know has red marks or bruises in veiny areas, then this can be a sign of heroin use. Another thing you may notice is the presence of paraphernalia relating to heroin use. Heroin use requires several “tools”, such as needles, lighters, aluminium foil, spoons or balloons. If you notice these items appearing in the home of someone you know, they may be using.Neglecting themselves and their responsibilities: For most addicts, their life revolves solely around consuming heroin. This means that their time is usually spent taking heroin, sourcing it or recovering from the effects of it. Because of this, it can be difficult to keep up with the daily tasks that we often take for granted. An addict may struggle with maintaining their personal appearance and stop showering. They may lose their job or show up late for commitments. If they have children, they may be unable to fulfill their childcare duties.Money problems: A heroin addiction is a huge financial commitment. Many addicts will exhaust every source of funding available to them to fund their addiction. This can mean clearing bank accounts, taking out loans, selling their possessions or stealing from loved ones. If you notice that someone’s financial situation suddenly changes and they cannot afford everyday items, then this can be a sign that they have an addiction.

Recovering From a Heroin Addiction

Entering recovery has to be the choice of the individual suffering from heroin addiction. Although friends and family members can encourage an addict to seek treatment, the decision is down to the addict. Heroin is a very powerful drug and recovering from an addiction to it is a difficult process. Addicts must go through several stages during treatment before they can feel comfortable being drug-free. As heroin addiction is an illness, ongoing treatment is necessary and addicts may need to attend therapy, meetings and access other support for years after discontinuing use.Recovery starts with detox, this is where the individual stops using heroin. Detox can be tough, and it comes with many withdrawal symptoms. Ridding the body of a substance that alters brain chemistry that it physically depends on takes a lot of courage, strength, and willpower. Therefore, detoxing from heroin should be done with medical support to reduce the associated withdrawal symptoms.Once someone completes the detox process, they can then move on to the next step of recovery. The next step is rehabilitation and therapy. This is a necessary step as heroin addiction causes many psychological issues that need addressing and behaviors that need reshaping.

Getting Help

If you have a heroin addiction and you’re ready to get help, then this is a colossal achievement. Recognizing you need help is the first step to recovery. You may be anxious about the recovery process, but with the right support, you can get through it and live a happy life free of heroin. There are several addiction therapies you can benefit from. Contact us today and let us help you start your recovery journey. You can email us or call (855) 491-7694 if you’d prefer.

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