Opioid Addiction - Drug and Alcohol

Heroin Abuse: Signs, Withdrawal Symptoms, Side Effects & More

Signs of Heroin Use: Do You Know Them?

Heroin abuse is one of the most lethal forms of drug addiction there is. Learn more about heroin addiction, how it’s treated and more in our blog.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Opioid Addiction

Drug and Alcohol

February 21, 2023

Heroin. Few other drugs are more infamous.

Heroin has cast a long and sad shadow across history, claiming the lives of artists, writers, musicians, and actors. Drug overdoses from opioids like heroin have become a leading cause of death in the US.

It's an opioid that originally comes from morphine and is derived from the seed pod of opium poppy plants. These are generally grown in the regions of Central America, South America, and Southeast Asia. Like many other drugs; heroin can also be smoked, sniffed, and injected into the body.

By the Numbers:

Heroin is extremely addictive and is illegal in the United States of America and most countries in the world. Despite being declared illegal in 1924, it is still manufactured, produced, trafficked, and misused in the country. Looking at the heroin abuse statistics, the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reported that since the year 2010, the death related to this opioid has quadrupled in Americans. Their other key finding includes the overdose deaths caused by heroin, which is around 14,000 annually. Around 902,000 Americans use heroin annually.

Heroin addiction has become a big cause of concern not only because so many people are getting affected by it but also because the younger generation is not paying any heed to the warning signs of its abuse. It is important to make the younger generation know how heroin addiction is a chronic disease that can lead to innumerable health and personal life-associated negative consequences.

Heroin is a street drug that is also known by nicknames such as black tar, smack, or tar. The initial feeling experienced after the usage is shifting the mood to happiness, pleasure, and overall a great sense of our well-being. It basically increases pleasure and minimizes pain, due to which the user is left wanting more. 

In this blog, we will be discussing heroin abuse, its warning signs, symptoms, and recovery treatments available across the country. Read ahead and learn about one of the world's most dangerous drugs.

What Is Heroin Abuse?

Many times people wonder if a person is aware of the negative impact costs of the substance: Why do people abuse heroin?

The answer is not simple. Heroin is a synthesized opioid analgesic obtained from a poppy plant that grows in a few areas of the world. It can be abused in various ways, such as injected, smoked, and inhaled. Upon entering our body, it gets converted to morphine and binds the opioid receptors that are present all through our body and brain.

These opioid receptors are responsible for pain and pleasure perception, which gets manipulated by using heroin. Thus, the user will want to use and, eventually, abuse heroin to increase pleasure and decrease pain. Excessive use of the substance will alter the brain's structure and functioning, leading to the development of dependency and tolerance. In fact, the body will become physically dependent on it, and when an addicted person tries to stop, the withdrawal symptoms will set in, and the user is forced to continue.

On the other hand, psychological dependence on heroin develops when a person starts believing that they cannot function without heroin. Heroin abuse and addiction are chronic yet treatable conditions that may develop after using opioid painkillers. In many cases, some people get prescribed painkillers to relieve the pain due to some injury or surgery they went through. This pain-relieving drug has the same effect as heroin.

So when the prescription ends and they cannot obtain any more opioid medications, the individual experiences an intense craving. This is an onset of opioid use disorder too. To satiate this need and craving, people resort to illegal drugs such as heroin. 

Addiction is a multifaceted condition that can happen to everyone. For example, if someone is using painkillers, it does not automatically mean that they will end up with a substance use disorder or heroin addiction. So, we will discuss the people at a high risk of developing this condition. 

People who are vulnerable and are at risk of getting heroin addiction:

  • Personal history of substance abuse

  • Living in an environment of substance abuse

  • Severe depression and anxiety problems

  • Into heavily using tobacco

  • Risk-taking behavior

The above list does not imply that people with the above criteria will surely get addicted to heroin or other drugs. Instead, it lists people who may be at more risk than others. 

What Are the Signs of Heroin Abuse?

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid with a physical appearance like a white or brown powder or sticky black tar. By this description, you may have understood that not everyone would smoke heroin-filled cigarettes around. So, if you suspect your loved one is involved in any drug-related activity, you will have to pay close attention. The symptoms of opioid addiction aren't always easy to recognize.

This is socially the case with people who have recently suffered a great tragedy or personal loss. Keep close to them so you can notice any change if it happens. Your suspicion should be aroused if you notice any of the following mentioned things happening with your loved ones. 

A few warning signs of heroin abuse:

  • Work/School/College Problems: If your loved one is facing issues at work or studies, then it may be an early indicator of heroin abuse. 

  • Unkempt Physical Appearance: People engaged and indulged in substance addiction often overlook the usual grooming process and look sloppy. Hence, you will notice their haggard and exhausted look with a lack of upkeep. 

  • Money-Related Problems: People involved in drug abuse often run into money problems. If a loved one is suspicious about their purchases and constantly borrowing money, it is a sign.

  • Behavioral Change: A lot of the time, you can decipher drastic changes in someone's experience. You will notice that they are more secretive than usual and are very defensive whenever the topic of drugs comes up.

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Common Heroin Abuse Symptoms

The symptoms of someone using a drug as strong and potent as heroin can be very difficult to hide. Even though they may successfully hide the initial signs by being conspicuous, soon, the cracks will start to set in, and you will be able to notice the symptoms. The early sign may be harder to point out, but you will be able to note that the symptoms will resemble the flu.

The heroin abuser will have goosebumps, abdominal pain, sweating, unstable body temperature, etc. You will also notice that they are having problems doing normal day-to-day activities. Even though the symptoms and signs are different and can vary from user to user and according to the intensity of addiction, there are some common indicators.

Heroin Abuse Symptoms

The common symptoms of heroin abuse and addiction include a) psychological signs such as depression, euphoria, anxiety, sudden changes in moods, aggression, agitation, disorientation, hallucination, paranoia, and irritability, b) behavioral signs such as avoiding social events and loved ones, preferring isolation, lying about drugs, hiding day-to-day activities, inability to concentrate in work or studies, lack of motivation, apathy, lack of personal hygiene, and disruption in sleeping pattern, c) physical signs such as weight loss, scabs and bruising of injection, dry mouth, shortness of breath, constricted pupils, severe itching, flushed skin, respiratory infection, and slurred speech.

What Is Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal is a collection of intense physical and mental symptoms experienced after heroin use stops. When people use heroin (or any other addictive drug) over time, the body gets used to the presence of heroin in the system. When heroin use stops, it throws the body out of balance, causing withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

As mentioned before, when a person stops to use these drugs, they experience some very uncomfortable and, in some cases, painful withdrawal symptoms. These drug withdrawal symptoms can develop as soon as a few hours. These include sweating, vomiting, headache, fever, nausea, runny nose, cold sweats, diarrhea, cramping in the body, muscle and body aches, insomnia, and even death. 

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Anyone seeking treatment for heroin addiction is likely concerned about how long heroin withdrawal lasts. It’s understandable – few other drugs have a withdrawal period more infamous. Heroin withdrawal side effects such as muscle spasms and chills inspired phrases like “kick drugs” and “cold turkey.”

Nailing down a heroin withdrawal timeline isn’t easy. Like every other drug, withdrawing from heroin is dependent on many factors, including:

  • Age

  • History of heroin use

  • Length of heroin addiction

  • How much heroin a person was using

  • Past attempts at heroin withdrawal

  • Individual physiology

  • Other co-occurring physical conditions

That said, here’s a quick, general timeline for heroin withdrawal.

Phase 1: The First Day

Acute heroin withdrawal often starts quickly, often around eight hours after the last dose. Early symptoms of acute heroin withdrawal include:

  • Insomnia

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Intense body aches

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

  • High blood pressure

Phase 2: 3 Days After the Last Dose

Psychological symptoms begin around 72 hours after a person last took heroin:

  • Mood swings

  • Strong cravings

  • Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders

Also, the acute symptoms of heroin withdrawal tend to peak during this phase as well.

Phase 3: A Week or More

Most of the acute symptoms of heroin withdrawal taper off by this phase. Psychological symptoms can linger, however:

  • Mood swings

  • Insomnia

  • Body aches

  • Lingering nausea

  • Drug cravings

It’s important to realize that this phase of heroin withdrawal is when recovery genuinely starts.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

In some rare cases, withdrawal effects from heroin can last for months. Called post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, this is a poorly understood condition that’s still being researched.

Heroin withdrawal is always going to be difficult, make no mistake. But when done with professional help at a drug detox or drug rehab, it’s more comfortable, far safer, and also more likely to be successful. Never attempt to detox from heroin on your own. It’s dangerous, overwhelming, and likely to cause a relapse to regular heroin use.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
What to Know About Heroin Withdrawal
What Causes Heroin Withdrawal?
Phase 1 of Heroin Withdrawal
Phase 2 of Heroin Withdrawal
Phase 3 of Heroin Withdrawal
How Heroin Withdrawal Can Be Easier
Get Help for Heroin Addiction Today
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What Are Some Side Effects of Heroin Abuse?

Various factors determine the effects of heroin abuse. These factors may include the genetic makeup of the person, the intensity of their addiction, the amount of heroin abused, the way it was abused, and so forth. It is understood as prolonged addiction the effects are equally severe. But here, we will discuss some common side effects felt by heroin abusers. This will include both short-term and long-term health effects. 

Side Effects

  • Short-Term Effects:  These include euphoria, dry mouth, itching, fuzzy brain, upset stomach, itching, vomiting, the body will feel heavy, drowsiness, warm skin, etc. 

  • Long-Term Effects: Insomnia, miscarriage, mental health disorders, risk of getting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, liver and kidney problems, menstrual issues, skin infections like abscesses, infection in the heart lining, collapsed veins, lung diseases like TB and pneumonia and more. 

Heroin Abuse Treatment & Recovery 

If you or your loved ones are struggling with heroin abuse and may think there is a need for medical intervention, the best way forwards is to consult a good drug rehab center. These medical facilities are created to help patients suffering from substance and alcohol abuse disorders.

Addiction is a complicated health condition, and it is hazardous to let it get untreated. It is imperative that a person struggling with heroin abuse receive treatment at an inpatient drug rehab or an outpatient drug rehab. These centers have various programs that suit your medical conditions and addiction intensity.

The professional staff at these drug treatment facilities will formulate an individualized plan to help you get over the heroin addiction. There are many behavioral therapies and contingency management programs that will help the patient in coping with addiction. It can be both individual or group therapy, and it will consist of exercises that will help the patients identify the trigger points and how to cope with them in healthy ways. 

Some drug rehabs make use of medications to treat heroin abuse. Methadone and Sublocade are used in medication-assisted treatment or MAT. This is an evidence-based treatment method to help people deal with withdrawal symptoms and achieve time in recovery.

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Do you need advice about heroin abuse? Reach out today.

Heroin Abuse Is Treatable. Contact The Edge Treatment Center Today to Learn More

Whenever someone is looking for a good drug rehab center, the main challenge they have to face is to choose among the myriad options. To narrow down the options, one should always look at the variety of treatments the rehab offers.

The Edge Treatment Center offers effective, evidence-based care for heroin abuse. We'll start by finding a drug detox center for your needs. Afterward, we'll be your companion throughout the entire recovery process.

Heroin abuse is one of the most lethal forms of substance abuse. Don't risk a heroin overdose! Contact The Edge Treatment Center today to learn more about our heroin abuse programs and more.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.