Learn about the signs, symptoms, and causes of heroin addiction and where to seek help in this article.
The opioid epidemic has been an ongoing problem for nearly three decades now, with deaths caused by opioid-related overdoses rising to almost 400% from 2010 to 2017. While prescription opioids , like oxycodone and fentanyl, play a significant role in the opioid crisis, heroin use is another contributor that has been steadily rising since 2007.1
Heroin is an opioid narcotic drug made from a natural chemical called morphine, derived from the seed pods of opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Heroin is a highly addictive drug, often taking just one to two uses to get addicted.
Heroin can be smoked, injected, snorted, or sniffed. Injecting the drug into the veins is the most common way heroin is used, followed by smoking and snorting. Regardless of how heroin is consumed, it reaches the brain at a rapid pace, providing an immediate sense of euphoria and sedation.
Although people addicted to heroin exhibit a variety of signs and symptoms, not every person will respond to the drug the same way. The signs and symptoms of heroin usage vary based on genetic makeup, the duration of the misuse, and the quantity of heroin consumed.
Heroin has the same depressive effects on the central nervous system as other opioids—it suppresses the central nervous system, fogging the mind and slowing down or ceasing regular body function. The following are some of the most typical physical signs of heroin abuse:
Heroin decreases brain function, causing vital organs to slow or shut down completely. One of the most common symptoms of heroin addiction is impaired breathing, followed by an erratic heartbeat and a decline in blood pressure and body temperature.
Opioids can cause itching by eliciting an immune system reaction that alters the receptor proteins on the surface of mast cells. Mast cells are a type of white blood cell located in connective tissue, specifically in the skin and nerves.
Vomiting and nausea are two linked adverse effects of opiate use. A standard definition of nausea is an unpleasant feeling in the stomach and other body parts connected to a tendency to vomit.
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract’s peristalsis and stomach emptying are inhibited by opioids, which causes delayed medicine absorption and increased fluid absorption. Constipation and hardness of the stool are caused by a lack of fluid in the colon.
Heroin use disorders are no exception to disturbed sleep. There may be a complicated and reciprocal relationship between the two: substance use leads to sleep issues, but insomnia and insufficient sleep may also be risk factors for drug use and addiction.
When heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain, it affects the autonomic nervous system’s parasympathetic processes. As a result, the pupils constrict, a condition known as miosis.
Because heroin affects brain function, slurred speech and difficulty articulating words can occur while under the influence.
The signs of heroin overdose include both physical and mental symptoms. These will be detailed below.
When the body is introduced to a large dose of heroin, the respiratory system can slow down or even stop functioning.
Heroin use impairs cognitive processes, including those that keep us awake and attentive. In addition, an overdose of heroin can have more severe effects on the heart and lungs and may deprive the brain of oxygen, a condition known as brain hypoxia. The loss of consciousness is accelerated by a lack of oxygen to the brain.
As a central nervous system depressant, heroin has sedative effects; however, when too much of the drug is consumed, the body can go limp and unresponsive. Moreover, a person can go into a coma or experience brain damage due to a lack of oxygen in the brain from slowed breathing.
An irregular heartbeat is referred to as heart arrhythmia. When improperly coordinated electrical signals control how often the heartbeat, heart rhythm issues (heart arrhythmias) result. The heart beats excessively quickly (tachycardia), too slowly (bradycardia), or irregularly as a result of poor signaling.
This indicates a drug overdose if the person’s complexion seems paler than usual and their skin is sweaty or clammy.
Legal or illegal narcotic substances, such as fentanyl, hydrocodone, heroin, and morphine, can narrow the pupils. Additionally, an overdose of these medicines might cause pinpoint pupils, which occur when the eyes do not react to changes in light.
Heroin use can exhibit psychological and behavioral symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. Long-term use of heroin can alter the physiological makeup of the brain, causing long-lasting abnormalities in the neuronal and hormonal systems that can be difficult to reverse. These will be further detailed below.
Heroin rewires the reward system in the brain, causing it to rely on the drug to produce feel-good hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Thus, the brain no longer produces regular levels of chemicals responsible for happiness, positive thoughts, and motivation, leading to depression.
One study found that people who use opioids for at least thirty days are 25% more likely to develop treatment-resistant depression compared to those who use opioids for less than thirty days.2
During withdrawal from heroin, it’s normal for someone to have bouts of extreme anxiety. Because of how severe this adverse effect is, people may become stuck in a harmful cycle of addiction due to the anxiety brought on by heroin withdrawal.
Heroin slows down brain activity and causes sensations of relaxation and drowsiness since it is a central nervous system depressant. People who use heroin may have difficulties focusing and experience higher levels of irritability.
Early in the addiction cycle, heroin use is met with euphoria and a release of tension, quickly followed by a change toward growing dysphoria and psychopathology. Nevertheless, the drug’s impact on the mind can cause extreme fluctuations in mood.
It is common for individuals to lie about their addiction, as they may want to hide their substance abuse.
Due to the chemical imbalances in the brain, a loss of motivation may become prevalent. A complete lack of motivation makes it difficult to accomplish anything, making the person unable to initiate or complete even the most basic tasks.
Heroin’s ability to diminish the capacity for feeling pleasure can result in lessened interest in pleasurable activities. Although it can also be a symptom of other mental health illnesses, it is a primary symptom of major depressive disorder.
Social isolation or withdrawal from friends and family is another common symptom of heroin addiction. This behavior can stem from not wanting loved ones to learn about their drug use or other mental issues that inhibit loneliness or social withdrawal.
People can successfully stop using heroin with the aid of various treatments, including medications and behavioral therapy.
Behavioral therapies help change attitudes and behaviors related to drug abuse, improve people’s life skills, and teach strategies to deal with stressful situations and environmental cues that may cause intense drug cravings. In addition, they can increase drug abuse treatment participation and offer rewards for abstinence.
According to scientific studies, pharmacological therapy for opioid use disorder enhances adherence to treatment plans and lowers drug use, the spread of infectious diseases, and criminal activity.3
People addicted to opioids like heroin must first undergo detoxification, which is the process of expelling the drug from the system to begin a substance-free recovery. During this process, the body will experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be quite uncomfortable (pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting).
Therefore, medications can help reduce cravings and other physical symptoms that frequently cause a person to relapse.
Self-help organizations can enhance and prolong the benefits of professional therapy. Patients are generally encouraged to participate in self-help group therapy during and after formal treatment for drug addiction.
These organizations can be especially beneficial during the recovery process because they provide an extra layer of social support at the neighborhood level to help individuals achieve and maintain a lifetime of abstinence and other healthy lifestyle choices.
Continued usage of heroin has severe adverse effects on the body. For example, frequent injections might damage veins and infect the heart valves and blood vessels. In addition, the general state of the body can contribute to tuberculosis or lead to arthritis.
Long-term effects of heroin can alter the physical makeup of the brain, disrupting hormonal and neurological functions. Heroin use can result in decreased sex hormones, depression, chronic fatigue, osteoporosis, and muscle mass loss. Genetic problems, infections, strokes, seizures, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease can all be brought on by neurological imbalance.
Heroin and other opioids can cause respiratory depression by affecting the mu-opioid receptors in the brain regions in charge of breathing.
Prolonged heroin usage has a significant impact on the heart. Some of the severe cardiovascular conditions heroin, and other opioids, can cause include arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), hypotension (low blood pressure), heart failure, endocarditis (inflammation of the heart’s inner lining), and cardiac arrest.
Even at therapeutic doses, opiates usually result in constipation in their users. Narcotic bowel syndrome, introduced by slowed-down bowel functions brought on by chronic opioid use or abuse, may develop as a result of long-term opiate use and addiction and cause damage to the intestines.
Any age, sex, or socioeconomic group can develop a drug addiction. Nonetheless, several factors can influence the probability and rate at which heroin addiction develops:
Because all opioids belong to the same chemical family, they all interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. Opioid painkillers are primarily safe when taken for a short period and according to a doctor’s prescription, but because they can promote euphoria, they are commonly misused.
Even when used as directed by a doctor, regular opioid painkillers can cause dependence, resulting in addiction, overdoses, and fatalities. In fact, 80% of people who misuse heroin reported misusing prescription opioids first.4
There may be a hereditary tendency for drug addiction in particular families where it is more prevalent. In other words, people run a higher risk of acquiring a drug addiction if they have a blood relative who does, such as a parent or sibling.
People are more prone to drug addiction if they have a mental health condition like depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Heroin use can become a coping mechanism for unpleasant emotions like anxiety and loneliness and exacerbate these issues.
Economic downturns and lower socioeconomic status can affect drug use through various causes, such as an increased prevalence of drug use, psychological suffering, and limited availability of resources.
The use of illegal drugs is largely linked to criminal behavior. People who use illicit drugs are more prone to commit crimes, and many offenses, especially violent crimes, are frequently perpetrated by people who used drugs before committing the offense or while executing it.
Substance use disorders have been connected to exposure to traumatic situations, particularly during childhood. PTSD and other mood-related disorders are also highly comorbid with SUDs.
Addiction risk can be boosted by challenging family situations, a lack of connection to your parents or siblings, and a lack of parental supervision.
Everybody has a right to a happy and healthy life. Get in touch with San Diego Detox Treatment Center right away to learn more about our safe and efficient treatment choices and get started on the path to a better quality of life.