According to the CDC, about 14,000 people died of a heroin overdose during 2019. So, if you suspect that someone you know is experimenting with this lethal drug, you need to find a way to help them fast.
It’s hard to believe this dangerous drug comes from a botanical source. Chemists synthesize heroin from morphine, which in turn comprises the seeds of the opium poppy plant.
Heroin’s a highly addictive and destructive drug, and heroin use can result in serious health and other consequences.
If you want to help someone avoid long-term heroin addiction, step one is finding out more about heroin use so you can confirm your suspicions. Here’s what you need to know.
Why Do People Use Heroin?
Nowadays, addiction’s widely regarded as a disease, with a strong genetic component. So, it’s difficult to say whether people who aren’t inclined to addiction may also become hooked on heroin.
Another school of thought believes that substance abuse stems from an inability to cope with trauma or other mental issues. Some people believe that addiction comprises a little bit of both.
The bottom line is that heroin use creates pleasurable sensations for the user and thanks to this, they’re likely to try it more than once.
Heroin creates these effects by entering the brain quickly and binding to the opioid receptors which control feelings of pleasure and pain. These are also the receptors that maintain the body’s breathing, sleep cycles, and heart rate.
Using heroin causes a ‘rush’, meaning a burst of euphoria and feelings of well-being.
Heroin’s available in powder form or as a sticky substance called black tar heroin.
Users either sniff, snort, inject or smoke heroin. Some engage in a practice called speedballing, which involves mixing heroin with crack cocaine.
Signs Someone Is Using Heroin
The signs of heroin use include many behaviors that all addicts share. The user becomes fixated on their heroin use, and it starts to take center stage in their life.
They are likely to start underperforming at work and school, shirk their responsibilities, and withdraw from social life. They might start hanging around with a new group of friends that share their obsession with the drug and could end up in trouble with the law.
One of the first signs of any addiction is a lack of interest in personal hygiene and appearance. The addict soon starts to look aged and unkempt.
The way in heroin affects people depends on numerous factors, such as:
- Physical aspects like weight and overall health
- How much heroin they ingest
- The method of ingestion
- How long the addict’s been abusing heroin
- Combining alcohol or other drugs with heroin
- Underlying psychiatric conditions
Although the most severe signs of heroin abuse occur after prolonged use, some users might experience immediate effects on their health.
The Side Effects of Heroin Use
Apart from the pleasurable rush associated with heroin, the drug has several common and less pleasurable side effects. These include:
- Warm, flushed skin
- A dry mouth
- Severe itching
- A heavy feeling in the limbs
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feelings of ‘brain fog’
- Drifting in and out of consciousness and semi-consciousness
For addicts, these are inconsequential when compared to the pleasures of taking heroin. So, they continue to use it regardless.
Yet, without fail, these relatively benign effects escalate into serious health issues over time.
The Dangers of Heroin Use
The trouble with addictive drugs is that the mind and body develop a tolerance for them over time. This causes the addict to use increasing amounts of the drug to get the same effect.
The more heroin they ingest, the greater the chances they’ll develop more severe health issues, such as:
- Collapsed veins if they inject the drug
- Damaged nasal tissues if the snort or sniff the drug
- Infection of the heart valves and lining
- Liver and kidney disease
- Stomach cramps and constipation
- Lung complications, like pneumonia
- lung complications, including pneumonia
- Depression, antisocial personality disorder, and other mental issues
- Sexual dysfunction in the case of men
- Irregular menstrual cycles
Even these more severe health issues aren’t enough to stop most addicts. In fact, they’re likely to use more heroin to escape from these unpleasant and painful conditions.
You can read this page for more information about how heroin affects the addict’s mental state, inducing them to continue this destructive behavior.
As they continue to abuse their bodies and minds in this way, it’s only a matter of time before serious consequences set in. Let’s look at these in more detail.
Dying from unintentionally ingesting excess heroin is the obvious worst-case scenario for any heroin addict. Unfortunately, due to the body achieving tolerance for the drug, it’s a common outcome too.
Heroine also reacts badly with several common prescription drugs, with deadly consequences.
These are the signs of a heroin overdose:
- Difficulty breathing or shallow breathing
- A blue tinge to the nails and lips
- Discoloration of the tongue
- Weak pulse and low blood pressure
- Mental disorientation and delirium
- Constricted pupils
- Spastic muscles
Hospitals can save those who overdose with a drug called naloxone, but that’s only if the affected person gets there in time.
Legal Ramifications Associated with Heroin
According to Federal Law, it’s illegal to buy, sell, or use heroin in the United States. Offenders can face jail time, community service, and heavy fines.
It’s also highly likely that users of heroin may commit other crimes either while under the influence of the drug or in an attempt to get their hands on the drug. The most common crimes associated with heroin use include theft, driving under the influence, and violent crimes.
A criminal record has far-reaching consequences. It affects their ability to get a job and may result in the suspension of their driver’s license.
Apart from diminished sexual function in men and menstrual problems in women, heroin can also affect other aspects of human reproduction.
Taking heroin while you’re pregnant can cause a miscarriage. Prolonged use may also lead to permanent infertility.
Deadly Health Issues
Heroin has far-reaching effects on how the body functions and prolonged use can lead to severe health conditions. These include stroke, endocarditis, liver damage, and hepatitis B or C.
Other potentially fatal health issues associated with heroin use include:
- Pulmonary Edema – fluid buildup in the lungs
- Recurring rhabdomyolysis – caused by dead muscle tissue
- Kidney failure from rhabdomyolysis or contaminated heroin
Using needles to inject heroin can result in exposure to HIV, and also cause septic embolism, which results from infected tissue breaking off and entering the bloodstream.
What Can You Do About Heroin Use?
Due to its overwhelming effects on the mind and body, it’s almost impossible to stop taking heroin without professional help. When someone suddenly stops ingesting the drug, their body goes into open revolt, with exceedingly unpleasant results.
These maladies usually start within a few hours and peak about 24 hours after their last dose. They can subside after a week or take months to disappear completely.
The withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin include:
- Restlessness and insomnia
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Pain in the bones and muscles
- Goosebump-inducing cold flashes
Intense cravings also accompany these physical symptoms, so it’s exceptionally difficult to resist the urge to use again. The best option for heroin addicts is a medically-assisted detox and intensive counseling to help them change their ways.
So, if you suspect that your friend or loved one’s fallen into the trap of excessive heroin use, the only way to save them is by getting them to attend a rehabilitation program specializing in heroin addiction.
Long-term inpatient treatment’s advised for hardened users, while outpatient care can help those who haven’t used the drug for a long time and feel committed to getting clean.
It’s difficult to get an addict to admit they need help, but it’s always best to take a gentle approach when you speak to them about it. Throwing blame and accusations will only make them defensive, so stay compassionate as you guide them in the right direction.
Often, the best way to do this is by staging an intervention, where you round up friends and family to talk to them as a group.
You can get in touch with your local branch of Narcotics Anonymous, or any similar organization for help getting your loved one on the path to recovery. It’s important to remember that unless the addict must commit to rehab voluntarily if they hope to succeed.
There’s a reason heroin’s called ‘hell dust’ on the street. Continued heroin use can result in a life that seems like eternal hell.
So, if you want to protect those close to you, it’s important to pay attention to the above side effects, so you can help them escape the clutches of this drug.
If you’d like to find out more about addiction and how it’s treated or have questions related to everyday topics, browse some more of our articles.