facts about heroin

Important Facts About Heroin That All Addicts Should Know

Are you worried a loved one is using heroin? About 948,000 Americans admitted to using heroin in 2016. Heroin overdose deaths increased by almost 20 percent between 2015 to 2016.

The scary part is these numbers keep rising. More and more young adults reported using heroin, which is the largest group to increase usage.

Heroin is one of the most widely abused opiates in the world, with 9.2 million using heroin worldwide. There’s a reason why it’s so addictive. Here are important facts about heroin.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a type of opioid. It is made from the seed pods of the opium poppy plants from Mexico, Colombia, and Southeast and Southwest Asia. Various forms of heroin include a black sticky substance or brown or white powder.

People either smoke, snort, inject, or sniff heroin. Sometimes they mix heroin with crack cocaine. Common names for heroin include smack, horse, big H, and hell dust.

Why Is Heroin So Addictive?

Heroin has long been known to be a very addictive drug. In fact, about one in four users that try heroin are addicted.

This is because it immediately affects the brain. It causes the brain to release “feel good” chemicals – both endorphins and dopamine. The brain recognizes the activation of these chemicals and begins to link them with heroin almost as a reward to the body.

In addition, the withdrawal symptoms of heroin are extremely uncomfortable, and it is hard for a user to stop on his or her own. The body also begins to require larger amounts of heroin to feel good, so users build up a tolerance. This tolerance causes certain areas of the brain to stop responding without the opioid receptor.

Getting Off Heroin Takes a Long Time

If you are addicted to heroin, it may take you a while to kick this addiction. You will experience withdrawal symptoms that can vary in intensity.

These withdrawal symptoms start around 6 to 12 hours after your last use. You will feel the peak of withdrawal symptoms around 1 to 3 days. They should subside gradually after about 5 to 7 days.

Some users have withdrawal symptoms for weeks or even months. Everyone is different, so it’s hard to say how difficult it will be for each person.

You will have to retrain your body to feel good again naturally. Some users have a hard time getting rid of the urge to take heroin even after they have gone through withdrawal.

Withdrawal Is Difficult

A person addicted to heroin will get withdrawal symptoms around 12 hours after the last time he or she used. Heroin withdrawal can be extremely difficult. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • High anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Intense cravings
  • Uncomfortable leg movements

Some withdrawal symptoms are so intense that users want to take heroin just to get rid of the uncomfortable symptoms and get relief. The user then goes through withdrawal all over again once he or she stops using heroin.

Cravings for heroin can last years after a person has stopped using the drug. These cravings can be triggered by bad memories, places, people, and extreme stress.

Extreme Itching Is a Side Effect of Heroin Use

After heroin enters the brain, the brain changes it to morphine that binds the receptors in the body. This also produces a strong rush and a warm flushing to the skin.

A little-known side effect of heroin use is extreme itchiness. Opiate drugs create histamines that the body uses during allergic reactions. These histamines make the skin itch, which makes users want to scratch.

This side effect means the drug is strong and not contaminated. A lot of users feel that their skin is “crawling” along with being itchy.

Mixing Heroin with Other Drugs Can Be Dangerous

A lot of heroin users take at least one other drug along with it, and some of these combinations can be pretty risky. Many heroin overdoses are from combining heroin with other drugs, most commonly sedatives and alcohol.

Drinking alcohol along with heroin increases the risk of overdose because it causes shallow breathing, lowered heart rate and blood pressure, and can put someone in a deep sedation.

Anxiety medicines such as Valium, Xanax, and Restoril are extremely risky to take with heroin. Both the opioids and these medications slow the rate of breathing, making it highly risky that you could stop breathing altogether.

Using heroin and cocaine together is also a very serious combination. Heroin depresses the nervous system while cocaine revives it. Both of these drugs cause breathing difficulties and can harm your heart.

Mixing opioids together such as hydrocodone, fentanyl, oxycodone, and morphine is dangerous because they intensify the side effects. They work the same as heroin does, so too much of these drugs can suppress the nervous system and heart rate to the point of cardiac arrest and death.

Drowsy-State After First Rush Is Risky

When a person uses heroin, he or she gets a sudden rush or a feeling of euphoria. After that state, the person then enters a phase where he or she alternates between being awake and extreme drowsiness for hours.

To imagine what it looks like, think about a student who is trying to stay awake and school and his or her head keeps nodding when sleepiness takes over. Eventually, the student will jerk awake to try to concentrate. That’s what heroin does to you.

Heroin is a sedative that causes a person to get sleepy but not fall into a deep sleep. This is the phase that most users enjoy because they feel so relaxed.

This can be dangerous because the body can go into a deep sedation. If the person becomes unconscious, he or she could sink into an overdose as the body’s breathing slows too much and may stop.

Babies Can Be Born Addicted to Heroin

Every 25 minutes a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal. The baby was exposed to the drug in the womb and becomes physically addicted, just like heroin users.

A baby can be addicted to any opiate including prescription drugs. When a pregnant woman takes opioids, the growing baby is exposed to this drug regularly. As soon as the baby is born, he or she suddenly does not get this drug anymore.

The baby is dependent on this drug and begins to go through withdrawal. These symptoms include fever, irritability, vomiting, slow weight gain, fever, and excessive crying. A newborn exhibits symptoms about 72 hours after being born.

Addicted babies need treatment. This involves putting the baby back on opiates and gradually reducing dosage to withdraw the newborn over time.

Other Side Effects of Heroin

The immediate side effects of heroin include dry mouth, heavy feeling in extremities, nausea, vomiting, severe itching, and a warm flush of the skin. The user will be drowsy for several hours. Other immediate symptoms include:

  • Clouded mental function
  • Slow heart rate
  • Reduced breathing rate

Reduced breathing can lead to brain damage and a coma. The drug effects the opioid receptors that control the body’s functions such as swallowing, breathing, heart beat, blood pressure, and consciousness.

Because the drug impairs these functions, there can be long-term problems such as:

  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Collapsed veins
  • Lung complications such as pneumonia
  • Abscesses
  • Heart infections
  • Digestive issues including cramping and constipation

Heroin can also clog blood vessels to main organs like the brain, kidneys, lungs, and liver. These clogs create permanent damage to these vital organs.

Prescription Opioids Can Lead to Heroin Use

Nearly 75 percent of Americans in treatment for heroin have stated they used prescription opioids before heroin. These prescription medications include Vicodin and OxyContin.

This is just one factor leading to heroin use. People switch to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get than the prescription drugs.

Any Method of Using Heroin Is Addicting

There are different ways to use heroin including injecting, smoking, and snorting. Because all methods enter the brain quickly, all of these ways are addictive contrary to what users think. All three of these methods cause severe health problems.

Can You Overdose on Heroin?

In 2016, more than 15,500 people died from heroin overdose in the U.S. So, yes, a person can definitely overdose on heroin. An overdose happens when the person takes enough of the drug for a life-threatening reaction.

Once the breathing slows or stops, the brain does not get enough oxygen. This is called hypoxia. This can cause short- and long-term effects to the brain including brain damage or a coma.

Signs of an overdose include:

  • Blue tint to the person’s fingers and lips
  • Gasping for air
  • Shallow breathing
  • Extremely pale skin
  • Weak pulse
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Disorientation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confused mental state
  • Spasms
  • Seizures

It’s important to call emergency personnel immediately if you see anyone with these symptoms. The person needs medication to reverse the effects of heroin to get breathing normally again.

How Do You Treat a Heroin Overdose?

Naloxone is given to a person immediately to treat the overdose. This medicine binds to the opioid receptors in the body to minimize the effects of the heroin. A person may need multiple doses to begin breathing again.

This is why a person suspected of an overdose needs immediate medical attention by a trained professional. These medications are available in different forms such as an injectable solution, a nasal spray, and a handheld auto injector.

Because of the increase in opioid overdose deaths in the past years, there is an increase for the public health sector to make naloxone more available to at-risk people and their families. First responders typically have these medications on hand. Some pharmacies dispense naloxone without prescriptions because of this need.

Other Facts About Heroin

It’s important to know that there is no typical heroin user. Most users are teenagers or young adults that come from upper to middle class families, which is not what a person may think of for a typical drug user.

Heroin’s purest form is white. Most heroin is black, brown, or gray because toxic ingredients are added. It’s hard to tell how pure heroin really is when it is not white.

Heroin used to be sold over the counter as a pain reliever in cough drops. People thought it was less addictive than morphine. The name heroin originated because doctors thought it had “heroic” qualities of a strong medicine.

Treatment of Heroin Addiction

There are a variety of treatment options for heroin users. These treatments typically include both medical and behavioral programs. These approaches help the brain to function normally without the drug.

Detoxing from the drug causes withdrawal symptoms that can be severe. This is why a person may need medical help for detoxification. The non-opioid medication helps reduce these withdrawal symptoms.

A person should not detox from heroin alone because it can be extremely dangerous. If a person is alone to detox, there is a good chance they may start using again to help relieve the withdrawal symptoms.

Behavioral treatments can be outpatient or in-home. This approach helps a person to learn to cope with life stressors and learn how to modify expectations. This is important to help a person stay on the road to recovery – if someone can not deal with these stressors correctly, a relapse could happen.

If you have a loved one that is addicted to heroin, you may want to stage an intervention. This lets the person know you care and can help them see there is a problem. It’s important to work with a professional and have a plan before starting an intervention.

Getting Help for Heroin Addiction

Now that you know the facts about heroin, it’s time to get the help you are a loved one need to kick this dangerous addiction. Getting yourself or a loved one help for addiction is an extremely difficult decision.

Don’t wait until your loved one’s addiction gets worse. Contact us today to discuss the best options to get your loved one treatment. We can discuss recovery options, detox, rehab, and even costs including insurance coverage.

heroin addiction

Rehab 911: 7 Signs of Heroin Use You Can’t Ignore

Your family is going through a rough time, and it’s hard to explain the issues away as simply life stress. It’s terrifying to think that your loved one might be abusing heroin, but if you do believe that is the case, you don’t have time to waste.

Heroin abuse is on the rise in multiple states, and it’s more than doubled among young adults in the past decade. What’s even scarier is that fatal overdoses are also on the rise.

If you think your loved one may be addicted, keep reading for the nine common signs of heroin use.

1. Behavioral Changes

One of the first signs of heroin addiction to watch out for is behavioral changes.

Among the most obvious is a sudden, inexplicable need for secrecy. This may be accompanied by increased aggression. You may notice this the most when asking your loved one about something that seems inconsequential to you, only to be met with an unexpected outburst.

These signs aren’t unique to heroin use.

What is somewhat unique to heroin use is mood swings, an apparent lack of emotional regulation, and depression. Heroin highs cause feelings of euphoria, which is part of why the drug is so addictive.

What makes it worse is that a heroin addict’s brain starts to rely on heroin to experience any feelings of joy or happiness. While off the drug, this can result in depression or sudden mood swings, especially if the individual is using drugs to self-medicate for an underlying mental illness.

Often, these highs and lows are taken out on the people around them, especially loved ones trying to express concern.

If your loved one is lashing out at you, try to keep your anger or frustration in check and look for patterns in their behavioral shifts.

2. Physical Changes

More obvious than the behavioral changes are the physical changes your loved one will exhibit after prolonged heroin abuse.

Heroin is taken by injection, which creates track marks, or puncture wounds resulting from injecting drugs and bruises that appear around the injection site. Many heroin users inject on their arms for ease of access and prominent veins.

On one hand, this is a good thing, because if track marks are in obvious places, they’re easy to spot. Because of this, chronic users will wear long sleeves or long pants to hide the marks.

You’ll likely also notice a decline in personal hygiene, especially if your loved one has been abusing for some time. Disorientation and drowsiness from heroin abuse may often lead your loved one to lose interest in (or forget to) take care of themselves.

Other physical symptoms immediately following heroin consumption include:

  • Constricted (small) pupils
  • Droopy appearance, as though it takes too much effort to support their limbs
  • Dry mouth
  • Shortness of breath

Another clear sign is suddenly losing a significant amount of weight. One of the side effects of heroin is a decreased appetite, which means that if your loved one is consistently high, they won’t have any desire to eat.

In women, this may also result in a sudden loss of her period as her body struggles to conserve resources.

3. Personality Changes

On the more frightening end of the spectrum are the personality changes resulting from heroin abuse.

When someone has a heroin problem, it becomes the focus of their life. It’s their reason for getting up in the morning and the sole motivator behind their actions. Anyone else’s needs become irrelevant, especially if they conflict with the person’s ability to get high.

If you notice that your once kind, generous loved one has become closed off, uncaring, and even selfish to the point of cruelty, this is a major red flag. Even the sweetest person can turn callous, reckless, and mean when looking for their next hit.

This also coincides with disengagement from family and friends. While an addict may be able to maintain appearances for a while, they inevitably turn further and further inward as their addiction worsens. Usually, this shows up in the form of excuses, missed commitments, and lacking interest in the wellbeing of others.

4. Lying and Manipulating

There are two big commonalities across addictions: lying and manipulative behavior.

If you’ve known and trusted someone for many years, it can be hard to set that trust aside when they start lying to you. A particularly skilled liar can fool their closest friends and family members for years on end.

But the sad truth is that addicts lie constantly, whether the lie is big or small. They lie about where they were when they were actually buying or using drugs. They lie about why they were late or why they missed a commitment. They lie about the thousands of dollars they spend on drugs.

If a person’s behavior changes and their explanations don’t add up, you have to hold onto your common sense. When an explanation doesn’t make sense, there’s usually a good reason.

Sometimes, you can investigate the explanation and catch your loved one in a lie. A lot of the time, though, there’s no way to call your loved one out for lying to you without voicing your real suspicions.

Manipulative behavior isn’t as obvious, especially if your loved one is good at it.

Sometimes it’s a subtle redirection of the conversation when your loved one is avoiding an explanation of where they were. Sometimes it’s more insidious, like guilt-baiting, the silent treatment, passive-aggressiveness, or conditional acceptance.

Sometimes, it’s obvious–promising to go to treatment, or to quit using, or any number of promises to lull you into believing them.

Don’t let yourself fall for it in the hopes that the problem will go away if you believe them. You can’t afford to wait for them to hit rock bottom.

5. Shifting Blame

Another common tactic among addicts is shifting blame, also expressed as playing the victim.

Your loved one may have been a responsible person before. Heroin takes that away. Remember–when someone is addicted, the only thing that really matters is the next high.

Addicted individuals quickly become masters of lying to themselves in order to deflect their internal feelings of guilt and blame, which makes it easy, as time goes on, to deflect blame onto others.

For example, if your loved one loses their job, they’ll say they were unfairly targeted by their boss.

Anytime you attempt to bring up problems with your loved one, they’ll find a way to shift the blame onto you or others. Don’t get angry, don’t rise to the bait, and don’t let yourself be misdirected. You know what the problem is, and you can’t let your loved one off the hook.

6. Ongoing Health Problems

Along with the physical symptoms of heroin abuse, your loved one will also experience ongoing health problems as a result of long-term abuse.

One of the most common signs is a runny nose that cannot be explained by an illness, allergies, the weather, or any other medical condition.

Since heroin is taken via injection, problems with the blood and veins are unique to heroin abuse. Repeated abuse can lead to collapsed veins, which can, in turn, create blood clots and abscesses.

If your loved one is careless with their needles, there’s also a high risk of blood-borne diseases and STDs, particularly HIV. Even if they don’t contract illnesses from other users, there’s still a significant risk of blood infections.

This may result in sepsis or septicemia, a condition in which the immune system is fighting overtime to resist a blood-borne infection.

In severe cases, this can lead to septic shock (a dangerous drop in blood pressure) which can quickly cause multiple organ failure–the kidneys, lungs, and liver are at especially high risk.

In addition, because your loved one isn’t eating (or isn’t eating normally), and because they’re neglecting personal hygiene, their immune system is operating at a disadvantage. This leaves them more susceptible to common illnesses and poorly equipped to fight off infection.

7. Change in Relationship Dynamics

Another thing you’ll notice in your loved one, especially as their addiction progresses, is a shift in relationship dynamics.

This will come in two parts. First, you will notice a declining interest in spending time with their family or friends. Second, you will see them spending more time with new friends who don’t seem to have any organic tie to them.

To be clear, making new friends on its own isn’t cause for concern. People make new friends all the time. It’s concerning if your loved one’s excuses for their time often crop up when these friends are involved, or if these friends exhibit many of the same troubling signs as your loved one.

And while a missed commitment here and there is rude, it’s not the end of the world. It’s cause for concern when it becomes a pattern of neglected family or work obligations followed by a litany of lame excuses, dismissiveness, or outright hostility.

Tragically, some addicts do become outright abusive to their loved ones, especially a spouse. If this happens, don’t let fear control you, and don’t feel like you owe it to your loved one to tolerate it.

There is no excuse for abuse of any kind, and there’s a difference between wanting to help your loved one and enabling their behavior. If a loved one is physically harmful or emotionally toxic, don’t neglect your own wellbeing in order to tend to theirs.

8. Financial Problems

If you notice your loved one is experiencing money problems that cannot be explained away, it could be a dangerous sign when paired with other red flags for heroin abuse.

Heroin is an expensive habit to maintain and it gets more expensive as time goes on. If items go missing in your home, bills are missed, or groceries are neglected, you should wonder where that money is going.

If you have any shared accounts that show withdrawals that cannot be explained, the same thing applies.

Someone with access to cash may also embezzle funds from their workplace or steal valuable items. They may also shoplift or commit credit fraud.

It’s also concerning if your loved one keeps asking you for money without any real explanation for their financial problems or why they seem to use up the money you give without any apparent improvement to the situation.

9. Loss of Concentration or Interest

Finally, you may also notice a loss of concentration or interest.

For example, a teenager who previously had good grades and performed well in school may start having academic problems or neglecting activities they once enjoyed. A spouse may neglect date night, happy hour, work functions, or dinners with friends.

A shift in priorities due to a job or a move is one thing. A sudden lack of interest in beloved activities is something else entirely.

This also ties into a lack of communication with friends and family. As your loved one sinks deeper into addiction, it becomes easier for them to cover their addiction if they limit interaction with friends and family.

If You See the Signs of Heroin Use

If you see the signs of heroin use in your loved one, you can’t afford to wait. Heroin addiction is incredibly dangerous and can have a catastrophic effect on your loved one’s life.

The good news is that you don’t have to fight it alone.

We help you get in touch with recovery professionals specializing in heroin addiction. Click here to check out our available resources. Or, if you’re ready to get your loved one started on the road to recovery, get in touch with us today.

Homeless Women More Likely Abuse Heroin Other Drugs - Addiction Treatment Services

Homeless Women More Likely to Abuse Heroin, Other Drugs

Homeless Women More Likely Abuse Heroin Other Drugs - Addiction Treatment Services Although drug and alcohol abuse is on the rise nationally among several demographics, substance abuse among the homeless is still more prevalent than in the rest of the population.

Thirty-eight percent of homeless people were dependent on alcohol and 26 percent abused other drugs, according to estimates back in 2003 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

According to more recent data, only 10.1 percent of all Americans older than the age of 12 reported using illegal drugs within the previous month, the 2015 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found.

Homelessness and Addiction Statistics

It’s well known that there is a strong correlation between addiction and homelessness. However, because homeless people often get ignored or overlooked by the health care system, actual stats are hard to find.

The most recent data available comes from Homeless Link, a U.K.-based charity that aims to provide help for the homeless. To determine what sort of help was needed, the group conducted a survey of 3,355 homeless people in 2015 to investigate the mental and physical health of this population.

The study found that:

  • 90 percent of all homeless people were suffering from some type of mental illness.
  • A total of 37 percent of those polled admitted to abusing alcohol within the last month.

Homeless Women at Even Greater Risk

Homeless Women And Men Abuse Heroin Statistic - Addiction Treatment Services The study also found that homeless women are more likely than men to abuse heroin and crack cocaine.

  • 33 percent of women who were polled admitted to abusing heroin, while “only” 28 percent of the men did.
  • 31 percent of the women who were homeless stated that they abused crack cocaine in the last month, compared to 29 percent of the men.

The results from the study indicate that there is a severe lack of health care for people living on the streets, at least in the U.K. – although the United States would appear to be in a similar predicament.

The Homeless Link report recommends focusing on providing mental health and preventative care to the homeless to reduce the substance abuse problem.

“The details revealed by this research may be surprising, but they illustrate how useful a health-needs audit can be in accurately assessing the needs of those experiencing homelessness,” Jacqui McCluskey, director of policy and communications at Homeless Link, told a local CBS affiliate in D.C. “This evidence is vital for local areas to ensure the most effective responses to people’s needs are commissioned.”

Given that these statistics are already a few years old, the reality of the problem of addiction among the homeless may be even more severe than the stats indicate.

The Link Between Homelessness and Addiction

In some cases, drug or alcohol addiction is the cause of homelessness. In other cases, alcohol and drugs are abused after the participants became homeless, as a means of trying to cope with the situation.

The Mental Illness Factor

People who suffer from mental illness often have difficulty keeping employment and maintaining relationships. As a result, they may end up on the streets. They commonly turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with the stress and discomfort of living without adequate food or shelter, and as a way to self-medicate the symptoms of their mental illness.

Many non-homeless people with mental illness also use addictive substances to self-medicate, so those with mental health issues may already be addicted when they become homeless.

The Opioid Epidemic and Heroin

The number of people in the U.S. who are addicted to heroin, an opiate drug, has exploded in recent years. In 2014, an estimated 2.5 million Americans were addicted to either heroin or prescription opioid drugs, and in 2015, more than 30,000 deaths resulted from overdoses on those same drugs.

This alarming trend is due in large part to the widespread use of prescription painkillers. These legal opioid drugs are extremely addictive and should only be used for short-term, acute pain management. However, many people use them for too long and become addicted. Once their painkiller prescriptions run out, they turn to heroin as a cheaper and more readily available alternative.

When the chase for the next high leads to loss of job and home, many of these heroin addicts end up on the streets.

We Must Stop the Cycle of Addiction and Homelessness

One study found that overdose has surpassed HIV as the leading cause of death among the homeless population, with opioids alone being responsible for more than 80 percent of those deaths.

Since drug use often leads to homelessness, it’s likely that as the drug problems in this country continue to grow, the homeless problem will also continue to grow. This would further increase the addiction problem. And it’s why it’s critical to break the cycle by getting homeless people the help they need.

In addition to traditional forms of support for the homeless, like food and housing, our society needs to also make sure these individuals also have access to addiction treatment and resources for managing mental illness.

Learn More About Heroin Addiction and Treatment

Understand Heroin Addiction