Substance Abuse
Substance Abuse: Heroin

Heroin Addiction: What You Need To Know

If you're concerned that someone you love is struggling with heroin abuse, it can be hard to figure out what to do next. You care about your loved one, but you may be unsure of how to approach the topic of drug addiction. Here, we'll take a look at everything you need to know about heroin addiction, including what heroin is made of, how a person becomes addicted to heroin, how to know if it's likely that someone you love is using heroin, what heroin addiction looks like, common symptoms of heroin withdrawal, and how a person who is living with heroin addiction can begin the process of getting well.

What Is Heroin?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Heroin can be a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin."

The poppy plant derivative is incredibly addictive, and people can ingest the drug in many ways. Some people inject heroin, while others sniff, snort, or smoke it. Heroin is sometimes mixed with crack cocaine.

How Does a Person Become a Heroin Addict?

When a person uses heroin, it attaches to opioid receptors in the brain. This creates a nearly instantaneous positive effect that both relieves pain and creates pleasure. Some people turn to heroin after suffering from addiction to prescription opioid drugs, then being unable to get the drug after their prescription runs out.

The opioid receptors affected by heroin use are also involved in a person's sleeping, breathing, and heart rate.

People who use heroin don't just become addicted to the drug for its psychological effects–they also become addicted physically. When a person first uses heroin, they notice a feeling of euphoria. Over time, however, they become physically dependent and need more and more of the drug just to move through the day without pain.

Why is Heroin So Addictive?

Substance use disorder can be especially difficult to overcome for people who are addicted to heroin.

The high associated with heroin use lasts for three to five hours, and people who use the drug experience a feeling of euphoria for most of the time they're under the influence of the drug. When the drug enters the body, it's converted to morphine. This creates a rush that's impossible to recreate without drugs.

Many people who use heroin find that no high is as intense as the first time they tried the drug. Users may spend months or even years trying to get the same feeling as the first time they used heroin. This can result in increased physical dependence, ongoing addiction, and even death from a heroin overdose.

Signs of Heroin Use

It can be hard to figure out if a person is using heroin. People who are living with addiction often struggle to be honest with the people who are closest to them, which can make it hard to detect whether a person is using drugs or if there is another reason why their behavior has changed.

The effects of heroin use can differ from person to person, and may include:

  • Extreme mood swings: People who are living with heroin addiction often swing from depression to euphoria as soon as they get the chance to use again. If you notice that a loved one seems to sink into extreme depression and then appear euphoric after spending some time alone or out of the house, it's possible that they may be using heroin.
  • Agitation, irritability, and hostility: The extreme physical and psychological symptoms that come with the beginning stages of withdrawal can make it difficult for people who are living with addiction to maintain an even mood, especially when they're struggling to get ahold of heroin.
  • Disorientation and hallucinations: Both active use and withdrawal can cause a person who is addicted to heroin to become disoriented or to hallucinate.
  • Track marks: Many people who use heroin inject the drug, which can result in issues with the circulatory system, including vein problems. A common sign of heroin addition is wearing long pants and shirts, no matter the weather, in an attempt to cover track marks.

What Are The Signs That a Person is Addicted to Heroin?

Over time, a person who has begun to use heroin is highly likely to become addicted. In addition to the signs of heroin use listed above, people who are addicted to heroin may exhibit symptoms including:

  • Decline in work performance or home duties
  • Changes in social circle
  • Changes in speech patterns
  • Hot skin and extreme itching
  • Stealing items and lying
  • Hidden stash of burned spoons, shoelaces, glass pipes, or needles
  • Significant weight loss
  • Bruises or scabs on the skin as a result of feeling like something is under the skin

Heroin Withdrawal

It can be scary to go through withdrawal from opioids, including heroin. While death is unlikely due to heroin withdrawal, the symptoms of getting the drug out of your body can be incredibly difficult.

It's smart to go through the withdrawal process under the supervision of a well-trained substance abuse treatment team. When you choose detox, you'll get to work with professionals who understand what you're going through and can provide you with the support you need to get well.

People who are experiencing heroin withdrawal may go through a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Severe cravings
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Gastrointestinal problems, including vomiting and diarrhea
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Cold flashes

Thankfully, heroin withdrawal passes within a few days. It's important to have the support that you need to get through this period. Some people attempt to go through withdrawal on their own, only to give in to the severe psychological and physical cravings that come with the withdrawal period. Having the proper supports in place is important for staying strong until withdrawal symptoms subside.

Recovering From Heroin Addiction

If you or one of your family members is living with heroin abuse, it can be hard to imagine coming out on the other side. Heroin is a highly addictive substance, but with the right behavioral and mental health treatment, a person can come out on the other side. We're proud to follow the National Institutes recommendations on heroin addiction treatment plans, and we're here to help you and your family, no matter how far you've gone into addiction. Reach out to us today to learn more about how the behavioral health services at our treatment center can help.


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