Heroin: The Basics

Heroin is an opioid drug that is derived from morphine. Morphine is a powerful, naturally occurring painkiller that is derived from various opium poppy plants. These plants are grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, Colombia, and other areas of the world.

Heroin was first discovered in 1874 by C.R. Wright, an English researcher. In 1989, the Bayer Company introduced heroin for medicinal use, however, healthcare professionals quickly saw that their patients were developing a tolerance to the drug and becoming addicted.

In the United States, heroin was able to be bought and sold legally until 1914 when the Harrison Narcotics Act required it to be obtained from a doctor. Heroin was later outlawed as part of the Anti-Heroin Act of 1924.

Even though heroin remains illegal, heroin abuse continues to be a widespread issue across the United States. Many people who became addicted to prescription opioids like OxyContin eventually started using heroin as their prescriptions became harder to get.

Heroin can come in the form of a powder that ranges in color from brown to white. It can also come in the form of a sticky solid substance known as “black tar heroin.”

Heroin is considered to be one of the most addictive and dangerous drugs out there. In today’s illicit drug market, much of the heroin that is bought and sold also contains fentanyl, a deadly opioid that is nearly 50 times stronger. Using heroin, even once, can lead to a life-threatening overdose or a serious substance use disorder.

Side Effects of Heroin Abuse

People who use heroin often report feeling an intense rush followed by euphoria, warmth, and relaxation. Common side effects of heroin include:

  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness or sedation
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Slurred speech
  • Constricted pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itching or scratching
  • Constipation
  • Respiratory depression (slowed breathing), which can lead to overdose and death

When too much heroin is consumed, breathing and other vital functions can slow down to dangerous levels, resulting in an overdose. Symptoms of heroin overdose include:

  • Extreme drowsiness or unresponsiveness
  • Shallow or slowed breathing
  • Blue lips or fingertips (cyanosis)
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Weak pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

If you suspect someone is experiencing a heroin overdose, it’s critical to seek emergency medical assistance immediately. Administering naloxone, if available, can temporarily reverse the effects of the overdose and potentially save the person’s life.

Long-Term Effects of Heroin Abuse

Heroin abuse can quickly lead to addiction, and overcoming heroin addiction can be incredibly challenging. As a result, many people find themselves facing long-term consequences.

Long-term heroin use can lead to a variety of physical, mental, and social consequences, including:

  • Addiction – Heroin is highly addictive, and long-term use can rapidly lead to physical and psychological dependence.
  • Tolerance – Over time, individuals may develop a tolerance to heroin, requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effects.
  • Withdrawal symptoms – When someone with physical dependence on heroin stops using or reduces their dose, they can experience severe withdrawal symptoms, including muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, and involuntary leg movements.
  • Physical health issues – Chronic heroin use can lead to numerous health problems, including respiratory issues, cardiovascular complications, liver and kidney disease, gastrointestinal problems, and infectious diseases (e.g., HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C) from sharing needles.
  • Mental health conditions – Heroin use is associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and antisocial personality disorder.
  • Cognitive impairment – Prolonged heroin use can impair cognitive and brain functions, including memory, attention, and decision-making abilities.
  • Social consequences – Heroin addiction can strain relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. It may even lead to job loss, unemployment, financial instability, legal problems, and homelessness.
  • Overdose – The risk of overdose increases with long-term heroin use due to factors such as tolerance, variability in purity and potency of street drugs, risky behaviors, and polysubstance use.
  • Decline in quality of life – Heroin addiction can significantly diminish a person’s overall quality of life, leading to isolation, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, and a sense of hopelessness.
  • Increased mortality risk – Long-term heroin use is associated with a higher risk of premature death from overdose, accidents, infectious diseases, and medical complications.

Seeking comprehensive treatment for heroin addiction, including medical detox, behavioral therapy, and peer support services, is the best way to address both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction and improve overall well-being.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms: What Happens When You Quit?

Abruptly quitting heroin after a period of regular or heavy use can result in moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms can appear as soon as four hours after the last dose and last for about a week.

Common symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Goosebumps
  • Dilated pupils
  • Runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tremors or shaking

Heroin withdrawal is typically not life-threatening, but it can result in relapse and extreme discomfort without proper treatment. Medical detox centers specializing in treating opioid addiction can prescribe medications and safely guide individuals through the detox process.

Heroin Addiction Treatment Programs

The first step in heroin addiction treatment is medical detox. Individuals undergo supervised withdrawal in a safe and supportive environment. Health care professionals may administer medications that have received FDA approval to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings, such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone.

After detox, clients have various treatment options, including inpatient or outpatient care. Most people benefit from inpatient or residential treatment programs, where they live at the treatment facility for a specified period. These programs provide intensive, around-the-clock care and support, including medical supervision, individual and group therapy, evidence-based practices, and skill-building activities.

Therapies used include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Motivational interviewing (MI)
  • Contingency management (CM)
  • Family behavior therapy
  • Relapse prevention therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)

Treatment centers can also provide integrated care for co-occurring mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more.

After treatment, individuals should continue their recovery with an aftercare program. Aftercare may involve sober living, medication management, an alumni program, and support groups.

Get Treatment for Heroin Addiction in California

As a leading substance abuse treatment provider in California, Invigorate Behavioral Health proudly offers specialized heroin detox and rehab programs. With a dedicated staff and effective treatments, individuals struggling with heroin addiction can find hope and support on their journey to recovery.

Don’t wait any longer to take the first step towards recovery. Contact us today to learn more about our heroin addiction treatment programs in California

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