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Signs Of Heroin Use

Heroin, which is an opiate drug, is highly addictive. As such, heroin abuse and addiction has been linked to numerous instances of destroyed lives. It also affects the life, performance, productivity, and relationships of the user - wreaking havoc in their personal and professional lives.

If you suspect that your loved one is using this harmful drug, therefore, it is imperative that you learn more about the signs of heroin use. This way, you could potentially spot the problem and help your loved one overcome it before it takes them down the harmful and destructive road to dependence, addiction, withdrawal, and overdose.

In this guide, you will learn more about heroin use, abuse, and addiction, how to stop using this drug, its withdrawal symptoms, and how to help a loved one who might be on the way to developing or already have developed chemical dependence on this substance.

About Heroin Abuse

As we mentioned earlier, heroin is a highly addictive and illicit drug. In spite of this, millions of people around the globe abuse it, with most of them in a position where they cannot overcome the compelling urge and cravings to continue using it on a daily basis. Most of them are unable to overcome their abuse because they know that when they stop using heroin, they will have to contend with the horrors of its withdrawal.

That said, the most common form of the drug are black tar and white powder heroin - which people abuse through snorting, smoking, and taking it intravenously. The greatest instance of use involves injecting the drug - which tends to create additional risks and dangers for the user - including but not limited to other infections like AIDS - over and above the usual struggles linked to heroin abuse and addiction. On the street, the drug is also known by a variety of names, such as dope, gear, and smack.

Signs And Symptoms Of Heroin Use, Abuse, And Addiction

Anyone who uses this drug will experience a variety of behavioral, physical, and psychological signs and symptoms. Potential symptoms, for instance, include euphoria, drowsiness, aggressiveness, irritability, confusion, irrationality, itching, and social withdrawal.

The user may also start spending more time people new people - including those who have already started showing the signs of heroin use. Additionally, they might start stealing and engaging in other illegal behavior to support their new habit. Others are highly likely to use slang terms related to heroin use in a bid to try and hide the fact that they are active users. These terms include skin popping, slamming, shooting, Skag, skunk, junk, and H.

The main physical symptom of abusing this drug, however, revolves around tolerance. This is because, overtime, the user will have to start taking larger doses of the drug on a more frequent basis than they initially did to achieve the effects they desire.

On the other hand, if they are ever in a situation where they can't use the drug - or if they are forced to significantly reduce their dose, it is highly likely that they will go into withdrawal mode.

Withdrawing from opiates like heroin tends to present a variety of severe symptoms, including but not limited to nausea, muscle spasms, depression, and intense cravings for the drug.

In the medical community, there is widespread agreement that anyone who withdraws from this substance should only do so under the care, monitoring, and observation of a medical doctor specialized in addiction treatment. This is due to the dangerous symptoms that often accompany such withdrawal.

Consider the following additional symptoms and signs of heroin use:

1. Behavioral Signs of Heroin Use

For most mental health and addiction treatment specialists, the terms addiction and physical dependence are no longer considered to be acceptable and/or clinically accurate. According to DSM-5 (the 5th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), substance use disorder is a more descriptive and accurate term.

Since, DSM-5 is now considered as the main handbook and authority in the addiction and mental health treatment sector, any disorder that isn't listed in it may not be covered by insurance companies.

That said, opioid disorder is now listed on the handbook - a disorder that also includes but isn't limited to drugs like heroin, among other opioids such as prescription pain relievers (Percocet, hydrocodone, and oxycodone) and the synthetic drug fentanyl.

According to DSM-5, individuals can only be diagnosed with an opioid use disorder when they experience intense destress and/or impairment arising from a minimum of 2 of the 11 main symptoms in a period of 12 consecutive months. Some of these symptoms include:

  • A persistent urge and desire to use heroin in spite of their knowledge that the drug has been negatively impacting certain critical areas of their life, such as school, work, and family
  • Experiencing tolerance, which happens when their brain has become so used to having heroin in the system that it starts requiring the user to take more of the substance to achieve the desired effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal whenever they reduce their intake of heroin - or any other opioid
  • Intense cravings to abuse the drug
  • Reduce engagement and participation in significant areas of the user's life, including but not limited to school, work, and social sphere, arising from their opioid abuse
  • The presence of drug paraphernalia related to heroin, including metal and glass pipes, balloons and baggies to hold the drug, aluminum foil, and syringes
  • Heroin kits, which comprise small carrying cases that may include a syringe, spoon, filter, lighter, candle, rope, or belt
  • Increased social isolation, where the user spends more time on their own and they withdrawal from close friends and family members
  • An increase in the number of lies told, where the user tries to disguise the fact that they are actively engaged with heroin
  • An increase in the number of things that go missing, including charged credit cards, emptied bank accounts, and liquidated financial assets
  • Increase in run-ins with law enforcement officials

2. Physical Signs of Heroin Use

According to recent research, people who abuse heroin report experiencing a variety of effects. Some say that using this drug causes them to experience intense euphoria, as well as warm feelings that cause them to stop worrying and feeling stressed. Others describe the feeling as a sort of dream-like state.

All these experiences and feelings are especially attractive to people who might be trying to deal with pre-existing mental health disorders. In fact, one study reported that 75% of the participants of the study has depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and bipolar disorder.

Other studies show that there are many links between heroin abuse and addiction and co-occurring mental health issues - a condition that is variously described as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis.

That said, heroin use is now linked to many different short term symptoms and side effects. According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), heroin use may cause - besides exhilaration - many different side effects shortly after or immediately after the episode of use:

  • Clouded mental capacities
  • Drowsiness (which could persist for a couple of hours)
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Severe itching sensations
  • Slowed breathing (which may lead to coma, permanent brain damage, and/or death)
  • Slowed heart rate
  • The legs and arms may feel heavy and leaden
  • Vomiting
  • Warm flushing feelings on the skin

On the other hand, there are many other long term side effects linked to chronic heroin abuse. NIDA reports the following known long term consequences of using this opiate drug:

a) Brain Damage

Heroin users carry the risk of suffering brain damage - which might prove to be permanent in some cases. For instance, studies show that abusing this drug chronically may affect the level of white matter inside the brain. In turn, this could affect your stress response, ability to control your behavior, and decision making capabilities.

b) Physical Tolerance

Physical tolerance is also referred to as physical dependence. It is another one of the symptoms of long term heroin use.

c) Withdrawal Symptoms

As a result of developing physical tolerance, when you stop abusing heroin or you significantly reduce the dose your body has become used you, it is highly likely that you may experience intense withdrawal.

Some of the usually withdrawal symptoms linked to long term heroin use include restlessness, cold flashes, involuntary leg spasms and movements, goosebumps, diarrhea, vomiting, bone and muscular pain, and insomnia. Typically, these symptoms will peak 24 to 48 hours after your last episode of heroin abuse. They might also start subsidizing 7 to 10 days after but may persist for many more months.

d) Opioid Use Disorder

Abusing heroin chronically and in the long term might cause you to develop a form of opioid use disorder. As we mentioned earlier, anyone who uses this drug and experiences some clinically-recognized symptoms would naturally be considered to have developed such a disorder. That said, any form of heroin use - including but not limited to injecting, sniffing, and smoking - may lead to a fast onset of this disorder.

e) Others

There are many other serious long term effects linked to heroin use and abuse. If you have a long history of abusing this drug, therefore, you are highly likely to experience:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Contracting diseases like Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, and HIV
  • Developing lung diseases, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Infections on the lining of the valves and the heart
  • Skin infections like abscesses and cellulitis

SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) also reported in 2014 that close to 586,000 people in the United States were suffering from heroin use disorders.

The same report showed that one of the most serious of these side effects is death. In the same year, in fact, NIDA reported that there were over 10,000 overdose fatalities in the country arising from heroin use.

Additionally, NIDA showed that the number of overdose deaths linked to heroin from 2001 all the way to 2010 were below the 4,000 mark but continued climbing from 2011 all the way through to 2014. For instance, this number was over 4,000 in 2011, close to 6,000 in 2012, and about 8,000 in 2013.

3. Psychological Signs of Heroin Use

Some of the psychological signs of heroin abuse and addiction include:

  • A general inability to experience pleasure
  • Altered perception of reality
  • Anxiety
  • Arrested emotional development
  • Confused thinking
  • Depression
  • Emotional suppression
  • Insomnia
  • Intense cravings for the drug
  • Irrational decision-making
  • Lack of motivation
  • Moodiness
  • Problem solving difficulties

In the same way, using and abusing heroin may create a variety of mental health symptoms. These symptoms might emerge at different times - such as immediately after you use the drug, during withdrawal, as well as after recovery.

Heroin And The Brain

Heroin comes with a slippery slope leading from recreational use to the onset of a serious opioid use disorder. This can be explained by how the drug works inside the human brain.

On reaching the brain, the drug is typically broken down to form morphine that - in its turn - will bond to the brain's opioid receptors. Morphine works by extremely exciting these receptors, such as it causes a rush of several neurotransmitters like dopamine. These neurotransmitters eventually flood the brain.

Due to the high amount of the neurotransmitters, you may experience intense euphoria. However, continued use of the drug over time might severely impair the natural regulation of dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain.

These changes in the environment of your brain may cause you to experience the behavioral, physical, and psychological signs and symptoms of heroin use and abuse listed above.

Heroin Use And Addiction Treatment

As you have seen above, heroin is highly addictive and may cause severe dependence as well as intense withdrawal. This may cause you to continue abusing the drug and to avoid all forms of treatment.

However, you need to realize that withdrawal proper detox, treatment, and rehabilitation, you may never recover fully from abusing this drug. Eventually, it could also lead to certain sudden death.

Overall, the best solution is to seek treatment at an accredited, licensed facility. This may usually take the form of behavioral therapy and use of medications beginning with medically assisted detoxification and going through behavioral treatment in an outpatient or inpatient setting.

Find Resources

If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, it is imperative that you look for professional help as soon as you possibly can. However, you might not know where to start or the options that are open to you. Similarly, you may have little to no idea about the differences between the different treatment facilities and the programs they have in store for their patients.

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