Many people understand the overall health implications of a heroin overdose, but you might be wondering if heroin overdoses are painful. You might also be wondering what exactly happens to your body when you overdose and if there are lasting health problems. We will answer that while also providing you resources to help with heroin addiction. You can recover from heroin addiction whether you have or haven’t faced an overdose.
Heroin’s Effect on the Body
Before we answer if heroin overdoses are painful, it would be pertinent that you understand what heroin actually does in the body. Many people know that it’s a strong opiate that dramatically reduces pain, but you may not know why or how.
Heroin is sold in many different forms and used in a variety of ways. Normally it’s purchased as a powder, but some also sell it as a tar-like liquid. You can snort or smoke heroin, but the strongest effect and highest chance of overdose occur when it is mixed with water and injected. This gives it the shortest pathway to your brain, and injected heroin is absorbed fastest by your body.
Your brain has natural opioid receptors that reduce pain. This is why prescription opioids are so effective when used for medical purposes. Heroin binds directly to these opioid receptors and in quantities much higher than your body could ever naturally produce. Not only does this dramatically reduce pain in general, but it also increases dopamine and produces a euphoric feeling of happiness and pleasure.
Heroin Overdose and Pain
While some people report otherwise, the answer is that heroin overdoses are rarely painful. The excessive amount of opioids in your body will likely block pain from any source. Because of this, very few people report pain from the overdose itself. They might feel pain later, but most people report that a heroin overdose feels like just going to sleep. Even though pain is rare during an overdose, this does have significant implications for your health that you should be aware of.
What Is a Heroin Overdose?
If you don’t have to worry about pain during a heroin overdose, then what do you have to worry about? While the major effects of heroin are felt in the brain, it’s also impacting your central nervous system and respiratory system. You may notice that your breathing feels shallow while using heroin. An overdose amplifies this effect, and your body suddenly forgets how to naturally breathe. It feels like falling asleep, but this is actually your body slowly losing oxygen because your breathing has either stopped or is incredibly labored.
We also have to mention the heart because it’s also impacted during a heroin overdose. Many people suffer from heart arrhythmias while overdosing. This means that the heartbeat is irregular and weak. Your heart may not beat strong enough to pump blood throughout the body. This impacts your lungs, brain and every other organ.
While heroin overdoses can happen at any time when using increasing amounts of heroin, it’s most common for those who have relapsed and built a tolerance before abstaining. In this case, people frequently use far more than their bodies can normally handle, which significantly increases the odds of overdosing.
Heroin Overdose Warning Signs
While an overdose can happen without warning and may come on suddenly, there are warning signs that you should watch out for. Knowing these can help you or others spot when an overdose is coming.
The most common warning signs for a heroin overdose include:
- Weak pulse
- Slow breathing
- Feeling disoriented
- Pinpoint pupils
- Significant drowsiness
- Blue tint to either fingernails or lips
- Losing consciousness
We discussed above how heroin overdoses happen most frequently to those who have built up a tolerance, abstained for some time and then relapsed on a large amount of heroin. Other risk factors include using large amounts of heroin regardless of tolerance or relapse, taking unknown amounts of heroin, mixing unknown drugs together or combining heroin with a depressant such as alcohol or benzos.
Reacting to a Heroin Overdose
If you or someone else is facing a heroin overdose, then it’s important to act fast in order to help that person. The first step is always contacting an emergency service like 911. While many people are worried about this because heroin is an illegal substance, an overdose quickly becomes a matter of life and death.
Check the person to ensure they are breathing. As we discussed above, a heroin overdose stops or significantly slows down your breathing. This would also be an ideal time to administer naloxone if it is available. This is an opioid antagonist, which means that it rapidly reverses the effects of opioids in the body.
If you are alone and are feeling the effects of an overdose, then call 911 immediately before your breathing stops or you lose consciousness. This might be the only way to get through an overdose alive.
Are Heroin Overdoses Fatal?
As you may have guessed by now, heroin overdoses are indeed fatal and it’s very rare to survive without medical intervention. The odds decrease even further when someone overdoses alone and has suffered cardiac arrest. While many people do survive thanks to fast medical interventions and the administration of naloxone, there are many others who don’t survive this event.
It would be easy to say that you should avoid heroin overdoses, but that’s easier said than done if you have developed a dependency. That’s why treatment is available to help you learn the coping skills needed to deal with stress and to abstain from heroin and other substances.
Is Heroin Withdrawal Fatal?
Now that you know that heroin overdoses usually aren’t painful but are frequently fatal, you might be wondering about withdrawals and if they are painful or fatal. Contrary to popular belief, heroin withdrawal itself usually isn’t fatal. It’s uncomfortable, can be painful, causes numerous symptoms and some people are more prone to fatal withdrawals than others, but the withdrawal itself typically isn’t fatal.
That said, a medical detox or medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is frequently recommended when coming off heroin. We recommend this for numerous reasons. First of all, it’s common for many people to relapse as soon as they start feeling the withdrawal symptoms. There is also a chance that withdrawal can be fatal if you have an existing medical condition, such as a heart or breathing condition. MAT can ease the withdrawal symptoms and taper your amounts until you are free from any substances.
According to WebMD, the most common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Pain in muscles and bones
- Cold flashes
- Leg spasms
As you may notice, none of those symptoms sound particularly fatal. Those with heart and breathing conditions may die from the sudden pain and physical stress of heroin withdrawal, but a doctor can help monitor and ease the symptoms. There is also a risk for dehydration if the vomiting and diarrhea are significant.
The other possibility is that some people commit suicide during this time. MAT can ease the pain and other symptoms, which also reduces the chances of emotional desperation during withdrawal. While some people want to get through heroin withdrawal alone, we highly recommend MAT with a trained medical professional watching over your symptoms.
While MAT and medical detox are great for removing heroin from your body, this is rarely enough to ensure sustained abstinence. Most people need a treatment plan tailored to their needs to help them learn new coping skills, overcome cravings and connect with sober supports. There are various treatment options available based on the severity of your use, how you are currently dealing with cravings and which is best for your individual needs.
We offer residential treatment, which allows you to live at our facilities. This is a higher level of care that ensures you are disconnected from stressors like work, family, social pressures and more. It’s also ideal for those who live in unsupportive environments or where others are using.
This can be common for heroin use, especially if you have been using a long time or find it difficult to function without heroin. The residential program allows you to connect with peers who are also focused on recovery. You’ll attend group therapy and other activities aimed at helping you recover.
Intensive outpatient, or IOP, is common for anyone facing substance use disorder. This is group therapy that lasts for three hours and occurs three times a week. You’ll find that this gives you time to better understand your triggers, learn effective coping skills and connect with others facing similar struggles. The group is led by a qualified therapist who will guide the entire group through their recovery journey.
Between the two is a partial hospitalization program, or PHP. This type of program allows you to live at the facility during the day to receive medical treatments and group therapy, but you can go home at night to sleep, relax and connect with your family or sober supports. Many of those with a more severe addiction find PHP treatment useful as they can ease away from residential treatment before going into IOP or outpatient treatment.
About Granite Recovery Centers
We have been around for over 10 years and are dedicated to helping people like you recover from heroin, alcohol, benzos and other substances. This can be difficult, and every recovery journey is unique, but we can help guide you toward recovery.
Our facilities are built to cater to nearly every level of care, from outpatient individual sessions up to residential treatment and medical detox treatment. We also help connect clients with 12-step groups that can help aid in their sobriety. While many people feel that Narcotics Anonymous, or NA, is best for heroin use, you might be more comfortable in another similar group. We can help find the best one in the area that matches your preferences.
We believe that every client should be treated with respect regardless of use, conditions or anything else that brought you to our doors. We will work with you to create an individualized treatment plan that respects your wishes and the necessary level of care.
Get Help Today
Many people worry about heroin overdoses because they can be traumatic events. The truth is that, while some people do report pain, the overdose itself is rarely painful, but it has a high chance of being fatal. This is because your heart and lungs are impaired. Getting medical help immediately and using naloxone can help improve your odds of surviving an overdose.
If you’re ready to overcome heroin use and recover from addiction, then we are here to provide all the care you need. From outpatient treatment to residential care and more, we offer many treatment levels and have helped people just like you recover from heroin and other substances. Contact us today and let us know your needs, and we will work to create an effective treatment plan aimed at your recovery.