Heroin comes from opium poppy plants that grow mostly in Colombia, Mexico, and Southwest Asia. The substance is used to make morphine and other opioid drugs. In its finished form, heroin is either white, brown, or the type reminiscent of tar. Heroin has been used in medicine because of the effects it has on the brain, but these effects also make heroin a commonly abused drug.
The Effects on the Brain
Heroin enters the brain rather quickly and targets the opioid receptors in the areas associated with breathing, sleeping, heart rate, pleasure, and pain. In the process, it causes the user to experience euphoria.
When people ingest heroin by shooting up or another method, they receive the euphoric rush they are seeking, but they also must contend with several side effects. These include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Mental fog
- Extreme itching
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling as if the arms and legs weigh much more than they do
- Flushed or warm skin
- Dry mouth
The Long-Term Side Effects
After people use heroin for a long period of time, they typically begin to experience the following long-term side effects:
- Irregular menstrual cycles in women and erectile dysfunction in men
- Problems with the lungs, like pneumonia
- Kidney disease and liver disease
- Stomach cramps and constipation
- Endocarditis, an infection of the heart’s lining and valves
- A damaged nose if the heroin is being snorted
- Collapsed veins if the drug is being injected
In addition to the several effects listed above, the additives found in heroin have the potential to clog a user’s blood vessels. Dealers add starch, sugar, or powdered milk to heroin, and it travels to the brain, kidneys, liver, and lungs. Before the blood can arrive, it may develop clogs, and this causes permanent damage.
Signs of Addiction
If a person uses heroin on a regular basis, they need to occasionally increase the amount of the substance to obtain the same effects. That is because they are becoming tolerant, so the amount used in the beginning is not enough to create the euphoric effects that the person experienced when they first started.
Once addicted, a person will not be able to stop using the drug on their own. That is because heroin causes people to experience extremely harsh withdrawal symptoms, including the following:
- Extreme cravings for the drug
- The inability to stop kicking one’s legs
- Cold flashes and goosebumps
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Problems sleeping
- Extreme pain in the bones and the muscles
Some heroin users are also using other substances, which can increase the risk of overdose. In 2010, 3,036 people died from a heroin overdose, but in 2018, that number increased to 14,996 deaths.
When a person overdoses on heroin, their breathing will begin to slow down, and it often stops entirely. When this occurs, the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen, and the result is a condition called hypoxia. If hypoxia doesn’t cause the person to fall into a coma, it can cause permanent brain damage and lead to other mental effects.
Injection of Heroin
People who abuse heroin may snort, smoke, or inject it. This third method is the most dangerous form of administering the drug.
Injecting heroin is also called “shooting heroin,” and it adds another element of danger to this already dangerous drug. People opt to inject heroin because they can administer the drug directly into their bloodstreams to feel the effects immediately. This also causes the user to feel the effects more intensely. People typically place the drug in a spoon and heat it with a lighter until the substance becomes a liquid. Then, they can inject it with a needle.
Injecting heroin intravenously causes many problems. People often experience collapsed veins and venous sclerosis, which causes the veins to harden and become narrow. This makes it harder for people to continue to inject heroin into the same vein. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make people stop trying to inject heroin into a damaged vein. If the vein is so damaged and scarred that they cannot inject heroin into it, they will inject the drug directly into their muscles or choose another vein for injection purposes.
Skin infections are another danger associated with heroin use, and they are the most serious of the complications. Bacterial infections are common because the drug can leak outside of the vein during injection. Therefore, it may cause the tissue to die because of the toxic chemicals that exist in the drug. The fact that there are bacteria on the skin’s surface also increases the risk of infection.
Injecting heroin can lead to a condition known as wound botulism. This is a very dangerous condition and can be fatal.
Wound botulism affects a user when a germ by the name of Clostridium botulinum enters a wound. When this occurs, it creates a toxin that attacks the nerves. This makes it hard for people to breathe and causes the muscles to weaken. It may even lead to death.
A person with wound botulism must be treated with the antitoxin so that the bacteria cannot continue to cause further damage. After receiving the antitoxin, the person will most likely be required to remain hospitalized for months before being released from the hospital, and the damage that occurred before the antitoxin was given cannot be reversed.
Sometimes, people inject heroin into tissue rather than a vein. When this occurs, the area can become infected and cause an abscess. Skin abscesses can be harmless, but they can also lead to serious complications. Severe complications include the following:
- Osteomyelitis or a bone infection
- Gangrene of the area surrounding the abscess
- The formation of new abscesses
- The infection of the lining of the heart valves known as endocarditis
- The danger of the infection traveling to the spinal cord or the brain
Heroin users often share their needles with each other, and this increases the risk of contracting a blood-borne disease. A user could contract HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in this manner. Many heroin users also contract hepatitis C from sharing needles. Hepatitis C is a medical condition that leads to serious health issues in most people.
Some city governments have implemented measures aimed at reducing the instances of the transmission of hepatitis C. For example, some communities have needle exchange programs that make it unnecessary for someone to reuse a needle to inject heroin.
The best way to ensure that a heroin user doesn’t contract HIV or Hepatitis C is to help them stop injecting heroin. At a rehab facility like Granite Recovery Center, heroin users can learn how to stop their substance use and get back on the right track to a healthy and sober life.
If you spot the signs of addiction in your close friend or family member, an intensive treatment program may be just what your loved one needs. When your loved one first enters a rehab program, it will be impossible for them to participate in counseling sessions if they are suffering from withdrawal symptoms. They will have the best chance of completing treatment if they go through drug detox first. Our medical personnel will make sure that your loved one is comfortable during the process by administering non-addictive drugs or other treatments for their withdrawal symptoms.
One example of a medication that helps heroin users is the FDA-approved lofexidine. Other medications also include methadone and buprenorphine. These medications bind to the same receptors that heroin used to bind to in your loved one’s brain, but it will decrease the withdrawal symptoms so that they can easily be tolerated.
After your loved one completes the detoxification process, they will be ready to begin counseling. The types of counseling that work best with those addicted to heroin include cognitive behavioral therapy and contingency management. Cognitive-behavioral therapy changes your loved one’s behaviors and helps them alter their expectations. It also helps them react to stress and triggers in a positive manner that doesn’t take them in the direction of using heroin again.
Contingency management is a type of therapy that offers your loved one incentives for living a life without heroin. By proving that they can exist free of drugs, they will receive rewards for positive behaviors. Your loved one may also receive medication while participating in counseling sessions. This increases the effectiveness of your loved one’s behavioral therapy.
Failure to Obtain Treatment for a Substance Use Disorder
When people do not obtain treatment for a substance use disorder, the future can look very bleak. The real possibility that your loved one could overdose on heroin and die exists, but the following complications are also a cause for concern:
- People engage in unsafe sexual practices when they are addicted to heroin, so they have an increased risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and other sexually transmitted diseases.
- Heroin users typically cannot maintain their romantic relationships.
- They are at risk of being arrested.
- They may experience memory loss and a lack of concentration.
- They often lose their jobs.
- They are often depressed.
Granite Recovery Center
At Granite Recovery Center, we can offer your loved one help through our women-specific treatment program. It is very common for women addicted to substances to have experienced sexual abuse. They might have used drugs as a way to medicate their pain away and become addicted. In rehab, heroin users recovering from sexual abuse might find it difficult to discuss the past when men are present. Our treatment program specifically for women allows them to feel safe when talking about the past that caused them to begin taking drugs.
Men have issues that are specific to them as well. For example, most men are not likely to talk about their issues with drugs. Many men were raised to be self-sufficient, strong and to hide their feelings. They may internalize their problems and seek to solve them by resorting to heroin use. To address men’s needs, we also have a men-specific treatment program.
After your loved one completes their treatment program, they will have the chance to continue treatment at a sober living home. Sober living homes are facilities that provide your loved one with continued addiction treatment services, but they are less restrictive than inpatient treatment facilities. While in a sober living home, your loved one will be in a safe place with plenty of support from our staff and their peers in recovery.
If you would like more information about Granite Recovery Centers, feel free to contact us today. We’re here to offer information about treating heroin addiction and other types of substance use disorder.