Heroin Abuse & Addiction Signs, Effects & Symptoms

Acadiana Addiction Center helps individuals struggling with heroin addiction build a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Serving Louisiana, Acadiana is the premier provider of alcohol and drug abuse treatment for adults.

Understanding Heroin Addiction

Learn About Heroin Abuse & Addiction

Heroin is a highly potent, fast-acting opiate narcotic which makes heroin one of the most abused illegal substances. Heroin is a derivative of morphine, which is a naturally-occurring opiate. When used heroin is said to create a rush of pleasure and overall wellbeing. After about a few hours the high wears off leaving the user eager to obtain more of the substance in order to get those pleasurable feelings back.

Heroin is especially dangerous as when the drug is bought on the street, it’s likely to be mixed with other substances. Sometimes the heroin is cut with substances such as cornstarch or baby powder, other times it is mixed with toxic substances such as arsenic or quinine. There is no way to know what the heroin bought off the streets is mixed with which can lead to overdose and death. Heroin is consumed in a number of different ways such as smoking, injecting, and snorting. All methods result in the substance reaching the brain at different rates of time.

After a while heroin addicts develop a tolerance to the drug which means that they require more and more in order to experience the desired high or rush. Soon heroin addicts spend all of their time, energy, and money trying to obtain the drug. The results of heroin abuse can be totally devastating, including consequences such as financial problems, relationship difficulties, decline in work or school performance. Heroin addiction is a long-term disease that causes an individual to keep using despite all of the negative consequences they are facing. However, with professional treatment individuals struggling with an addiction to heroin can overcome their impulse to use.

Statistics

Statistics for Heroin Abuse

It has been estimated that of 4.2 million people (1.6%) in the U.S. ages 12 and older have used heroin. It’s approximated that over 23% of those who try heroin become addicted to it. The lifetime prevalence rates have been estimated at 1.7% of those ages 18-25, and 1.8% or adults 26 or older.

Causes & Risks

Causes & Risk Factors of Heroin Addiction

It’s likely a combination of many factors working together that cause the development of an addiction disorder, such as heroin addiction. These factors may include:

Genetic: Drug abuse is known to run in families; when an individual has family members with substance abuse problems they have a greater chance of developing an addiction themselves.

Brain Chemistry: Addiction to heroin causes changes in brain structures and alters brain chemicals which cause cravings for the drug. When an individual takes a drug like heroin they experience feelings of overall wellbeing which the individual desires to feel again. An addict will keep using to maintain these pleasurable feelings.

Environmental: Those who abuse heroin have often been exposed to substance abuse at an early age, making drug use seem like acceptable behavior. Additionally, those who are addicted to heroin may have learned that drug use is a way to cope with negative emotions and stressors of daily life.

Psychological: Many people who struggle with heroin addiction have undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses. Heroin may be an attempt to suppress symptoms of these other mental illnesses.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Signs and symptoms of heroin use will depend upon how long an individual has been using and the amount of heroin consumed. The most common symptoms of heroin addiction include:

Mood Symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Aggression
  • Violence
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Inability to interact normally with others
  • Loss of relationships
  • Unkempt appearance
  • Drug-seeking behaviors
  • Changes in normal behavior patterns
  • Failure to fulfill major life responsibilities
  • “Nodding off”
  • Problems at work or school
  • Lying
  • Lack of protective measures
  • Hiding the drug in various places

Physical symptoms:           

  • Cravings
  • Hyperactivity
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling disoriented
  • Increased sleep
  • Slurred speech
  • Track marks
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Constant runny nose
  • Scabs or bruises due to skin picking
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of self-control
  • Inhibitory behavior

Psychological symptoms:

  • Emotional numbing
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Personality changes
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Disorganized thoughts

Effects

Effects of Heroin Abuse

The effects of heroin abuse and addiction can be devastating and affect all areas of an individual’s life.  Some effects of heroin addiction include:

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Liver damage
  • Respiratory depression
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Circulatory problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Intense sweating
  • Sleep apnea
  • Joint pain
  • Chills
  • Body weakness
  • Runny nose
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Tachycardia
  • Anxiety
  • Unsteady gait
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Trouble with the law
  • Incarceration
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Coma
  • Death

Though heroin abuse and addiction can inflict profound damage on a person’s mental, physical, social, and emotional wellbeing, heroin abuse can be successfully treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

There are a number of disorders that co-occur with addiction. The most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Withdrawal Effects

Effects & Symptoms of Withdrawal from Heroin

Heroin has strong withdrawal symptoms that range in intensity depending upon how long the substance has been abused and how much heroin an individual has been using. Due to the severe unpleasantness of withdrawal symptoms, heroin detox should be done in a medically supervised environment.

Withdrawal symptoms of heroin can include:

  • Intensive cravings
  • Negative mood
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle aches and whole body pain
  • Body weakness
  • Joint pain
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme sweating
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Respiratory distress
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Death

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An assessment is an important first step toward treatment of and recovery from addiction and co-occurring mental health issues.

My son, Jake, fell into heroin addiction. It was so hard for me to see my child in such a horrible state. I knew that if I didn't do anything.. I may lose him. So I forced him to go to Acadiana's addiction program. Their experts did something I could not... they convinced him that he needed to get sober. I don't know how they did it, but I am so grateful they did because now I have my boy back. He completed the program and has managed to turn his life around. Acadiana was absolutely the best decision I made and I would recommend them in a heart beat.

– Renee M.