Data from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggests approximately 0.2% of the United States Population has a heroin use disorder. Of those, many are between the ages of twelve and eighteen and struggle to overcome heroin addiction. The same report shows more than 13,000 people died from a drug overdose involving heroin use in 2020. Although not the most widely abused drug based on statistical data, the information provided by the 2020 survey shows that heroin use rates have continued to rise across the nation since 2007.
There are many reasons people turn to heroin or begin experimenting with the drug for the first time. In some cases, it is simple experimentation that leads to dependency and addiction. For others, heroin acts as a “substitute” drug to alleviate cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with prescription opioid addiction.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a natural opioid. It is a drug manufactured from the chemical morphine. Morphine is found in the opium poppy plants grown in Mexico, Colombia, and parts of Asia. Depending on how it’s processed, heroin may be a white or brown powder or a black, sticky substance called black tar heroin. The most common and familiar “type” of heroin is a white powder.
It is not uncommon to hear heroin referred to by other names. Some of the most common slang or street names for heroin include smack and hell dust. Unlike some drugs, there are several ways to take heroin. The powder can be snorted, smoked, or mixed with liquid and injected into a vein. Some people also mix white powder heroin with crack cocaine to create a more potent drug. This practice is known as speedballing.
The composition of black tar heroin makes injection more dangerous than white or brown powdered forms of the drug. Most people who use black tar heroin grind it into a powdered form to facilitate snorting. Black tar heroin is also frequently vaporized (a process referred to as chasing the dragon) or administered in suppository form.
How Does Heroin Affect the Body?
When you use heroin, the effects occur rapidly. The drug binds or connects to specific areas of the brain, spinal cord, and other body areas. These sites, called opioid receptors, are essential for sensing and relaying feelings of pleasure and pain throughout the body. Opioid receptor sites also play a crucial role in controlling vital, life-sustaining functions like heart rate and breathing.
In the last decade, the rate of heroin use across the nation has increased dramatically. Researchers believe the rise in use and addiction rates are connected to efforts across the country to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions. Heroin produces effects similar to prescription pain killers like Oxycontin and Vicodin. Studies suggest prescription drugs are often gateway drugs to heroin. Surveys conducted within the last few years, such as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, indicate a percentage of those who misused prescription opioids often switched to heroin.
Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
Heroin is a powerful, highly addictive drug. Using heroin puts the user at significant risk of injury or death connected to overdose. Unfortunately, tolerance to the effects of heroin develops quickly. Once tolerance or dependency occurs, the user requires more frequent and more substantial doses of heroin to achieve and maintain the high they remember from their first use. With increasing tolerance comes an increased risk of overdose.
Indications of heroin in a friend or loved one might be challenging to notice in some cases.
Depending on factors unique to the person, the signs of addiction may start mild before progressing rapidly as heroin use continues. Typically the physical symptoms of heroin addiction are the first to present. Within seconds after using heroin through injection, feelings of happiness and euphoria occur. Other methods of use do not produce the same rate of symptom onset; however, once the drug reaches the brain, signs of “being high” occur.
The most common physical signs of heroin use include itching, flushed skin, dry mouth, vomiting, stomach problems, constricted pupils, and slowed breathing. Regular heroin users often need stool softeners or laxatives as chronic heroin use can lead to chronic, severe constipation.
You may notice emotional and behavioral indications of heroin abuse. Typical examples of these include increased isolation, new or worsening legal and financial problems, drug-seeking behavior, and the presence of drug paraphernalia. Although there are many other potential signs and symptoms of heroin addiction, it provides a brief list of possible physical and psychological changes you may see in a loved one struggling with heroin addiction.
Signs of Heroin Withdrawal
Those addicted to heroin who have developed a tolerance and subsequent physical and psychological dependence on the drug will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop or try to reduce their use. Although the individual signs of heroin withdrawal will vary from person to person, it is essential to remember that detoxing to overcome heroin addiction can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening for some. Because it is impossible to predict who will experience the most severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms, it is crucial to detox from heroin (or any other opioid drug) under close medical supervision at a professional detox program like The Hills in Los Angeles.
Again, detox and withdrawal symptoms are unique to the individual. Several factors combine to determine the severity, intensity, and duration of these symptoms. Examples of these factors include the severity of your addiction, how long you’ve been using, how you use heroin (injection, snorting, etc.), and whether or not you have symptoms of a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis condition. A dual diagnosis occurs when you have both a substance use disorder and mental health condition symptoms simultaneously. The journey to overcoming both conditions requires comprehensive, evidence-based treatments that address both illnesses as part of a singular treatment program.
Getting help to overcome heroin addiction requires understanding what common withdrawal symptoms may look like in someone with a heroin use disorder. Typical examples that occur in most cases include fever or chills, body aches, and pains, difficulty sleeping, jitters or shaking, stomach problems (including vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea), diet changes, and uncontrollable leg movement.
In other more severe cases, heroin withdrawal symptoms (as well as other opioids) could include severe and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms and medical conditions. These may consist of abnormal heart rate, abnormal respiratory rate, seizures, coma, and death. Depending on the severity of your addiction and how long you have used heroin, you may experience the first symptoms of withdrawal in as little as six hours after your last dose. Withdrawal symptoms may last for up to two weeks in some cases.
How to Safely Overcome Heroin Addiction at The Hills
Heroin withdrawal can cause severe, potentially life-threatening effects. For this reason, if you are looking to quit heroin, medically supervised detox is highly recommended. Our team of highly trained medical professionals is available throughout the detox process to ensure your safety in a medically supervised setting at our luxury Los Angeles rehab. Throughout detox, treatment providers will continually monitor your vital signs and, if needed, administer medications to help reduce the intensity and discomfort of withdrawal symptoms, making detox more manageable.
Another valuable benefit to medically assisted detox is having skilled medical professionals available should you need emergency care during detox. Addictions to heroin can be challenging to overcome without help, and those who try to detox and overcome heroin addiction “cold turkey” are often unsuccessful. Within a short time, withdrawal symptoms become overwhelming, and relapse frequently occurs. Completing a professional detox program offers the added support and guidance you need to progress through detox and embark successfully on the next stage of your recovery journey.
There are several effective treatments used to overcome heroin addiction, including behavioral therapies and medications. Behavioral therapies to overcome heroin addiction include proven practices such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management. CBT therapy helps modify behaviors and feelings about drug use and the root causes that lead one to use drugs like heroin to manage stressors and medical or mental health challenges.
Medications can be beneficial at several stages of the treatment process. Medicines used during detox can help reduce the intensity and severity of withdrawal symptoms such as cravings and physical discomfort. Specific non-opioid medications that reduce the unpleasant nature of these symptoms can you remain in detox. Drugs such as methadone, naltrexone, suboxone, and buprenorphine may be used during medically assisted addiction treatment to reduce the desire to use and prevent relapse.
Many of these medications work by attaching to the same receptor sites in the brain used by heroin. Should someone try to use heroin while on preventative medication, it (heroin) cannot connect to the receptor sites, and the user does not achieve the desired effect. Medications or MAT programs are also effective elements of many aftercare programs as a relapse prevention measure.
There are many reasons why people first use heroin. Some of the most common involve a pre-existing addiction to other opioid drugs. In these cases, it can be challenging to stop using and remain sober without professional help. It is crucial to better understand the root causes behind heroin use. Without addressing the root causes of addiction, you may not clearly understand your triggers or how to safely manage them after treatment ends.
If you or a loved one are ready to overcome heroin addiction but are not sure where to start, contact us at The Hills. At our Los Angeles, CA rehab, members of our medical and mental health treatment teams will work with you to develop a treatment plan based on your specific treatment needs and goals. Studies on addiction treatment show that the most effective treatment plans focus on the individual’s needs, not their diagnosis. Let us help you take the first steps towards a lifetime of sobriety and freedom to overcome heroin addiction. Contact us at The Hills today if you are ready to take your first steps towards a heroin-free future.