Overview, Signs, Symptoms & Treatment
Heroin is one of the most dangerous and addictive substances available and its abuse can lead to many harmful outcomes, including respiratory depression and death in high doses. While heroin is understood to be extremely addictive (even being labeled a Schedule I drug by the DEA), heroin users still take the drug to get high. Eventually, their tolerances become so high that they are only taking the drug to stave off withdrawal and other issues. This is heroin addiction.
Heroin Addiction Overview
According to CESAR, “Heroin was synthesized from morphine in 1874 by the pharmaceutical company Bayer and was touted as a safer, non-addictive form of morphine.” We now understand heroin to be very addictive, and it is not used as a medicinal treatment in any way currently.
Heroin is usually injected intravenously which is highly dangerous as well as addictive, but the other methods of heroin abuse (sniffing, snorting, and smoking) are all just as addictive. Many heroin users feel an extreme high the first time they take the drug, and they describe every time afterward as an attempt to feel that same high again. This is part of why they are unable to stop abusing the drug.
According to the NIDA, the most accurate estimate is that “about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it,” and dependence goes along with addiction in illicit drug abuse. It can be very frightening to suspect that a loved one or someone you know may be addicted to heroin because of the dangers the drug presents. Look for the signs of heroin addiction in order to determine whether or not there truly is a problem.
Heroin Addiction Signs
The common signs of heroin addiction are:
- Extreme weight loss
- Track marks
- These are left by the needle and can be seen on the skin of frequent heroin abusers. They will try to hide these with long sleeves, pants, and by injecting the drug in less obvious places.
- Constant and severe itching
- Collapsed veins
- Lung problems (like pneumonia)
- Contracting a disease like HIV or hepatitis B or C
- Withdrawal symptoms when unable to abuse heroin including:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Neglecting to eat, take care of themselves, or be engaged in the other aspects of their life
- Missing work and school
- Becoming fired, suspended, expelled, etc.
- Becoming apathetic toward responsibilities
- Becoming isolated, paranoid, and secretive
- Reacting with hostility to questions about possible drug abuse
- Suddenly only wanting to spend time with people who also abuse drugs
- Denying heroin abuse or making excuses for heroin abuse
- Experiencing monetary problems as a result of losing their job, using all their money to pay for their heroin use, etc.
- Keeping heroin abuse paraphernalia in their apartment or house such as:
- Bottle caps
- Cotton balls
- Hypodermic needles
- Razor blades
- Being unable to stop abusing heroin, even if they may want to or they understand the consequences of their abuse
When someone is addicted to heroin, they will not be able to think straight about their abuse of the drug. Heroin abuse over time changes the way the brain works. According to the NIH, “Findings from brain imaging studies in humans, along with basic cellular and behavioral research in animals, have identified profound disruptions in the specific brain circuits and cells that underlie addiction.” Heroin addicts experience these disruptions, and this will cause them to care more about getting their next fix than anything else.
Heroin Addiction Symptoms
For someone who has been abusing heroin for several weeks or months, there is a possibility that addiction has already hit. If you are concerned about your heroin abuse and whether or not it has become an addiction, ask yourself these questions.
- Do I abuse heroin every day, chronically, and even when I am alone?
- Am I not happy unless I am on heroin?
- Do I constantly crave the effects of heroin?
- Have my friends and family told me that they are concerned about my heroin abuse?
- Do I ignore them in order to keep taking heroin?
- Has my tolerance for heroin’s effects risen exponentially since my first time abusing the drug?
- Do I even feel the effects of the drug anymore or is my use more of an unbreakable habit?
- Do I ever feel trapped by my heroin use?
- Have I lost my job, scholarships, loved ones, or even been arrested as a result of my heroin abuse?
- Despite these issues, do I continue to abuse heroin?
- Do I ever “make… excuses to use” heroin when I know that my abuse of the drug is dangerous? (NLM)
- Have I tried to stop or cut back the amount of heroin I use and been unable?
- Am I in a bad financial situation as a result of my chronic heroin use?
- Have I experienced any of the major health problems that result from long-time heroin abuse including:
- Heart lining and valve infections?
- Contracting HIV or hepatitis B or C?
- Heroin overdose
- Collapsed veins?
- Kidney disease?
- Liver disease?
- Despite these issues, do I continue to abuse heroin?
- Do I feel that my heroin use has come to define me or has taken over my life?
According to the NIDA Teen, “Once a person becomes addicted to heroin, seeking and using the drug becomes their main goal in life.” If you already feel this way, you should seek treatment immediately, as the results of chronic heroin abuse are extremely harmful. There is always a danger of your heroin abuse causing the major health problems listed above, and even experienced users overdose on heroin because they may not realize how much they are taking until it is too late.