Heroin Addiction: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment Options

Heroin addiction is one of the most dangerous and devastating drugs for both those addicted and their loved ones. America is currently in the midst of the largest opioid epidemic in its history, with many turning to heroin as a cheaper alternative to prescription painkillers. It is highly addictive and addiction causes both physical and social consequences that can be deadly. According to the National Institute of Health, three in four new heroin users started with an addiction to prescription opioids. As of 2015, drug overdose became the number one killer of Americans under 50, with 12,990 people dying from a heroin specific overdose. Thanks to heroin being cut with drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil, both powerful derivatives of morphine, the number of deaths in 2016-2017 are expected to climb.

What Exactly is Heroin? What Happens When You Do It?

Heroin is a potent opiate that is produced from the poppy plant. Some other common names for heroin are dope, smack, diesel, and junk. Many people associate heroin use with intravenous needles, but typically most users begin by either snorting, swallowing or smoking heroin and then progress to intravenous use. The most common word used to describe the high heroin produces is euphoria. Users feel a general warmness and calm, as though everything in the world is okay. What is happening in the brain is our reward center is being filled with a substance that already occurs naturally in the brain. So when we add more of that with heroin, an overwhelming sense of happiness can be described by many users. The thing is the feeling never lasts and those addicted will continue to chase that feeling regardless of the consequences.

What are the Signs that Someone is Using Heroin?

The physical signs of heroin use can sometimes be difficult to spot if you don’t know what to look for. Some of the common signs and symptoms that someone is using heroin are:

  • Constricted “pinpoint” pupils
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden changes in behaviors or actions
  • Dry Mouth
  • Disorientation and lack of coordination
  • Skin & face flushing i.e. “gray skin tone”
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • “Nodding off” in between states of consciousness and unconsciousness
  • Sweating
  • Droppy appearance
  • Loss of weight and loss of appetite
  • Unexpected mood changes

These are just some of the signs of heroin use when it comes to physical appearance. There are also other behaviors and consequences that generally fit the description for someone addicted to drugs. Due to heroin’s powerful nature, these behaviors can become obvious even after a short period of time. These are some of the social and financial signs that you or someone you care for may be abusing heroin:

  • Stealing money or items that can support their habit.
  • Asking to borrow money from multiple friends or family members.
  • Selling valuable items for less than the value.
  • Having past due bills, such as rent or a mortgage that lead to eviction.
  • Losing a job due to poor performance, stealing or not showing up due to withdrawals.
  • Cashing out retirement plans or life savings in a short period to pay for heroin.

Once loved ones begin to notice your behaviors and suspect drug abuse, it can be difficult to maintain a normal life and continue to use heroin. Many of those addicted to it end up homeless or in shelters because heroin takes priority over everything else in the user’s life.

Long-Term Health Consequences

Not only is heroin a highly dangerous drug to use, it can also lead to some serious long-term health effects. After a period of time, heroin begins to damage the body in ways that may be irreversible in some cases. These include:

  • Depression and other mental health issues.
  • Heart problems, including infection.
  • Infectious diseases such as Hepatitis C and B, and HIV/AIDS.
  • Bacterial infections.
  • Collapsed veins that can cause blood clots and other tissue death.
  • Liver disease.
  • Chronic pneumonia or other pulmonary diseases.
  • Lung issues, (from smoking heroin).
  • Chronic constipation
  • Skin damage from itching and scratching.
  • Loss of memory and decrease in intellectual performance.
  • Decreased sex drive.
  • Insomnia and other sleeping problems.
  • Overdose due to excessive dosing. (If you or a loved one has overdosed call 911, and administer Narcan if available.)

These are just a few of the serious health effects, both short term, and long term, from abusing heroin. The good news is that treatment can alleviate these symptoms and effects. Heroin addicted when treated can be overcome.

What Happens During Heroin Withdrawal?

One of the hardest parts of dealing with heroin addiction is the withdrawal process required to stop using it. Since heroin affects the brain reward system, over time the user’s tolerance increases and requires the user to use more and more to not feel the symptoms of withdrawal. Eventually, most users are seeking the “high” from when they first began, but it never seems to happen again. On average, most users can begin to experience withdrawal symptoms anywhere from six to twelve hours after their last dose of heroin. When asked to describe what heroin withdrawal really feels like many users say it is like having the worst flu they’ve ever experienced. Although heroin withdrawal cannot directly cause death, if left untreated some symptoms can lead to a fatality which is why a supervised detox program is best for those who are ready to quit abusing heroin. The withdrawal symptoms of heroin can be different for each user but the common effects of withdrawal include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Joint pain
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal cramps

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Days 1-2 Withdrawal symptoms can begin anywhere from 6-12 hours from the last dose of heroin. Typically muscle aches, anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea and flu like symptoms are the first most users experience.
Days 3-4 The third day and fourth day is when withdrawal is in full swing. Newer symptoms like sweating, shaking, nerve pain, abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting.
Days 5-7 By the fifth day most symptoms begin to ease, although this can be different for each user dependent upon their length of use and amount of heroin used. The lasting symptoms that users experience are muscle aches, joint pain, and nausea.
Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS) There are certain symptoms that can last for months after the user stops using heroin. Most of the PAWS symptoms are both physical and psychological such as depression, anxiety, muscle aches, fatigue, mood swings, and trouble sleeping.

What Happens During Heroin Detox? Does It Really Help?

For those addicted to heroin, a supervised medical detox program is always recommended for those who are ready to quit. More specifically, an inpatient detox program provides the best chance at overcoming addiction and avoiding relapse in early recovery. Although withdrawals from heroin typically do not include death, complications from withdrawal can which is why a supervised detox with physicians managing and monitoring the detox process. The detox program at Pax House provides sub-acute medical detox for heroin using various medications to ease withdrawal symptoms. The most commonly used drug for heroin detox today is Suboxone, a synthetic opioid antagonist that replaces

Medications Used for Detox

Most inpatient detox programs use a variety of narcotic and non-narcotic medication to alleviate and ease withdrawal symptoms. The medications used depends on the user’s individual situation including the length of use, the typical amount used, and if other substances are being used.

  • Methadone: This is a slow-acting synthetic opioid medication that can be used to treat pain, although its most common use is for heroin withdrawals. Because methadone is highly addictive and can complicate the detox process it is only used in certain situations. In an outpatient setting, such as a methadone clinic, users are typically tapered off slowly over a longer period of time.
  • Buprenorphine: This is one of the most commonly used medications for heroin detox. There are two types of buprenorphine that are used, but Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) is the medication of choice for most programs today. Suboxone is unique in that it is a synthetic opioid antagonist that also has a secondary acting chemical, naloxone, that acts as a blocker and helps to reduce cravings. This lowers the chance of relapse and helps to restore the normal function of the brain reward system.
  • Naloxone: This drug is available without the synthetic opioid but is commonly used to reduce cravings once a user has completed the detox process. Vivitrol, a brand of naloxone, has recently become a form of medication-assisted therapy that doctors use for reducing relapse once heroin and other opioids are out of the user’s system.

Other medications such as muscle relaxers, anxiety reducing medications, and antidepressants can be used to ease the symptoms of withdrawal and help clients begin their journey of recovery through the treatment process.

InpatientTreatment, Aftercare & The Recovery Process

After detox, most clients will be suggested to enter an inpatient drug rehab program to learn relapse prevention techniques, participate in individual and group therapy, and learn how to live life again without heroin. An inpatient heroin rehab will provide a safe and stable environment for the beginning of your recovery process. The length of treatment can vary depending on a person’s unique situation and history of seeking help. On average most inpatient programs last at least 30 days, although at Pax House it can be anywhere from 45-90 days depending on your situation. During your stay, you can expect to follow a daily schedule to help you establish a new, healthy routine to replace your old using behaviors. Clients typically attend daily groups and individual therapy sessions as well as other activities such as yoga, exercising at a local gym, and attending local 12 step meetings. Most facilities provide food that is prepared on-site for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, although there are facilities that take clients food shopping so they can learn basic life-skills for when they leave rehab. At Pax House, our inpatient program includes therapies such as:

  • Individual Counseling
  • Group Therapy
  • Relapse Prevention Education
  • 12 Step & Recovery Program Introduction
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Art Therapy
  • Music Therapy
  • Holistic Treatment Therapies such as Yoga, Meditation, & Mindfulness
  • Life-Skills Training
  • Nutrition & Exercise

There are many other techniques and therapies that can be used depending on the individual’s situation. The rehab process is aimed to be a safety net in a safe, structured environment so clients avoid relapse in the early stages of recovery. Many facilities, including Pax House, continue to drug test clients throughout their stay to ensure a safe environment for other clients and to address any relapses that do occur immediately.

Aftercare Planning

Once a client enters the later stage of their stay, the aftercare planning process begins. The biggest benefit of aftercare planning is that clients can be prepared for once they enter society again. Most facilities will have clients meet with an aftercare specialist who will help establish their plans for once treatment is over including scheduling travel, admission to an outpatient program and for some, setting up residency at a sober living home. Depending on where you seek treatment some of these options may be provided by the facility you are attending, like at Pax House. We provide all levels of care to ensure that our clients receive the best options for a successful recovery. During treatment, we encourage clients to participate in finding a recovery program such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous to aid in their recovery journey once they leave our program.

The Recovery Process

Unlike other major illnesses, heroin addiction does not have a cure. There is no guarantee that a person will not relapse, although establishing a recovery program through a support group can really help avoid it. The most commonly known recovery group is the 12 Step program model such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. In a 12 Step In a 12 Step program, participants attend daily meetings and work through the 12 Steps with a guide, also known as a sponsor. These meetings are free to attend which makes access readily available throughout most of the world. Since the programs are anonymous success rates are hard to track, but Alcoholics Anonymous publishes member surveys that establish some data on the success. The average length of sobriety is around five years, and membership has increased over time.

Ready to Quit Abusing Heroin? Contact Our Pasadena Drug Treatment Program

Although it may seem impossible, recovery from heroin addiction is real. Attending a heroin addiction treatment program can help you increase your success greatly. The treatment program at Pax House, close to Pasadena, CA, will help you begin your journey of recovering from heroin addiction. If you or your loved one is ready to take the first step and escape addiction for good, call us today at (888) 572-1724 and speak to one of our caring treatment consultants today.

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