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Heroin Addiction
Symptoms and Signs

Heroin addiction is a debilitating disease and users are often unable to function without the drug. When the addict is actively in the midst of heroin addiction, their priorities shift and heroin quickly becomes their daily focus.

Methods of Heroin Use

Heroin is typically injected, snorted or smoked. Injection provides the fastest rush and greatest intensity of the drug, usually within seconds. When heroin is snorted or smoked the effects are usually felt within 10 to 15 minutes. Smoking and snorting heroin do not produce the rush as quickly or as intensely as injection does; all three forms of heroin administration are addictive.
Using heroin intravenously is the most popular route of administration among addicted individuals. However, researchers have observed that patterns are shifting to more addicts snorting or smoking heroin. The shift in heroin abuse patterns from injection to snorting/smoking is introducing the use of heroin to more diverse group of users. Adults over the age of 30 continue to be one of the largest groups abusing heroin.

Heroin Side Effects

Heroin is a highly addictive drug. It the most abused of all the opiates. Heroin is derived from morphine, which comes from certain varieties of poppy plants. When processed it looks like a white or brown powder or a black sticky substance called black tar heroin. Addiction can take place after as little as one use of heroin.

Short-term side effects include:

  • Physical sensation rush
  • Slow shallow breathing
  • Confused poor mental functioning
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Dulling of pain
  • Miscarriage

Long-term side effects include:

  • Addiction
  • Infectious diseases (HIV/AIDS, TB, Hepatitis B and C)
  • Collapsed veins
  • Bacterial infections
  • Infections and abscesses
  • Damage to heart lining and valves
  • Arthritis
  • Rheumatologic problems

Signs of Heroin Abuse

Friends, family, school, work and other obligations are seen as huge obstacles to heroin addicts. Heroin use may begin recreationally but heroin addiction can often form unintentionally. Heroin addiction and abuse can have common symptoms and signs.
Signs of Heroin Abuse Include:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Nodding Out
  • Hyper, wakeful and alert before nodding out
  • Loss of old, established friendships
  • New, undesirable friends
  • Frequent, secret phone calls
  • Depression, apathy, lethargy
  • Injection track marks
  • Unexplained time away from home
  • Sudden changes in behavior or performance
  • Itching and scratching (itchy blood)
  • Weight loss
  • Cessation of menstrual cycle
  • Finding plastic zip loc baggies and burned spoons
  • Aluminum foil & gum wrappers with burn marks
  • Missing shoelaces from shoes (used as a tie off for injecting)
  • Dry mouth
  • Droopy appearance, as if extremities are “heavy”
  • Disorientated, cloudy mental functioning
  • Infections (at injection site)
  • Shallow breathing
  • Sleepiness
  • Poor hygiene
  • Drug Paraphernalia discovered

Risks of Heroin Use

Heroin addiction affects an individuals physical health significantly. Addicts can suffer from infection in the heart lining, abscesses, liver disease, and collapsed veins.

Pure heroin is the term used for heroin that is not mixed with another substance. Street heroin is cut or mixed with other drugs or white substances such as sugar, starch and powdered milk. Street heroin can also be mixed with strychnine or other poisons putting the drug user’s life in danger.

Because heroin addicts do not know what the strength of the pure drug may be or what it may be mixed with, they are at risk of overdose or death. Studies have shown that the average heroin user after five years of use has a 90% chance of having contracted Hepatitis C. The transmission of HIV and other diseases from sharing non-sterile needles is a high risk for heroin addicts.

Heroin Withdrawal

As the use of heroin progresses, addicts quickly build a tolerance for the drug. When a tolerance develops, heroin addicts need larger doses to achieve the same euphoric affect they once felt for the drug. If higher doses are not taken, withdrawal symptoms may occur. While withdrawal symptoms may begin within 24 hours of last use, major heroin withdrawal symptoms occur within 48-72 hours of last administration.

Many heroin addicts also describe experiencing a condition referred to as itchy blood. This condition results in the addict compulsively scratching or picking at their skin resulting in cuts and bruises. There is no threat of death in terminating heroin use suddenly as there is with alcohol, benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms Include:

  • Craving
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Cold flashes
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Miscarriages

Heroin Overdose

Overdose is not uncommon in heroin addicts. It can occur from an increase in the dose or purity of heroin and is fatal in some cases. Studies show that witnesses to overdose, commonly other heroin users, don’t seek medical attention first.

In 42% of cases, medical attention was only sought after attempts to revive the addict without help. 79%, did not seek medical attention and the overdose was fatal. Heroin overdoses do not occur instantaneously. They happen over a period of several hours. Although there is an opportunity to intervene with medical help, most addicts are reluctant to seek help through a treatment center or a rehab.

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