With heroin’s availability of higher purity and the sudden and drastic decrease in cost to obtain the drug, heroin deaths have been rising nationally. In the last decade alone, we saw a 236% increase in heroin-related overdose deaths and a 200% increase in heroin addiction in the United States. As a result of heroin abuse, fatalities get most of the national media attention, but the short-term and long-term health risks are going widely unnoticed. Let’s explore the reality of heroin abuse’s health effects and the treatment options available to fight this disease.
The infamous opioid injection drug comes from morphine. Heroin comes from a natural substance available in opium poppy plants that grow in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Commonly, you’ll find heroin as a white powder, but it can also be available in brown powder or a black substance known as black tar heroin.
Other names for heroin on the streets include hell dust, smack, horse, and big H. People inject, snort, smoke, or sniff heroin. Another common practice is to mix heroin with crack cocaine; this blend is known as speedballing.
Why is Heroin So Addictive?
Heroin is highly addictive and fast-acting. Unlike other drugs, heroin quickly binds to opioid receptors in the brain, particularly those that control pleasure. The exact reasons why heroin is so addictive are still unknown.
However, studies believe the loss of the brain’s white matter plays a significant role. A decrease in white matter can affect decision-making, heart rate, stress responses, and behavior control.
Short-term Health Effects
When heroin is injected or snorted, the first effect that occurs is commonly referred to as a “rush.” The first negative effect of heroin is an addiction to the feelings of the rush
- Dry mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe itching
- Clouded mental functioning
- Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
- Flushing of the skin
Immediate health concerns include dry mouth, a heavy feeling in the arms and legs, nausea, vomiting, and intense and persistent itching. A sense of drowsiness impairs motor functions and slows the nervous system and cardiac system.
Effects such as loss of appetite, stress, and skin abrasions are also common. Generally, many heroin addicts also experience depression and are at risk of developing physical complications after prolonged addiction to the drug.
Long-term Health Effects
Without a doubt, the worst long-term effect of heroin use is chronic addiction that may result in death. Chronic heroin users often experience various health conditions, such as collapsed veins, skin infections, liver disease, and an increased risk of kidney disease.
- Damaged tissue inside the nose
- Infections of the heart lining
- Stomach cramps
- Mental disorders
- Sexual dysfunction
- Irregular menstrual cycles
Other health effects of long-term heroin addiction include arthritis, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. One of the most predominant health risks is hepatitis B and C and HIV, mostly from sharing injection needles.
Other Potential Heroin Abuse Health Effects
Most heroin found on the streets contains additives: sugar, powdered milk, and starch, which can clog blood vessels, causing permanent damage. Also, it’s common for people who use heroin to have permanent damage to their lungs, kidneys, liver, and brain. And, of course, long-term addicts are at risk of a heroin overdose.
Heroin Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin is a highly addictive drug that can cause health effects even while it exits your system. Most chronic heroin users develop a physical tolerance and dependence. Even when you choose to quit heroin and seek treatment, you’re likely to experience withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Jitters and chills
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Bone and muscle pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Uncontrollable leg movements
Heroin Addiction Treatment
Fortunately, heroin addiction treatment can be highly successful. Most experts recommend medication-assisted treatment to fight heroin addiction. With this treatment option, specialists use medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms and prevent the addict’s body from going into shock while detoxing.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Once the detox process is complete, experts often tap into cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to better manage the addiction. CBT is a form of psycho-social intervention directed to improve mental health. The idea of this treatment is to challenge and correct unhealthy cognitive distortions and behaviors. The goal is to improve emotional regulation and help those in treatment develop personal coping strategies that target addiction.
Intensive Outpatient Treatments
Through intensive outpatient treatments or traditional inpatient addiction programs, those misusing heroin can start walking the path to a sober life. In this case, patients can either stay at a rehab facility or decide to stay home and visit the facility for therapy and group meetings. Outpatient treatment programs offer more flexibility; this way, recovering addicts can maintain their jobs, school, and family responsibilities. These types of treatment programs are often for those with mild addictions.
However, the right addiction treatment option depends on various factors. For example, someone with a severe or acute addiction might benefit more from a complete inpatient rehab program that requires them to check into a facility. You must contact a drug rehab facility to understand your options and talk to a specialist who can guide you to the right course of treatment.
What to Do If Someone You Know Is Using Heroin
Someone using heroin might not necessarily look like they’re on drugs. Generally, most drug addicts go to great lengths to hide their struggles with drug or alcohol addiction. If you believe a friend or family member is using heroin, don’t wait until their addiction escalates. Heroin addiction is 100% treatable, and the sooner someone gets help, the better.
If you choose to speak with someone who uses heroin, make sure you do so when they’re sober. Avoid confronting someone when they’re high. Don’t try to push your views of drugs or addictions on them. Instead, talk about the adverse health effects of heroin abuse.
Heroin Addiction Treatment in Florida
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse disorders, we’re here to help. Our team of addiction therapists at Lighthouse Recovery Institute can help you find the right treatment option. We can help you break the chains of addiction and live a clean life. With various treatment options ranging from medication-assisted treatment to intensive outpatient programs, we are confident in our ability to offer comprehensive and individualized treatment.
Located in beautiful sunny Florida, our Boynton Beach rehab center is close to busy suburbs, endless beaches, and a unique, supportive community that’s here to help you achieve long-term sobriety. Don’t hesitate to seek treatment today. The sooner you talk to one of our admission counselors, the sooner you’ll start treatment, and the sooner you’ll leave addiction in your past.