What is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive, illegal drug that is produced from the seed pod of poppy plants. It is typically found in either a white or brownish powder form, or as a black, sticky substance. Heroin is a street form of opioids and is known by many different names, the most common nicknames including smack, big H, and horse. The purest form of heroin is a fine, white powder typically originating in South America or parts of Southeast Asia. This pure form of heroin can be smoked or snorted. Consuming heroin in this way removes some of the stigma associated with injecting the drug. Heroin in the black, sticky, tar-like form, referred to as black tar heroin, is most often produced in Mexico and distributed in the United States. This impure form of heroin is usually injected into veins or muscles after a process involving the dissolution and dilution of the substance.

Oftentimes users will consume heroin in conjunction with crack cocaine, drug use known as “speedballing.”

Heroin works by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain and body, particularly those associated with feelings of pain and pleasure, and those parts of the brain that control breathing, sleeping, and heart rate.

Heroin Use in the United States

Heroin use has continued to rise throughout the United States in recent years, leading to increased numbers of addictions, overdoses, and deaths associated with the drug. A comprehensive survey conducted in 2012 found that roughly 670,000 Americans had used heroin in the last year, with 156,000 individuals trying heroin for the first time in this year.

For many years, heroin has been associated with low income, urban areas. However, heroin use and abuse is no longer just an urban issue. In fact, use among individuals living in suburban and rural areas has steadily increased. Recent studies have found that use of this harmful drug is on the rise among all ages, sexes, and social groups, challenging past perceptions of what the typical heroin addict looks or acts like.

Who Develops a Heroin Addiction?

It is important to acknowledge the existence of certain risk factors that put some individuals at a higher risk for developing a heroin addiction. One of the most common characteristics for heroin addiction is the existence of a pre-existing mental health disorder. A number of individuals suffering from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety go on to develop a heroin addiction. An addiction can result in these individuals because they may try to self-medicate using heroin as a way to cope with the negative side effects of their illness. The high associated with heroin use may offer a temporary relief and distraction, but it does not effectively treat the root cause of their issues.

Another risk factor for developing a heroin addiction is a family history of substance abuse. Research has found that individuals with a blood relative that has experienced an addiction to drugs or alcohol are more likely to face addiction issues themselves. The case for a genetic component to addiction is widely supported amongst scientific circles, though the existence of a family history of addiction does not guarantee addiction issues for everyone.

Peer pressure is also a widely recognized risk factor for heroin addiction, as adolescents and teens who associate with others their age who engage in the consumption of drugs and/or alcohol may be driven to use as a way to fit in. This misuse of drugs at an early age can lead to further challenges with drug abuse as they get older.

Effects of Heroin on the Body

Heroin is a fast-acting drug that can have an immediate impact on the brain and body of the user. One of the short-term effects of heroin use includes the “rush” that users seek. This intense feeling of euphoria and pleasure is a driving force behind the development of an addiction, as users seek it out time and time again. Other short-term effects of heroin use include dry mouth, severe itching, nausea and vomiting, poor mental functioning, and “nodding out”. Because heroin impacts part of the brain responsible for sleepiness, users of this drug might experience profound drowsiness. They then will nod out, drifting back and forth between consciousness and unconsciousness.

Prolonged use of heroin over time will bring about another set of symptoms, some of which can be particularly harmful. Such long-term effects of heroin on the body can include insomnia, abscesses, collapsed veins (for those that inject), sexual dysfunction, lung complications, liver and kidney disease, irregular menstrual cycles, constipation, and infections in the heart lining and valves. Heroin use can cause irreparable damage to the body’s critical organs such as the brain, kidneys, liver, and lungs. For this reason, individuals suffering from heroin addiction should seek out heroin addiction treatment as soon as they suspect they’ve developed a problem.

What Causes Heroin Overdose?

Heroin overdose is a real risk among users, and the number of those experiencing overdoses has continued to increase in recent years. Overdose occurs when the amount of heroin in the system is too high for the body to process. Typically, breathing will slow or stop, decreasing the amount of oxygen traveling to the brain. If intervention does not occur quickly, permanent brain damage, coma, and death can occur.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

When someone is battling an addiction to heroin, they will begin to exhibit signs and symptoms of their drug use. Because many users inject or smoke this drug, one obvious sign of use is the presence of drug paraphernalia. Users may leave syringes or glass or metal pipes around. You may also find dirty spoons, belts, rubber tubing, or lights, all of which may be used by someone who injects heroin.

Someone who is under the influence of heroin will exhibit certain physical signs, such as small pupils, flushed skin, runny nose, slowed breathing, and sleepy eyes. They may be wearing long sleeves to cover track marks on their arms, and may begin to neglect their appearance as their focus becomes solely about using.

Someone in the depths of a serious addiction will begin to neglect their responsibilities, missing work and school and failing to follow through on the tasks required of them. They might begin to spend money they don’t have on drugs, or steal from friends and family in order to feed their drug habit. Individuals suffering from a heroin addiction often wind up in legal trouble as they begin to engage in risky behaviors in order to use.

With a proper heroin addiction treatment program, even those suffering the most severe addictions can recover. Early intervention is key to building a path towards long-term sobriety.

Withdrawal from Heroin

The first step in any heroin addiction treatment program is withdrawal from the drug. Heroin withdrawal is intimidating to recovery patients, as it is a very uncomfortable and unpleasant process. However, when heroin withdrawal is done under the care of medical professionals in a safe and supportive treatment facility, proper guidance and care can be administered.

Detoxification begins once the body starts to adjust to a state free of heroin. The body, which has become accustomed to daily doses of heroin, will begin to go into shock. Heroin withdrawal symptoms start within hours of the last dose, though the specific severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms varies between recovery patients. Some of the most common heroin withdrawal symptoms experienced by patients include muscle and joint pain, sweats, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, goose bumps, and chills.

During this step in the heroin treatment process, it is crucial that the recovery patient has support from medical staff, friends, and family. During this stage, patients are at the greatest risk for relapse as they recognize their heroin withdrawal symptoms would cease if they began using again.

Once withdrawal is complete, recovery patients can move on to the next phases of heroin addiction treatment, which typically includes therapy and maintenance in an intensive inpatient program.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Taking a pharmacological approach to heroin addiction treatment has proven successful in many cases. Administering certain medications can help to alleviate the severity of withdrawal symptoms, which can often lead to relapse in recovery patients. The three types of medications used to assist in the heroin addiction treatment process are agonists, partial agonists, and antagonists. Agonists work by activating the opioid receptors in the brain, while partial agonists do the same but produce a smaller response. Antagonists on the other hand effectively block the opioid receptors in the brain interfering with the pleasure and reward systems activated by heroin use.

Also effective in the heroin addiction treatment process are behavioral therapies that work by addressing the root cause of addiction in recovery patients. Behavioral therapies help patients identify strategies for recognizing situations that might lead them to use so that they can avoid such environments. Further, behavioral therapies can help recovery patients implement coping mechanisms into their daily lives so that they can handle life stressors in a healthy and productive way.

Most heroin addiction treatment programs will also incorporate a form of family therapy and group therapy, which offers an invaluable support network critical for recovery. By discussing their experiences alongside others with similar life experiences, patients feel a sense of community and support free of judgment.

Treating Heroin Addiction at Bluff

At Bluff, we provide recovery patients with a safe and supportive environment in which to receive heroin addiction treatment. We are staffed by board-certified and highly trained medical professionals equipped to address addictions of all severity. We pride ourselves in offering comprehensive, and multi-faceted heroin addiction treatment plans that take into account the unique needs of each individual. We will work with you to create a plan that ultimately promotes your long-term health and sobriety.

Our state of the art treatment facility is designed to treat the minds, bodies, and spirits of our guests. We’ve built a center that engages the outdoors with therapeutic activities such as meditation and yoga, rejuvenating all who pass through our doors.

Get Help Today

Your addiction to heroin will no longer control your life. Once you call our addiction specialists, available 24/7, you will be met with the compassion you deserve as we guide you towards wellness and recovery. We are standing by to help you get back the happy and fulfilling life you deserve.


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