Heroin Effects & Warning Signs

Understanding Heroin Addiction

Learn About Heroin Abuse & Addiction

Heroin is an extremely addictive opioid that has the ability to produce incredibly dangerous effects on those who abuse it. Also known as horse, tar, and smack, heroin is synthesized version of morphine, which is a substance within the opium poppy plant. When an individual consumes heroin by snorting, smoking, or injecting it, the drug acts on pain and pleasure receptors in the brain, as well as those involved with involuntary movements such as breathing and heart rate.

Heroin abuse puts individuals in danger of suffering from long-term damage, which can include addiction and overdose. The continued abuse of this substance and the development of heroin use disorder can lead to destruction of an individual’s physical, psychological, and social wellbeing.

It can be exceptionally challenging for an individual to defeat heroin use disorder without the help of trained professionals. However, a variety of therapy and medication management techniques have been effective in helping individuals put an end to their heroin dependence and resume living happy, healthy lives.


Statistics of Heroin Abuse

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NS-DUH), heroin abuse has been steadily rising amongst adults in the country, especially amongst those ages 18 to 25. Roughly 2% of adults within the United States have abused heroin at least one time in their lives, and approximately 150,000 people abuse heroin for the first time each year. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that the number of people within the country who meet the criteria needed to diagnose heroin use disorder increased over 100 percent within a 10-year study, rising from 214,000 in 2002 to 467,000 in 2012. Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 500% increase in heroin-related overdoses between 2001 and 2013.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes & Risk Factors of Heroin Abuse

Abusing a substance like heroin and developing a heroin use disorder can be impacted by a number of cause and risk factors, including:

Genetic: Many studies of heroin abuse have included twins and adopted children, and the results have shown that there is a strong genetic component linked to an individual’s risk for developing heroin use disorder. The heritable trait of impulsivity has also been connected to an individual’s vulnerability of developing the disorder.

Environmental: Accessibility of heroin and spending time with individuals who abuse this substance are important environmental risk factors. Other environmental influences can include high levels of stress and low socioeconomic status.

Risk Factors:

  • Access to heroin
  • Age (heroin abuse most commonly starts during late teens or early 20s)
  • Gender (men are more likely to abuse heroin)
  • Impulsivity and novelty seeking
  • Prior substance abuse
  • Family or personal history of mental illness
  • Poor stress-management skills
  • Family history of substance use disorder

Signs & Symptoms

Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Abuse

Below are some of the numerous signs that an individual who is abusing heroin might exhibit:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Lying or otherwise acting deceptively regarding whereabouts and/or activities
  • Cessation of or decreased participation in significant activities
  • Possession of syringes, hypodermic needles, and other drug paraphernalia

Physical symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Scabs, sores, and/or abscesses
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Sensation of heaviness in arms and legs
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Slowed breathing
  • Itchiness
  • Constricted pupils

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Impaired judgment
  • Problems focusing or thinking clearly

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Anxiety
  • Severe mood swings


Effects of Heroin Abuse

Chronic and untreated heroin abuse can lead to a number of dangerous outcomes, both because of the destruction that heroin itself can cause and the impact of the user’s decisions while taking this drug. Below are some of the many upsetting effects of this type of substance abuse:

  • Strained or ruined relationships
  • Family discord
  • Job loss or unemployment
  • Academic failure and expulsion
  • Financial ruin
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Homelessness
  • Disease of the kidneys and liver
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Viral infections, including Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS

Co-Occurring Disorders

Heroin Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Those who have developed heroin use disorder might be at an increased risk for experiencing the following co-occurring disorders:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Effects of Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal & Overdose From Heroin

When an individual has become addicted to heroin and tries to stop and/or reduce use, he or she can begin going through withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms, which can make it challenging for an individual to overcome heroin use disorder, can start to occur within hours of his or her last use. Below are some of the most common symptoms of heroin use disorder:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Strong cravings for heroin
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Other flu-like symptoms
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Anhedonia
  • Dysphoria

Effects of heroin overdose: Whenever an individual is abusing heroin, he or she places himself or herself at risk for a possibly fatal overdose. Anyone who displays the following symptoms after using heroin should obtain immediate medical help:

  • Significant drop in blood pressure
  • Irregular breathing
  • Shallow breathing
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Blue tinge around mouth or fingertips
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Slowed heart rate

I can't imagine where I'd be if I hadn't help for my heroin abuse at this place. Wilmington gave me my life back.

– Zeke L.
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