Heroin is a part of the group of drugs classified as opioids, because they disrupt opioid receptors in the brain. Heroin causes the body to elicit a range of responses from clouded thinking to a rush of good feelings like pleasure and contentment.
Heroin goes by several names such as smack, H, dope, junk, black tar, and many more. It is made from opium poppy plants that is grown in south east and west Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. It comes in a few different forms:
- fine white powder
- coarse off-white granules
- tiny pieces of light brown ‘rock’.
Symptoms and Behavior
Short Term Effects
Heroin is taken by injecting it into the veins, sniffing or snorting it through the nose, or by smoking it into the lungs. It is sometimes mixed with cocaine or added to cigarettes or cannabis. The effects begin to take root in as little as 10-15 minutes when it binds to the opioid receptors on cells.While the initially feeling is usually described as some form of euphoric rush other common short term effects begin to take hold which include:
- dry mouth
- warm flushing of the skin
- heavy feeling in the arms and legs
- nausea and vomiting
- severe itching
- clouded mental functioning
- going “on the nod,” a back-and-forth state of being conscious and semiconscious.
In the days after using heroin you are at a high risk for increased irritability and depression.
Long Term Effects
Regular heroin use can cause additional long term effects and has a drastic impact on the brain as described the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens:
- tolerance: more of the drug is needed to achieve the same “high”
- dependence: the need to continue use of the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms
- addiction: a devastating brain disease where, without proper treatment, people have trouble stopping using drugs even when they really want to and even after it causes terrible consequences to their health and other parts of their lives. Because of changes to how the brain functions after repeated drug use, people that are addicted crave the drug just to feel “normal.”
Many medical complications are possible with the use of heroin. These include:
- collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
- damaged tissue inside the nose for people who sniff or snort it
- infection of the heart lining and valves
- abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
- constipation and stomach cramping
- liver and kidney disease
- lung complications, including pneumonia
- mental disorders such as depression and antisocial personality disorder
- sexual dysfunction for men
- irregular menstrual cycles for women.
As with all drug addiction, dependency on heroin cause problems in relationships with friends, family, and and at work. On a broad scale heroin addiction can affect relationships in several ways:
- Secrecy: Someone using heroin may lie about what they have been doing, what happened to their money, or why they are behaving differently.
- Violence: As a relationship deteriorates, anger and violence may become a bigger concern.
- Isolation: Heroin use can compel people to withdraw and isolate themselves from their normal relationships.
- Abuse: Statistics show that “85% of domestic violence incidents involved the use/abuse of some chemical substance by at least one party.”
- Children: All it takes is one parent to use heroin to have emotional, behavior, and social problems for young children.
- Financial Burden: First, heroin is not cheap and users can spend hundreds of dollars each month on the drug. Second, the cost of addiction treatment and other legal and recovery fees place huge financial burden on families.
Overdose can look different depending on a variety of factors like quantity consumed and the individuals medical history prior to taking heroin. However, overdosing on heroin most often means losing consciousness. The danger, as with other substance abuse, is that the signs are initially hard to detect but can include:
- Slow and difficult or shallow breathing
- Decreased pupil size
- Low blood pressure and weak pulse
- Pale bluish tint to skin
- Delirium or confusion
- Constipation and stomach cramps
- Discolored tongue and dry mouth
- Intense drowsiness
If these signs are not taken seriously heroin overdose can send someone into a coma and ultimately lead to death.
What to do (include 911 emergency)
If you are experiencing these symptoms are witness someone who is do not wait. Early action by calling 9-1-1 can help save a persons life who has overdosed on heroin. If treated right away a heroin overdose can be treated with medicine such as Naloxone. It is important to act early if any of the above symptoms are present by calling an ambulance right away. Dial 9-1-1 the moment you notice signs of overdose.
Withdrawal symptoms begin as early as 6 hours after the last dosage taken and can last up to a week. These symptoms will include:
- cravings for heroin
- restlessness and irritability
- depression and crying
- restless sleep and yawning
- stomach and leg cramps
- vomiting and no appetite
- runny nose
- fast heartbeat.
In the short term there are different ways to be treated for heroin addiction including the use of methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. For someone who has developed a dependency on heroin the road to recovery can be long, but help is possible. Because every person is different it’s important to work out the best plan of treatment based on the individual, but this will include a mix of medicine and behavioral treatment like cognitive-behavioral therapy.
How to help someone going through withdrawal
When someone is experience withdrawals it can be a painful process as they flush the dependency from their body. Support is vital from family and friends to help encourage the affected individual move through withdrawal and into the long road of recovery. It may also be important for family members of those affected to seek help as well in coping with the residual effects of addiction and pain caused in the process.