Guiding You on the Path to Lasting Recovery
Heroin addiction is a chronic disease characterized by changes in the brain that compel a person to seek out the drug despite its negative consequences. Whether injected, smoked, or snorted, heroin’s grasp on the brain grows over time, leading to a cycle of abuse and withdrawal.
At SOBA New Jersey, we have extensive experience helping people break free from heroin addiction. If you or someone you love are struggling with heroin, having the facts about what this addiction entails is a great place to start your recovery journey.
On This Page
- What is Heroin?
- What are the Effects of Heroin?
- How Addictive Is Heroin?
- Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
- Signs of Heroin Addiction
- Dangers of Heroin Addiction
- How to Help Someone Struggling with Heroin Addiction
Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive opioid drug that’s made from the same part of the poppy plant used to make morphine. It is typically available in powder form (white or brown) and as a sticky and dark colored substance called “black tar.”
Heroin may be injected intravenously, inhaled, or smoked. Heroin can also be mixed with other drugs and ingested simultaneously, such as mixing heroin and cocaine in what’s known as a “speedball.”
When ingested, heroin enters the brain quickly, where it binds to specific receptors known as mu-opioid receptors (MORs). It is heroin’s affect on these opioid receptors, which regulate pain, activate the reward center in our brain, and stimulate the production of dopamine, that reinforces the desire to take the drug.
Heroin’s most defining short-term effect is the euphoric rush users experience. However, heroin also affects your heart rate and causes other sensations, including:
- Drowsiness or heavy feelings in the limbs
- Warm flushing of the skin
- Dry mouth
- Clouded mental function
- Nodding, or going in and out of consciousness
While heroin’s short-term “high” is what keeps users coming back, there are many long-term effects associated with heroin use. These include:
- Infection of the heart lining and valves
- Constipation and stomach discomfort
- Sexual dysfunction and irregular menstrual cycles
- Liver and kidney disease
- Pneumonia and lung complications
- Abscesses and collapsed veins
- Increased risks of infection and illness
Heroin is highly addictive, and its repeated use can cause changes in the brain that lead to the development of a tolerance, which means a person requires larger or more frequent doses to get the desired effects. This can further lead to a substance use disorder in which a person continues to use the drug despite its negative effects.
Within just moments after using heroin, users experience very intense feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Some call it a “rush,” which lasts between 10 and 20 minutes. After that, they will begin to crash, feeling dizzy and extremely tired for an hour or two. This crash encourages users to keep using, adding to the inherently addictive nature of the drug.
Over time, users will also become dependent on heroin and experience withdrawal symptoms which, while not life-threatening, are notoriously unpleasant.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, and sweating
- Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
- Diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, and vomiting
- Goose bumps
- Intense cravings
The signs and symptoms of heroin addiction can vary among users depending on factors such as the amount of heroin used, frequency of use, form of heroin used, and method of ingestion.
Common physical and psychological symptoms of heroin abuse and addiction include:
- Scabs, bruises, and sores on skin
- Track marks or infections at injection sites
- Weight loss
- Dental issues and abscesses in the mouth
- Liver and kidney damage
- Weakened immune system / frequent respiratory infections
- Depression, anxiety, and mood swings
- Delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia
Heroin addiction can produce many other signs that are visible to those who spend time with a user. For example, friends and family may notice the following social signs of heroin addiction:
- “Nodding” during conversations
- Wearing long shirts or pants to conceal track marks or weight loss
- Agitation, irritability, and hostility toward others
- Drug-seeking behavior and lying about drug use
- Slurred or slowed speech
- Constant itching
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Decreased attention to personal hygiene
- Possession of drug paraphernalia (i.e. spoons, needles, etc.)
- Poor performance at school or work
- Apathy and lack of motivation
The most pressing danger of heroin addiction is the risk of overdose and death.
As a central nervous system depressant, heroin can be fatal when overdosed. And because there’s no way to precisely know what is in heroin purchased off the street, overdoses are common. In fact, over 19% of all opioid overdose deaths in 2020 involved heroin, according to the CDC. That’s 4x more than the number of fatal heroin-involved overdoses in 2010.
When a person overdoses on heroin, breathing can slow or stop, reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain (a condition known as hypoxia). In addition to death, hypoxia can result in coma, permanent brain damage, and lasting deficits.
Even when heroin addiction doesn’t result in overdose or death, it can greatly deteriorate nearly every facet of a person’s life. Some of the far-reaching consequences of an addiction to heroin include:
- Strained relationships with family and friends
- Stealing from family or others to pay for heroin
- Arrests, criminal record, and incarceration in jail or prison
- Blood clots leading to stroke or heart attack
- Increased risks of contracting infections and chronic illnesses
- HIV or Hepatitis B and C from sharing needles
- Liver and kidney disease
Being dependent on heroin can seem like an insurmountable problem. But as countless Americans have shown, it is possible to beat a heroin addiction – especially when you have access to trained professionals and varied addiction treatment resources. This includes behavioral and medication therapies that are proven to help people manage painful withdrawal symptoms and build the foundation for living life on their terms.
If you are looking to help yourself or someone you love beat an addiction to heroin, SOBA New Jersey wants to help. Based in New Brunswick, our facility offers comprehensive care to help with detox, withdrawal, and the essential first steps of the recovery process.
You can learn more about our heroin addiction treatment services and facility on our website, or by contacting us directly to speak with one of our admissions specialists. We’re available 24/7 to help.
At times, you can feel lost and confused when struggling with addiction or mental health. Our team understands what you are going through and works with you to reclaim the life you deserve.