Heroin Addiction Treatment, Effects & SympToms

Heroin is a popular psychoactive opioid derived from morphine. It’s fast-acting and causes euphoria followed by intense relaxation. Long term effects of heroin abuse can result in lung and heart infections, kidney and liver damage, along with permanent cognition impairment.


Intro to Heroin 

Heroin is a major player in the country’s ongoing opioid epidemic and was involved in nearly 15,000 deaths in 2019. It’s become a commonplace presence in the illicit drug scene and has several street names such as big H, horse, and smack

Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid derived from morphine; highly addictive and with a high likelihood of resulting in an overdose or death. Using heroin just once could result in addiction or permanent brain damage impairing your ability to breathe, sleep, or control your emotions. 

This is a fast-acting psychoactive drug that binds to opioid receptors throughout the body, eliciting feelings of euphoria, a dreamlike state, and blocking the sensation of pain. It’s about 5 times stronger than morphine and is often mixed with other illicit substances such as fentanyl to increase its potency. 

Types of Heroin 

Heroin can be found in two different forms: a fine powder or a sticky paste. The differences between the physical states of heroin can vary even further such as water solubility, purity, or burning point directly affect how each form of the substance can be used. Certain types of heroin have a higher potency than others. 

Heroin is most commonly snorted or smoked in its powdered form, but it can also be injected into veins, under the skin, or directly into muscles. Doing so significantly increases its effects, but also leads to a host of other health risks that are specific to needle-based drug use. 

White Heroin

The purest and most refined form of heroin (Type 4) also has the highest potency. The coloration can vary based on the chemicals used during processing and may appear as off-white, pink, or beige. It is often cut with other substances which can make this already dangerous narcotic even riskier. White heroin is usually snorted or injected.

Brown Heroin

Less refined than white heroin, brown heroin is the result of heroin that has not undergone the entire purification process (Type 3). It’s coarse in texture and can appear in various shades of brown. It is a cheaper form of heroin, but also significantly less potent. Brown heroin is usually smoked since it is difficult to dissolve due to poor water solubility.

Black Tar Heroin

This sticky substance comes exclusively from Mexico. It can appear in various shades of black or dark brown and has the lowest potency of all the heroin types. Black tar heroin is almost solely used via injection, which is why it’s associated with the most dangerous instances of heroin use. This crude form of heroin is created from an entirely different process that powdered heroin uses to process opium.  

Heroin Side Effects 

Heroin is one of the most commonly abused drugs because it eliminates worries and anxiety, and provides users with a rush of euphoria and an overall good feeling. Once injected, heroin finds and latches on to the opioid receptors in your brain and triggers feelings of happiness and pleasure. After the initial moment of euphoria has passed, the user is then left in a sedative state for up to 5 hours afterward. While a heroin high is short-lived but the effects are much more long-lasting. 

Short-Term Heroin Side Effects

  • Severe Itching
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Slowed breathing 
  • Cloudy mental function

Long-Term Heroin Side Effects

In the long-term heroin users will find that tolerance gets built up quickly, and the dosage required to achieve a similar high will begin to rise dramatically. High tolerance is a significant factor in incidents of overdose because of the inconsistent potency of street heroin. The National Institutes on Drug Abuse has found that over time there can be “loss of the brain’s white matter associated with heroin use” and this loss can impact the cognitive functions of the brain including “decision-making, behavior control, and responses to stressful situations.” (www.drugabuse.gov)

  • Insomnia
  • Heart infection
  • Abscesses
  • Constipation
  • Stomach cramps
  • Pneumonia and other respiratory problems
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Sexual dysfunction (in men)
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Damaged nose tissue (snorting)
  • Collapsed veins

Signs of Heroin Addiction

Heroin, as with many other addictive substances, carries a list of physical and personality-related warning signs that could indicate a loved one is dealing with drug abuse. These can include blowing off commitments or being seemingly uninterested in hobbies or activities that used to be a regular part of their life. Those addicted are often in need of money for strange reasons and will ask to borrow cash ultimately used to buy drugs.

Sudden weight loss can be another sign that someone you love may be addicted to drugs. For heroin, in particular, it may just seem as though the user is sleepy all the time. Eventually, they will be high more often than sober, and with that comes constant drowsiness associated with the slowing down of body functions.

Heroin overdoses are a deadly externality suffered among people using heroin. Understanding the different treatment approaches may help you persuade a loved one that abuse treatment can save their life.

The Role of Heroin in the Opioid Crisis 

Heroin is a devastating psychoactive street drug that been at the forefront of America’s ongoing opioid crisis thanks to its low cost and high accessibility. Opioid overdose numbers are climbing and the National Institute on Health Care Management attributed “4.6 deaths per hour” to opioid-related overdose deaths. 

Of those deaths, one out of every five opioid-related fatalities is attributed to heroin use. Heroin is extremely addictive and the symptoms of a heroin overdose can be fatal. This illicit drug also carries indirect adverse long-term health afflictions related to its consumption. 

Heroin Rehab & Treatment Options

The heroin crisis is right in front of us, and the best way to help counter this epidemic is through widespread access to both information and treatment programs. Up to 75% of heroin users report having mental issues as well,  so if a loved one has a history of depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental health issues they could be at a higher risk for drug addiction. Drug abuse and mental health go hand in hand. Heroin treatment centers often emphasize techniques such as behavioral therapy, because mental disorders are commonly diagnosed alongside drug abuse and addiction

Answers to some of the most frequently asked questions related to heroin abuse and treatment can be found below:

Getting Help for Heroin Addiction

Addiction to heroin is a path that ultimately leads to death. The health risks are even greater people who use heroin most often have a history of substance abuse with other illicit drugs such as prescription opioids. If you notice any of these warning signs, please do not hesitate to encourage them to get addiction treatment for their drug abuse. If you or a loved one are suffering from addiction, please call us today to discuss how we can support you in receiving treatment

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