Heroin Addiction and Abuse

Heroin is a narcotic and an illegal drug that is typically injected or snorted by users though it can be smoked. The manner in which the drug, from the opiates family, is ingested has little bearing on the potential for addiction. The fact is that repeated use leads to addiction, whether you are using needles or not.

What is Heroin Addiction?

A person who is a heroin addict continues to use the drug, even though they are experiencing negative consequences in their life as a result. They are not able to choose whether they are going to use heroin. Instead, they experience a "need" for it that becomes a driving force in their life.

Signs of Heroin Dependence

Heroin addicts have similar experiences when they have become dependent on the drug, including:

  • Cravings in between uses
  • Spending time thinking about the last time they got high and what the next high will be like
  • Focusing on where and when they can get the next dose
  • Sudden financial difficulties and erratic behavior
  • Track marks around injection points

Learn more about the signs of heroin addiction here.

Causes of Dependency

Heroin is a very effective pain killer that works by depressing the body's central nervous system. Using it affects the way nerves in the spinal cord communicate pain sensations to the brain. Shortly after the drug is snorted or injected, it creates an intense feeling of pleasure. Heroin works on the pleasure centers in the brain by affecting the level of dopamine that it produces.

Effects of Use

Along with the rush that takes place shortly after use, heroin addicts also experience these effects:

  • Decreased ability to cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Heaviness in the extremities
  • Hypothermia
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Severe itching

As evidenced by these pictures of heroin addicts, the aesthetic physical effects can be extensive as well.

Complications and Long Term Effects of Heroin Abuse

Heroin abusers are also putting themselves at risk for a number of health issues, including:

  • Risk of contracting HIV or Hepatitis C from needle use
  • Increased risk of miscarriage
  • Increased tolerance over time where the addict must use more of the drug to achieve the same effect
  • Heroin overdose

Learn more about the short and long-term effects of heroin abuse here and the dangers of use here.

Help and Treatment for Heroin Addiction

People who want to quit using heroin do better when they are well motivated to do so. The motivation may come from the person who is addicted to heroin themselves or because of the involvement of concerned friends or family members who hold a drug rehab intervention. When someone detoxes from heroin, they are going to experience a series of withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting

The withdrawal symptoms will start within a few hours after the person stops using heroin, with the peak occurring within 24-72 hours. Symptoms of withdrawal may be present for a week after the last time the addict used the drug. Ideally, this step in heroin treatment is performed under the supervision of a doctor. People who have been heavy users for a long time should avoid trying to stop all at once, since a sudden stop in use could be fatal. This extraordinarily painful and dangerous process is a primary factor that makes heroin addictions often last years and can result in death.

Beyond Quitting: Heroin Recovery and Rehabilitation

After successfully getting through the drug detoxification phase, a follow-up program needs to be in place if you want to successfully quit heroin. Individual and group therapy is used at drug rehab centers to help people who are trying to beat an addiction to heroin get to the root of the problem, understand it, and come up with strategies to avoid using the drug again. 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous could also be of help.

Your doctor may be able to refer you to a treatment center. If you have health insurance coverage for addiction treatment at HMO insurance drug rehab centers, private insurance drug rehab centers or at a PPO insurance drug rehab center, the company may have a list of facilities that are approved for full or partial coverage. Lack of coverage doesn't need to be a barrier to getting help, though. State-run facilities may be able to provide treatment at no charge or on a sliding geared-to-income scale and some facilities offer financing for treatment.

*Heroin is commonly misspelled as "Heroine", and therefore this page may be found under keywords such as Heroine Addiction, Heroine Addict, and similar variations.