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Heroin Side Effects

Heroin Side Effects: Identifying the Signs of Heroin Addiction

Heroin overdoses continue to affect countless lives across the United States and have only become more prominent in the last decade.

The rise of heroin’s popularity came alongside the national prescription opioid crisis. Heroin is an opioid, and many people who start by misusing prescription painkillers eventually resort to heroin to relieve their cravings because of its similar intoxicating effects and because it’s typically cheaper and often more readily available.

Heroin is particularly dangerous because there is no way of telling what the drug has been mixed or “cut” with. The process of mixing other substances with heroin to increase its potency or volume is known as “cutting.”

Heroin is often cut with many different compounds, but perhaps the most alarming is fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid thought to be 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, and it’s added by drug dealers to increase heroin’s potency.

Analysts in the Injury and Violence Prevention Section at the Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division found that Oregon saw a nearly 70% increase in the number of overdose deaths during April and May 2020 compared with the same time in 2019. This was thought to be due to a particularly potent batch of fentanyl-laced heroin.

Heroin is usually sold as a tan or brown powder or a black and sticky tar-like substance. There’s no way of telling what these substances contain. Because there’s no way of telling the purity or strength of heroin, each time a person ingests the drug, they are running the risk of overdose and even death.

In order to intervene and help prevent potential overdose, it’s important to be able to spot the ways heroin can affect people. The side effects of heroin can fall into two categories: physical effects and behavioral effects.

Physical Side Effects of Heroin

Heroin can cause some intense physical effects on the body. Some of these can even be identified from an outsider’s perspective. These effects range from mild to severe and may include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing or redness of skin and face
  • “Nodding off” or shifting between being awake and passing out
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Decreased feelings of pain
  • Constipation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Constricted pupils (black part of the eye is smaller)
  • Light-headedness and euphoria (extreme happiness)
  • Lack of coordination
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (sleeping too much or too little)

Some of the more severe side effects of heroin can be life-threatening and include:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Shallow or slowed breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Intense vomiting
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Extreme sedation (sleepiness)

If you notice any of these signs in a loved one, it may be time to look into heroin addiction treatment before it’s too late.

Heroin and Its Impact on the Brain

Heroin has profound impacts on the chemistry of the brain. It causes a shift that makes the person crave the drug and put getting it and taking it above all other interests.

Heroin can be ingested in a number of ways, including sniffing, smoking, and injecting into the veins. While injection of the drug provides the most intense and rapid onset of effects, no matter how it’s consumed, heroin will always end up in the brain.

The brain naturally contains receptors that interact with opioids. These receptors are involved in breathing and the awareness of pain, emotion, reward, and well-being. When a person ingests heroin, the drug ends up in the brain, sparking these receptors and leading to the drug’s pleasant effects.

Heroin’s interaction with opioid receptors causes the brain to release an unnatural amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) that is responsible for many positive emotions and feelings.

Over time, heroin misuse can decrease the number of active opioid receptors in the brain and also decrease their sensitivity. Because of this decrease in sensitivity, a person will have to ingest heroin more often, and in larger amounts, to get the same high. Taking larger amounts of heroin greatly increases the chances of suffering an overdose.

Behavioral Effects of Heroin

Because of the way heroin hijacks the chemistry of the brain, it can lead to some very noticeable behavioral changes and side effects. Someone in the throes of a heroin addiction may:

  • Steal items or money to pay for their habit
  • Constantly borrow money from friends or family members
  • Cash out life savings or retirement accounts to pay for heroin
  • Be unable to pay their mortgage or rent, leading to foreclosure or eviction
  • Be fired for stealing money from their job
  • File for bankruptcy

Along with these lifestyle changes, there are also some social signs to look out for. Many people who are addicted to heroin completely lose interest in hobbies or passions they once devoted a large amount of time and energy to. If a person suddenly drops out of a club or group they were once passionate about, this may be a sign they are suffering from an addiction.

Some other behavioral signs to look out for that may suggest someone is suffering from heroin addiction include:

  • Not eating or loss of appetite
  • Losing a significant and noticeable amount of weight
  • Having unexpected mood changes and mood swings
  • Intentionally hurting themselves or faking pain-related emergencies in an attempt to get prescription painkillers
  • Having opioid-related paraphernalia (supplies) in their house, including syringes, lighters, and excess pill bottles
  • Constantly wearing long-sleeved shirts to hide injection sites or “track marks”

If you notice any of these behavioral signs, it may indicate your loved one is battling an addiction to heroin. Over time, they will start to take heroin in larger and larger doses. All it takes is one dose that is too large to result in a fatal overdose.

Other Serious Health Impacts of Heroin

People who regularly ingest heroin are also at an increased risk for certain health concerns, including HIV due to injecting heroin and the risks associated with needle sharing. These same people may also take part in increasingly risky sexual behavior, such as prostitution to pay for their habit.

Injecting heroin can also lead to an increased risk of hepatitis. Anyone who takes heroin also risks overdosing, which is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated immediately.

Treatment for Opioid Drug Addiction at Serenity Lane Starts with Detox

Heroin is what is known as a “short-acting” opioid. This means it both takes effect quickly and leaves the system quickly. The National Institutes of Health has determined withdrawal symptoms for short-acting opioids begin within 8 to 24 hours after final use and last anywhere from 4 to 10 days.

Serenity Lane is proud to be one of the top-quality addiction treatment programs in the northwestern United States. We currently provide a cutting-edge, medically supported withdrawal program, also known as detox, at our inpatient care facility in Coburg, Oregon.

We’re proud to offer a wide range of treatment services for people suffering from heroin addiction. Detox is the first step in your journey toward living a life free of harmful substances.

Our team of medical professionals uses a standardized process designed to be the most effective way to achieve long-term recovery from dependence on heroin. They are prepared and qualified to handle all aspects of detox, including withdrawal symptoms and mental health issues that may be present.

It’s important to remember that even if withdrawal symptoms aren’t life-threatening, the process is known to be painful, scary, and it can make it harder to want to stop taking heroin. In order to be sure safety is the top priority of medical detox, we embrace the benefits of having qualified, compassionate professionals who can handle the withdrawal process with ease.

The discomfort and pain that are associated with heroin withdrawal can make it crucial that those going through detox get a medical intervention that combines both their emotional and medical needs. This is why a medical detox program is so important.

The end result of a successful medical detox is that the individual is no longer at high risk for complications related to their substance use disorder. The cravings may still exist, but detox at Serenity Lane helps make them manageable by giving the person all the skills they need to find long-term success in recovery.

MAT Is a Powerful Tool in Conquering Heroin Addiction

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of certain medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a unique approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.

Some of the medications approved by the FDA for MAT are naltrexone, buprenorphine, and methadone. These work best in combination with clinical therapies for the treatment of substance use disorders — which is why MAT exists.

Medications used in MAT work by normalizing brain chemistry, relieving physiological cravings, and normalizing body functions without the negative withdrawal symptoms of opioids like heroin.

It’s important to understand that medication alone is not a cure-all solution for opioid addiction. MAT at Serenity Lane is used as just one piece of our comprehensive treatment programs.

Conquer Heroin Addiction Once and For All at Serenity Lane

Serenity Lane has been a trailblazer in the addiction treatment space and has served the Oregon community since 1973. We offer individualized, effective, and innovative solutions for our clients, neighbors, colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and family members struggling with heroin dependency or any other addiction. Our residential treatment center in Coburg, Oregon, can help you or a loved one today.

Don’t wait another day to get the help you or a loved one need. Call to speak to a recovery specialist now: (800) 543-9905

Serenity Lane




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