Heroin Addiction: The Symptoms and Effects of Abuse

Heroin is an extremely potent drug that works by inducing a state of euphoria in the brain by blocking its ability to perceive pain. For this reason, heroin abuse is increasingly becoming a problem for people who were initially prescribed opioid-based painkillers for chronic conditions. Indeed, there are now more than 65,000 fatal overdoses every year in the US.

However, there are now several approaches to treating heroin dependence and addiction and the best heroin rehab centers offer programs tailored for people dealing with this highly addictive drug. San Francisco heroin rehab centers offer a wide range of specialist heroin treatments and therapies and it’s important to know that there is help available to help overcome heroin and other drugs in San Francisco.

In most cases, heroin addicts conceal their behavior from others which can make it difficult to identify they have a problem that needs treatment in a San Francisco heroin rehab center. It is often left to loved ones, friends and coworkers to recognize the signs of heroin abuse in another person.

Generally, heroin abuse is characterized by the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A dry mouth
  • Unpredictable behavior
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Hyper-alertness followed by suddenly falling asleep
  • Sluggish movement as if their limbs are heavy

The above signs are not necessarily indicative of heroin abuse but if accompanied by the following red flags in increases the likelihood of this being the case:

  • They are in possession of needles or syringes without any known medical reason
  • They may  have paraphernalia like burned teaspoons, aluminum foil, drinking straws or gum wrappers with burn marks
  • They may have missing shoelaces where they have been used to tie off an injection site
  • Water pipes or bottles fashioned into pipes for taking heroin
  • Small plastic bags still containing white powder residue

The behavioral signs of heroin abuse and addiction include:

  • Secretive or deceptive behavior
  • Regularly sleeping for longer than usual
  • Slurred speech and garbled conversation
  • Sudden deterioration in performance at work or school
  • A tendency to ignore personal hygiene and physical appearance
  • A sense of apathy towards the future and a complete lack of motivation
  • Withdrawing from family and friends, preferring to spend time with other users
  • No interest in pursuits and hobbies that they formerly enjoyed
  • Repeated stealing from people close to them to fund their habit
  • Hostile behaviors towards family and friends, particularly when confronted on their drug use
  • Regular comments that betray a declining self-esteem and a negative body image
  • Wearing long sleeps even when very warm in order to cover need tracks and marks

When someone uses heroin over a period of time, they develop a tolerance to its effects. This means it takes more of the substance to achieve the euphoric state they seek. As tolerance grows, a person is at risk of becoming progressively more addicted. When tolerance is pushing someone towards addiction, they may display the following more definitive physical symptoms of heroin abuse:

  • Significant weight loss
  • A pale complexion
  • Visible needle track marks
  • Permanently runny nose
  • Infections and abscesses where syringes have been used
  • Women may stop menstruating (amenorrhea)
  • Cuts, bruises, and scabs at injection sites

What Are the Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal?

Many people struggling with heroin addiction worry about the severity of withdrawal symptoms when they stop using. Some are quick to take a further dose to ensure they don’t experience withdrawal which often delays them from seeking San Francisco heroin treatment they badly need. Heroin withdrawal is undeniably uncomfortable and it is only natural to expect this considering the extreme potency of the drug and its effects on the brain.

In general, withdrawal from heroin can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Intense cravings to use heroin
  • Heavy sweating that’s not explained by physical activity
  • Severe joint, muscle and bone aches and pains
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Intense cramps in limbs which results in “kicking”
  • Inability to sleep despite being drowsy
  • Cold sweats, chills, and fever

An individual experiencing withdrawal symptoms after being dependent on heroin for a prolonged time is at high risk of medical complications, some of which can be life-threatening. It is always advisable for people with severe addiction or who have been abusing powerful substances like heroin to undergo detox in a medically supervised setting.

What Causes Heroin Addiction and Dependency?

Heroin addiction is extremely complex and because of its intense effects on the brain’s function, it is challenging to overcome. Heroin is made from morphine which is a natural substance that’s extracted from the opium poppy. Although there are certain types of synthetic opiates that can be legally prescribed to treat chronic pain, heroin is a much purer form of the drug that is classified as a Schedule I narcotic in the US.

When an individual takes heroin or a synthetic form of opiate, they feel a surge of euphoria that is typically described as a “rush.” How long this sensation lasts depends on how much of the drug has been taken and the method used. Heroin users take the drug in three main ways:

  • Direct injection using a syringe or needle
  • Smoking or inhaling orally using a pipe
  • Inhaling directly through the nose or “snorting” using a straw

Injecting heroin provides the greatest intensity of the drug and the rush starts within seconds of use. The two other ways heroin is taken usually take around ten to fifteen minutes to take effect. Soon after injecting, heroin is converted into morphine and sets to work on the brain’s opioid receptors.

Heroin is a drug that is progressively addictive and an individual’s issues become worse the longer they use it. People using prescription drugs before resorting to heroin to manage their pain, sometimes have more difficult challenges to face in treating their addiction as they have been introduced to the drug by their physician.

Ultimately, heroin dependence and addiction in all its forms is a highly dangerous and life-threatening illness. That said, there are several routes to treatment that can result in someone leading a rich and happy life in sobriety. In order to achieve a drug-free life, it is necessary to address all the root causes of addiction in a comprehensive and personalized treatment program in one of the best heroin rehab centers.