Heroin Abuse Signs and Addiction Symptoms
Heroin produces a powerful euphoria. Users describe feeling safe and warm, as if they are covered by a blanket that protects them from all physical and emotional pain. But it doesn’t take long for heroin to turn from blanket into a noose. Users keep chasing that elusive first rush, whether inhaling, smoking or injecting the opiate, and once an addiction takes hold, the person must keep using to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Our society has put people who are addicted to heroin under a veil of shame. This is an addiction like any other, and there is no shame in asking for help. If you or someone you love is suffering the pain of heroin addiction, there is treatment available with professionals who understand the pull this drug has on people, and how to overcome it.
How to Recognize Signs of Heroin Abuse
The erroneous perception of a heroin addict as a ‘junkie’ shooting up in alleyways, or as it being the drug of choice for rock musicians on the way down means we may miss the symptoms of heroin abuse in our own family. But if you look, there are ways to tell if someone is experimenting with or addicted to heroin. You may stumble upon paraphernalia such as syringes, burnt spoons, rubber tubing or other items used to ‘tie off’ an arm for injection. Some users inhale heroin through glass tubes.
You may also notice powder residue on surfaces or in small bags, envelopes or folded pieces of paper. A heroin user who has recently taken the drug may have constricted pupils and flushed skin, or a runny nose. They may vomit. After injecting heroin, the initial rush passes and the user goes ‘on the nod.’ Their head droops and they go into a sleep or semi-conscious state alternating with wakeful moments. This can last for a few hours. Heroin users may also scratch or pick at their skin. They may try to hide needle marks with long sleeves and neglect personal hygiene.
Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
Heroin abuse leads to severe physical and mental dependence on the drug. It slows or even suppresses breathing. Users may develop chronic constipation, collapsed and infected veins at the injection site and a host of physical symptoms from damage to the kidneys and liver. Heroin weakens the immune system and mental focus. It leads to cloudy thinking, depression, and memory loss. It can also cause sexual dysfunction. Many heroin addicts are at risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C (HCV).
Heroin addicts can die of an overdose, as a building tolerance to the drug increases the amount they must take to achieve their desired high. This danger is compounded by uncertainty surrounding the purity of the heroin they are taking, or lack of knowledge about what drugs it may also be cut with. Naloxone (Narcan) can reverse a heroin overdose, if administered as soon as possible.
Withdrawal symptoms are extremely harsh, and as quickly as the drug brings euphoria, it also brings nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bone and muscle pain, and the cold turkey feeling of goose bumps and the inability to get warm. Once the false blanket of heroin is removed, there are two ways to go – another step further into addiction with the accompanying risks (physical and mental decline, loss of family or job, arrest, overdose or death), or seeking compassionate, non-judgmental treatment where there is hope for a new future.
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The Benefits of Treatment
When you are in the painful grips of withdrawal, it can be difficult to have the wherewithal to commit yourself to addiction treatment. The comfort of returning to heroin seems easier. This is why planning ahead of time to undergo a safe detoxification at a medically supervised facility is the first step towards recovery. Once you have committed to treatment, a team of caring professionals ensures that you feel as comfortable as possible and can provide suitable medication to ease symptoms while transitioning out of that toxic state. After detoxification, a residential treatment program continues addressing the roots of your addiction with comprehensive and holistic therapies, to help break the cycle of addiction. The path to recovery is one where participants are provided with the tools to manage and transform all the areas of their life, and move forward without a dependence on heroin.