The United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost half a million people died from opioid use and overdose between 2009 and 2019. These include deaths from heroin use and the use of other opioids.
Heroin addiction is a critical public health concern. Not only does this drug ruin the users’ lives, but it affects everyone close to them. Additionally, heroin use can result in other diseases like HIV, Hepatitis C, and difficult-to-treat bacterial infections.
If you think someone you love may be using heroin, it’s important to recognize the signs of heroin addiction. Keep reading to learn more.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is a derivative of morphine which, in turn, comes from the opium poppy plant. This plant grows naturally all across the world, but the top producing opium poppy countries are Mexico, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Colombia.
When the poppies are mature, the growers make a cut in the seed pod. This releases a gummy substance that contains a crude form of opium. The sap is then refined with chemicals like lime to create morphine.
In 1874, C.R. Wright of England combined morphine and other chemicals and unintentionally created heroin. For many years, heroin was used for medicinal purposes as a pain reliever and cough suppressant. Ironically, heroin was also promoted as a cure for morphine addiction.
However, by the early 1900s, scientists and medical practitioners realized heroin’s addictive properties. In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Act was passed, making heroin, cannabis, and cocaine illegal to possess and use. In 1970, heroin became a Schedule l narcotic per the Controlled Substances Act.
Despite these laws put in place by the American government, heroin continues to flood the United States.
How Does Heroin Affect the Human Body?
While morphine is just as addictive as heroin, it offers medical benefits in the form of pain control. Since heroin is a Schedule l narcotic, it offers no medical benefits, but the effects of heroin are almost identical to those of morphine.
Heroin users often describe feelings of euphoria immediately after using the drug. The heart rate lowers, breathing becomes more shallow, and the user may feel drowsy or fall asleep. In many cases, flushing of the skin occurs.
The human brain naturally creates opioid-like substances in response to pain. However, when drugs like heroin enter the body, dopamine floods the body, resulting in feelings of relaxation and happiness. Ultimately, the brain becomes confused and no longer produces natural pain control or proper levels of dopamine.
At this point, symptoms of heroin addiction occur, and the user seeks more of the drug to recapture those initial feelings of euphoria and relaxation.
What Are the Physical Signs of Heroin Addiction?
The signs of heroin addiction vary from person to person, but the physical symptoms are almost always the same. Heroin is highly addictive, and withdrawal symptoms occur when the addict stops using.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
When the brain becomes dependent on heroin, it can be physically painful and even dangerous when the addict stops using. Depending on their level of use, withdrawal symptoms can appear within hours of their last dose.
Flu-like symptoms are the most common signs of heroin withdrawal. These include vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, fever, and aching muscles. The user will also display erratic behavior like mood swings and depression.
Unsupervised withdrawal often leads the user to buy more heroin to alleviate the painful symptoms of withdrawal, perpetuating the cycle of addiction.
When they’re in the throes of addiction, heroin users often don’t eat properly. Heroin suppresses appetite to some degree, but many addicts lose interest in everything but heroin.
The lack of nutrition in heroin users results in effects other than weight loss. They may begin to lose hair, their teeth and gums may become diseased, and their skin may appear sallow and dry.
When heroin users take the drug intravenously, the needles leave small wounds on the skin known as track marks. And since most IV drug users are not medical professionals, the veins can become bruised and damaged. These marks are noticeable on the arms and hands.
In order to hide their use of needles, some heroin addicts will inject into the veins in their feet and legs. Another sign of heroin addiction is wearing long sleeves, pants, and socks to hide the track marks.
Behavioral Signs of Heroin Addiction
Addiction is a powerful disease, and many heroin addiction symptoms are behavioral. In fact, many of an addict’s loved ones might suspect drug use solely based on behavioral changes.
Stealing and Theft
Heroin addicts often experience feelings of desperation when their supply of the drug runs out. Since many addicts cannot keep a job, they resort to stealing, often from family members and loved ones.
People close to heroin addicts may find cash missing from their wallets, jewelry disappearing from their homes, and other valuables like electronics appearing at pawn shops. The reality is that nothing is safe from someone experiencing severe heroin addiction.
Lack of Personal Hygiene
For many addicts, their next dose is the only thing on their minds. Whether they’re high or experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal, self-care is often the last thing on their mind.
The addict may stop showering, brushing their teeth, or wearing clean clothes. They may also suffer from severe acne or other skin ailments due to poor hygiene. If you notice these signs in someone you love, it may indicate that they’re using heroin.
Many heroin addicts started by taking prescription medication for a legitimate injury or pain. When they can no longer able to receive those prescriptions, many turn to heroin. However, addicts may also continue to visit doctors in search of additional prescriptions, known as doctor shopping.
Most physicians are very cautious when prescribing opiates, but this doesn’t prevent addicts from trying. Noticing unusual doctor bills or queries from your health insurance company can be a sign that the addict has resorted to this method of finding drugs.
Know the Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
Admitting someone you love may have a drug problem is a difficult and painful realization. By knowing the symptoms of heroin addiction, you can take the first steps toward getting them the help they need.
Click here for more information about drug rehab in Ventura County and learn how our team of addiction specialists can help.