In 2019, there were 14,000 reported deaths that involved heroin in the United States. Use has continued to rise since 2007 with more and more people trying this drug each year. As one of the most addictive substances, heroin can lead to various health consequences, intense physical withdrawal symptoms, and an increased risk for overdose and death.
The scope of heroin abuse across the country is continuing to increase each year, especially for individuals between the ages of 18 and 25. The opioid crisis in America is a very real reality and is causing long-lasting impairment, if not death. With more and more opioids being prescribed, and with more people becoming dependent and needing harder drugs to achieve similar effects, turning to heroin is often the next step.
The most recently reported statistics on heroin use in the U.S. were from 2016. These numbers only include those who reported use and are likely much higher in reality.
Signs of Use
It is very rare that a person only ever uses heroin once. Because of how addictive those effects can be, people typically develop tolerance and become addicted rather quickly. Over time, it becomes increasingly more difficult for users to hide that they are in active addiction, especially because heroin takes such a physical toll.
The most common physical sign, especially if a person is injecting heroin, is the very visible track marks. These are going to appear in places where veins or more easily accessible such as the arm, neck, groin, hands, feet, or face. Other physical signs of use are:
- Collapsed Veins
- Infection or Scarring to Injection Sites
- Pinpoint Pupils
- Weight Loss
It may also be hard to hide changes in their behavior or emotional state as heroin directly affects levels of dopamine within the brain. As tolerance increases, so too will the amount used in order to try and achieve those same effects as that first high, and increasing the dose can alter mood and behavior significantly.
- Intense Depression
- Euphoric Mood Swings
- Anxiety, Agitation, or Irritability
- Delusions or Hallucinations
Symptoms of Use
When a person becomes addicted to any drug, especially heroin, their entire life revolves around finding more of the drug and then using it. Symptoms of use can often look like:
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Possession of drug paraphernalia
- Wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather (such as long sleeves in the summer)
- Having financial struggles (possibly borrowing or stealing money constantly)
- Declining performance at work or school
- Losing interest in things they once enjoyed
- Avoiding loved ones
- Lying or being secretive
- Hanging out with new people in new spots
Recovery is Possible
It may seem like there is nowhere left to turn when you are in active addiction. These success stories show that treatment is ultimately what saved their lives.
Withdrawal from heroin typically begins 6-12 hours after the last use and can last anywhere from 5-10 days depending on how long it was used and how much. Many people actually continue their use or relapse purely for fear of those withdrawal symptoms.
Acute withdrawal takes place first and symptoms will be more severe. Some people experience post-acute symptoms, and those are less severe but may persist for a longer period of time.
SYMPTOMS OF WITHDRAWAL INCLUDE:
- Intense Cravings
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Muscle Aches
- Pain or Cramping
- Cold Sweats
Treatment for Heroin Abuse
When it comes to heroin addiction treatment, one of the best resources is medication-assisted therapy (MAT). Because withdrawal can be so uncomfortable, many would rather keep using heroin than detox. But, when medications are used to help minimize those symptoms and decrease cravings, relapse and overdose can be prevented.
Some of the medications that may be helpful are:
- Buprenorphine: prevents clients from experiencing withdrawal.
- Naltrexone: both minimizes cravings and prevents euphoric feelings from heroin.
- Suboxone: minimize withdrawal discomfort and stops a user from feeling pleasure when using heroin.
Though medications can help, the most effective way to treat a heroin abuse disorder is through some type of rehabilitation program. These programs tend to include individual therapy, group therapy, and other forms of holistic options that work to treat the individual as a whole.
Talk therapies that are evidence-based are often critical pieces of any plan as they work to get to the root of the problem. Without addressing co-occurring disorders or possible causes of addiction, the risk of relapse is still a threat. Many facilities will create a treatment plan to address all areas of living and work to heal the person as a whole.
Other treatment options that can help a person struggling with heroin abuse are:
- Yoga or Meditation: These activities can significantly decrease the stress or anxiety one might feel during the withdrawal process.
- Therapeutic Fitness: Not only does physical activity help ease muscle or joint pain, but it can also naturally activate the brain’s opioid receptors which will decrease discomfort.
- Massage Therapy: This is another way to ease muscle aches and release any tension that may be felt during this time.