As of 2021, studies by the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that about 0.4% of people (1.1 million) ages 12 and up in the United States reported using heroin in the past 12 months. Interestingly, the same percentage of people reported having a heroin use disorder during that time.
Heroin is a highly addictive drug, and heroin addiction is difficult to break. Help is available, though, and there is always hope for recovery. If you think you or a loved one may be suffering from heroin misuse or addiction, reach out to The Ranch at Dove Tree in Lubbock, TX. Our robust treatment programs have helped many people recover from heroin addiction and go on to live sober, healthy lives.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a man-made opioid drug that comes from morphine, a natural substance found in the poppy opium plant. It can look like white or brown powder or a sticky dark substance called black tar heroin. Which kind is used often depends on a person’s location, as the powder and the black tar are sourced from different locations that have monopolies in certain regions.
Powder heroin can be injected, smoked, snorted, or swallowed. Black tar heroin can be injected or smoked. Injection and smoking yield more intense “highs” than snorting heroin or taking it orally. However, all forms of heroin use can lead to dependence and addiction.
Heroin supplies are often mixed with substances to bring more profit to the dealer. Substances like sugar, starch, or powdered milk, when added to heroin, increase the danger of using it. These substances can clog blood vessels and cause permanent damage to the liver, lungs, kidneys, and brain.
What is the Relationship Between Heroin, Fentanyl, and Prescription Opioids?
Heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers are all some form of opioid drugs. Heroin is illegal. Fentanyl, like other prescription opioids, was created for medical use and is legal to use when prescribed by a doctor. However, it is about 50 times more potent than heroin and can thus lead to dependence and addiction even in those who are taking it as prescribed.
People who develop an addiction to prescription painkillers, including fentanyl, may turn to heroin use when their prescription ends. Heroin is typically cheaper than prescription drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Data from 2011 showed that an estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids switch to heroin, and about 80 percent of people who used heroin first misused prescription opioids.”
Another connection between fentanyl and heroin is that fentanyl is sometimes mixed into heroin supplies without the users’ knowledge. This increases the risk of overdose and death, especially for first-time users or those who haven’t used heroin in a long time.
What are the Effects of Heroin Use?
When used, heroin binds to opioid receptors on cells that are involved in generating feelings of pain and pleasure, as well as those that control heart rate, sleep, and breathing. As a result, many people use heroin because of the rush of euphoria it can provide. It also relieves emotional and physical pain and provides a feeling of calm. Other short-term effects may include:
- dry mouth
- flushing of the skin
- heavy feeling in the limbs
- nausea and vomiting
- severe itching
- difficulty thinking clearly
- going “on the nod,” drifting in and out of consciousness
The euphoric and pleasurable effects of heroin decrease fairly quickly with repeated use. As the body develops tolerance to the drug, more of it will be required to produce the pleasant effects. Increased doses and frequency of use will lead to physiological dependence, at which point the person needs to keep taking the drug to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. With dependence and addiction, the person is using heroin not to feel good but to avoid feeling bad.
Over time, heroin leads to many long-term side effects:
- collapsed veins (from injecting the drug)
- damaged nasal tissue (from snorting the drug)
- infection of the heart lining and valves
- constipation and stomach cramping
- liver and kidney disease
- lung complications
- mental health disorders, including antisocial personality disorder and depression
- sexual dysfunction for men
- irregular menstrual cycles for women
How Do I Know if I Am Addicted to Heroin?
Once the body becomes dependent on heroin to function normally, it will experience withdrawal symptoms as soon as within a few hours after the last use. If you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using heroin, that is one clear sign that you’ve developed a substance use disorder. Withdrawal symptoms from heroin can include:
- Cravings for heroin
- Body aches, particularly in the legs and back, and increased sensitivity to pain
- Increased sweat and tear production, and runny nose
- Diarrhea and stomach pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Anxiety, restlessness, insomnia
A substance use disorder becomes an addiction when you want to stop using heroin but are unable to and are experiencing negative consequences of use, like financial and legal problems, problems at work and home, broken relationships, and physical illness.
Other signs of addiction include:
- Continuing to purchase heroin even when you can’t afford it
- Isolating yourself from family and friends
- Lying or stealing or doing other things you wouldn’t normally do in order to procure the drug
- Driving or engaging in other risky behavior when you’re high
- Spending all of your time thinking about using heroin, trying to access heroin, or recovering from the effects of heroin use
How is Heroin Addiction Treated?
If you or a loved one is using heroin, it’s never too early to seek treatment. In fact, it’s best to treat heroin use before addiction sets in. But whenever you’re ready to ask for help, The Ranch at Dove Tree is ready to answer your call. Treating heroin use disorder takes time and commitment, but it will give you back your life.
Heroin treatment typically begins with detox. Our medical team will monitor your detox 24/7, using medications as needed to ease the discomforts of withdrawal and ensure your safety. When detox ends, treatment begins. We will work with you to determine which level of treatment will best fit your situation. We offer 30- and 60-day residential treatment options, partial care, and intensive outpatient treatment. Each of these programs places a heavy emphasis on individual and group counseling by our master’s-level clinicians, as well as family education, medication management as needed, and relapse prevention training.
Once you leave our treatment program, you’ll be considered an alumni of Dove Tree and have access to a wide array of recovery support. We will connect you with our CaredFor app that helps you track progress, connect with professional support, reach out to other alumni, and access recovery resources to keep you motivated. We also offer weekly alumni meetings as well as other alumni events throughout the year.
Heroin addiction is not easy to overcome, but it will be well worth your time and effort. Let our team help you get started.