What are the Side Effects of Heroin Dependence?
Side effects from heroin abuse and addiction vary as the disease progresses. Other chemical dependency may impact the presentation of complications and side effects of heroin use.
Following heroin consumption, the user experiences a “rush” that is usually accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the extremities. Given the challenge of precisely calibrating the dosage of such a powerful narcotic, this initial rush can frequently be followed by nausea, vomiting, and severe itching.
Short-term physical side effects of heroin use include:
Depressed respiration (shallow breathing)
Clouded mental functioning
Decreased pain from either physical conditions or emotional challenges
Uncontrollable feelings of itching that result in compulsive scratching or picking at skin (itchy blood)
Heroin abuse and dependence produce serious medical side effects, which may directly or indirectly result in death:
Heart problems, including infection of heart lining and valves
Infectious diseases spread by shared needles (HIV and hepatitis B and C)
Chronic pneumonia or other pulmonary diseases
Blood clots or tissue death resulting from collapsed veins or impurities
Arthritis and other rheumatologic problems
Because heroin addicts do not know what the strength of the heroin purchased on the street may be or what it may be mixed with, they are at risk of overdose or death. Studies show that after five years of use the average heroin user has a ninety percent chance of having contracted hepatitis C. A person injecting heroin is also at high risk for the transmission of HIV and other diseases from sharing non-sterile needles.
Heroin abuse and addiction are extremely serious medical diseases. They require care from chemical dependency specialists experienced in opiate detox and withdrawal. Please note:
Curtailing long-term heroin use suddenly can cause serious medical complications, including death.
Heroin detox should not be attempted at home, or without supervision from a licensed medical doctor who regularly treats patients for heroin dependence and withdrawal.
If you or your loved one are concerned you may be experiencing a heroin overdose or other opiate withdrawal symptoms, call 911 for emergency assistance.
What Causes Heroin Addiction and Dependency?
Heroin addiction is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, and by neurochemical and molecular changes in the brain. Heroin is made from morphine, a natural substance obtained from opium poppy plants. While certain opiates may be prescribed legally to treat severe pain, the federal government classifies heroin as a Schedule I narcotic with no legal use. Understanding heroin’s highly addictive properties is aided by awareness of the types of heroin and methods of consumption.
Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder. Larger blocks of heroin may also appear as a black sticky substance called black tar heroin. Heroin may have widely different levels of strength and purity, which have a significant impact on the symptoms and side effects a user will have.
Heroin acquired on the street is cut, or mixed, with other drugs or with white substances such as sugar, starch, or powdered milk. Street heroin has also been known to be mixed with strychnine or other poisons putting the drug user’s life in danger.
Abusers typically report feeling a surge of pleasurable sensation, typically referred to as a rush. The intensity of a rush depends on how much drug is taken and how quickly the drug enters the brain. Heroin is particularly addictive because it enters the brain so rapidly. There are three primary ways a user may consume heroin:
Intravenously: direct injection into a vein using a needle
Smoking: inhalation orally through a pipe
Snorting: inhalation directly through the nose, possibly using a straw
Injection provides the fastest rush and greatest intensity of the drug, usually within seconds. When heroin is snorted or smoked the effects are usually felt within ten to fifteen minutes. Soon after injection (or inhalation), heroin crosses the blood-brain barrier. In the brain, heroin is converted to morphine and binds rapidly to opioid receptors.
Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center is a leading rehab and recovery center for women and girls (ages 12 and up) suffering with heroin abuse as well as other addictions, eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa) and co-occurring disorders. Call us today or learn more about heroin abuse treatment.