What is Heroin?
Heroin comes from an opium poppy and is made from morphine. It can come as a white powder or a black sticky substance (which is known as black tar heroin).
To take heroin, people often inject, sniff, snort or smoke it, and its effects are almost instantaneous. Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain, offering the user a heightened sense of elation, pleasure and euphoria. However, it also causes many negative short-term side effects including:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth
- A heavy feeling in the arms and legs
- Clouded mental functioning
- Unconsciousness and drowsiness
- Severe itching and irritability
Heroin is one of the most potent and highly addictive drugs available, and in most countries, it is considered a class A substance and is illegal.
Long-term side effects of heroin use
Heroin addiction has many visible and psychological effects on the body. For example, a person addicted to heroin may develop:
- Collapsed veins from over-injection
- Damaged tissue inside the nostrils from snorting
- Infection of the heart lining
- Constipation and stomach cramping
- Liver and kidney disease
- Lung complications
- Mental disorders including depression, anxiety and stress
- Sexual dysfunction in men
- Irregular menstrual cycles in women
Heroin is often cut with other substances like sugar, powdered milk, starch and additives, which can cause other side effects including clotted blood vessels, organ failure and HIV (often from needle sharing).
Heroin, like many other drugs, has a ‘tolerance ceiling’, meaning that a person can build up a tolerance to the effects of heroin over time, which may lead to someone using heroin more frequently or upping their dosage to try and receive a similar ‘high’.
This is cause for serious concern, and many people who use heroin over time and build up a tolerance are often victim to heroin overdose. In fact, more than 28,000 deaths involving opioids like heroin occurred in the United States in 2017, which is more deaths than from any other drug, according to Center for Disease Control.
Heroin addiction withdrawal symptoms
Much like a heroin ‘high’, heroin withdrawal symptoms are severe but oftentimes short-lasting. While heroin withdrawal symptoms may only last a week or two, a person will often become incapacitated for this time and will experience symptoms like:
- Extreme nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Nervousness, irritability and irrationality
- Severe depression
- Muscle spasms and intense cravings for drugs
To alleviate these withdrawal symptoms, professionals will often prescribe medication to ease symptoms and many long-term heroin addicts will be prescribed drugs like Tramadol, Naloxone and in severe cases low doses of morphine.
What to do if you think someone is using
Approximately 156,000 Americans used heroin for the first time in 2012, and in the same year, close to half a million people received treatment for their addiction. But while the prevalence of this drug is real, a heroin user might be difficult to spot. Although side effects are ever-present in a person, they are easy symptoms to cover up. Collapsed veins, for example, can be covered up with clothing, and vomiting can be excused as sickness or fever that is unrelated to heroin use.
Normally, an addict will almost always seem sleepy, and when they’re not using, they will seem irritable and anxious. If these polar opposite behavioral traits are present in somebody for a longer period, it might be time to investigate.
Before we move on, if you think someone is overdosing on heroin, call 911 immediately and seek emergency medical assistance. Intervention will be required within minutes in order to reduce the risk of fatality.