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Heroin is first among the most addictive and destructive drugs to ever be used. Having been synthesized in the 19th century as a garden-variety painkiller, it was soon discovered to be as much as 4x stronger than morphine when intravenously injected.

Heroin Abuse & Addiction

Heroin is most frequently injected, although it is also snorted and smoked in freebase form. Any way that it is used, heroin causes severe tolerance, dependence and withdrawal, all of which necessitates intensive rehabilitation in order to recover.

Short-Term Effects of Heroin Use

Like other opiates, heroin is a “downer” that depresses the central nervous system. Users report an intense “rush” of euphoria and relaxation, which is particularly strong when injected intravenously. These effects encourage further use, which quickly leads to tolerance (needing to use heroin in larger quantities to achieve the same effect). In most cases, heroin use will also progress to more intense forms of administration such as injection.

Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use

In and of itself, heroin does lead to many side effects other than addiction and constipation, which are severe enough on their own. However, due to the way in which heroin is manufactured and used, it can lead to a whole host of unfortunate side effects. These include:

  • HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis, and other blood-borne diseases contracted from sharing needles
  • Inflammation from using unsterilized needles
  • Poisoning from substances that heroin is “cut” with
  • Abscesses
  • Kidney failure
  • Long-term mental deficits due to heroin’s “hijacking” of the dopamine receptors, which are responsible for regulating mood, sleep and appetite

Heroin Withdrawal & Detox

Long-term use of heroin leads to intense cravings that can only be satisfied by continued use. Ending these cravings is the first step in treatment, and it requires that heroin be physically purged from an addict’s body. This process is called detox, which facilitates the uncomfortable and often painful symptoms of heroin withdrawal. These can include:

Physical Symptoms

  • Aches
  • Chills
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fast heart rate
  • Flu or flu-like symptoms
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Restless legs
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

Mental Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Irritation & Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal Thoughts/Ideation

How Do I Know If My Loved One is Using Heroin?

Detecting heroin use is crucial to getting your loved one into a treatment facility where they can recover. Look for these tell-tale signs:

  • Dry mouth
  • Constricted pupils
  • Disorientation
  • Fatigue, sleepiness and laziness
  • Only wearing clothes that cover the entire body (especially arms), which often indicates trying to hide needle marks
  • Frequent sickness, especially cold or flue-like symptoms (this may indicate withdrawal)