A Look Inside the Medical Complications of Heroin Addiction

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A Look Inside the Medical Complications of Heroin Addiction

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, and it can be taken through injection, sniffing, snorting, or through smoking. It may be a white or brown powder, or a sticky substance known as “black tar heroin”. Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain rather quickly, which means that individuals feel the euphoric effects typically within minutes of taking the drug. The effects wear off quickly, however, so many people take the drug multiple times to continue receiving the influx of dopamine (the “feel-good” chemical in the brain). Whether you’re currently in recovery from heroin addiction or you have a loved one who is, it can be helpful to understand the short and long-term medical complications that can arise from heroin addiction.

Medical Complications

As the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states, heroin affects a person’s heart rate, sleeping and breathing patterns. The short-term effects of heroin include dry mouth, warm flushing of the skin, an overall feeling of “heaviness”, severe itching and more – but those who abuse the drug long-term face much greater health complications. Insomnia, collapsed veins (from intravenous use), damaged tissue from inside the nose (if it’s been consistently snorted), infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, lung complications (such as pneumonia) and more.

A 2015 study published in the Annual Review of Public Health highlighted the fact that the rise in opioid consumption has led to increased emergency hospital room visits; repeated exposure to opioids like heroin increases a person’s morbidity and mortality. What damage is actually done to the brain from heroin addiction?

Researchers from Switzerland published a study in which they found the answer to this using neuroimaging techniques. These insights revealed that heroin addiction may potentially decrease the volume of the nucleus accumbens in the brain, which plays a central role in our reward circuit. Through this vital brain organ, dopamine, a chemical that promotes desire, and serotonin, a chemical that is responsible for decision making, critical thinking and more, become less active. Those in recovery from heroin addiction may find that in recovery, negative emotions are the norm because of the underactive production of these chemicals.

Withdrawal from heroin addiction can be complicated as well; oftentimes, the length and severity of withdrawal symptoms experienced are a result of a person’s overall health, their substance abuse history and severity, as well as their demographics. Since the brain has become used to receiving the influx of dopamine from the drug, post-acute withdrawal symptom (PAWS) can occur- which lasts for weeks or months at a time. General withdrawal symptoms last 1-3 days, and may include:

  •    Mood changes such as with depression, irritability, anxiety and more
  •    Aches and pains as the body begins to feel the pain that was previously blocked from heroin use
  •    Excessive bodily fluids as the body undergoes detoxification
  •    Fever
  •    Nausea and vomiting
  •    Restlessness
  •    And more

The Lives of Those Who’ve Struggled with Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction can take lives if proper caution isn’t used. In 2018, a mother wrote to Get Smart About Drugs regarding her son Matthew – who was a teenager. At 13 years of age, he tried marijuana for the first time – and several years later, he struggled with heroin addiction. His mother explained that he used to steal, lie, and take money from his sister in order to buy more drugs. In 2004, he died of a heroin overdose. She stated, “I called him at 10:30 that night and told him it was curfew and he had to come home. He said he was sorry for leaving without telling us and he would be home soon. He sounded fine and laughing and talking as if nothing were wrong…I would find out later that within seconds of that phone call, Matt [had passed].”

Matthew’s mother discovered that he had injected 66% of pure heroin; it’s devastating tragedies such as these that bring us so much pain, anger and sadness. Families lose their loved ones and often feel resentment, guilt, shame and confusion, wondering what it is they could have done to save their brother, sister, parent, family member or friend.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

All hope is not lost. Help is still available, and treatment is still an option. For those in addiction recovery, detoxification can include a team of supportive healthcare professionals who do whatever they can do make the detox process as painless and seamless as possible. Treatment may include a variety of methods, from individual psychotherapy to group support – from art therapy to music therapy or another holistic practice such as acupuncture. The only way to heal from addiction is to seek help and find structure in rejuvenation; reputable treatment programs such as Avalon Malibu can ensure loved ones receive the support, they need to get through one of the most challenging moments of their lives.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to seek treatment. Save your own life, and call today.

Avalon Malibu is a world-renowned, California state-licensed mental health and substance abuse recovery center. If you are ready to seek treatment to develop the tools you need to overcome life’s obstacles and be on the road towards happiness, health, and well-being, call us today at 888-958-7511 for a consultation. It’s never too late, and there are people here ready to help you.

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