Heroin, an opioid drug made from morphine, can wreak havoc on a person’s body. This drug can be consumed by snorting it, injecting it, or swallowing it. Whatever method is used, heroin binds itself to opioid receptors in the brain quickly – which means the euphoric effects associated with the drug can appear quickly as well.
But effects that show up quickly also wear off quickly, leading heroin users to take the drug multiple times to continue receiving the influx of dopamine (the “feel-good” chemical in the brain) they now crave. If you or a loved one are battling heroin addiction or beginning the recovery process, it’s important to know the physical damages that heroin can cause and what they might mean for long-term recovery.
It’s usually difficult for heroin users to determine the actual strength or “purity” of a dose – a situation that makes overdosing increasingly likely with continued use. Most street heroin is cut with dangerous synthetic chemicals to help illegal sellers make more money by stretching their supply. Unknown purity and the presence of cutting agents are both cited as reasons for the steep increase in heroin overdose deaths.
Heroin use also introduces the risk of other diseases. For example, sharing dirty needles or injection equipment can transmit HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Studies confirm that 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 heroin is one of those powerful substances where the longer it is used, the greater the damage it can cause to a person’s mind, body, and spirit. Symptoms of long-term use may include:
- Collapsed veins (from intravenous use)
- Damaged tissue inside the nose (if the drug is consistently snorted)
- Infection of the heart lining and valves
- Lung complications (such as pneumonia)
Over the past few years, a rise in opioid consumption has led to increased emergency hospital room visits. There is little doubt that repeated exposure to opioids like heroin increases a person’s morbidity and mortality.
Heroin’s Impact on the Brain
Heroin addiction can have lasting effects on a person’s brain. Dopamine, a chemical that promotes desire, and serotonin, a chemical that is responsible for decision-making, critical thinking, and more, both become less active when heroin is used. When a person who is battling heroin addiction enters recovery, they will likely experience negative emotions more frequently, especially in the first few months. This is because their brain is getting used to functioning without the substance.
Withdrawal from heroin addiction can be complicated as well. Many factors play a part, including the person’s age, length of heroin addiction, health status, medical conditions, mental health status, and so much more.
Withdrawal symptoms to expect in the first few days include:
- Mood changes such as depression, irritability, and anxiety
- Body aches (as the body begins to feel pain that was previously blocked by heroin use)
- Excessive bodily fluids (as the body undergoes detoxification)
- Nausea and vomiting
Because the brain has become used to receiving an influx of dopamine from heroin, post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) can occur and last for weeks or months at a time. They are primarily psychological in nature, affecting a person’s mood, sleep patterns, and response to stress.
Recovering from Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction can take a person’s life if proper caution isn’t used. There have been several horror stories of loved ones who’ve wished for a person’s safety and recovery, only to discover that they’ve overdosed or lost their lives due to heroin.
The best we can do is to help them seek support – it’s often incredibly difficult for a person with an addiction to realize that they need help. Denial is one of the most detrimental experiences of addiction recovery because it withholds us from seeking the help we need. Families may lose their loved ones to denial, which can cause them to feel resentment, guilt, shame, and confusion, wondering what 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. At Avalon Malibu, there is an entire healthcare team of people dedicated to assisting people in addiction recovery – so if you’re open to seeking treatment, please know that you’re not alone. Treatment may include a variety of methods, from individual psychotherapy and group support to music therapy and acupuncture. The only way to heal from addiction is to seek help and find structure for ultimate healing and rejuvenation. Treatment at Avalon Malibu can make a world of difference in a person’s physical, mental, and spiritual life.
If you’re ready to seek help, speak with a professional from Avalon Malibu today. Don’t wait until it’s too late to seek treatment – save your own life, and call today.
Avalon Malibu is a world-renowned mental health and substance abuse recovery center. Our team of professionals is ready to help you go through withdrawal safely and rebuild a healthy, substance-free life. It’s never too late to seek the help you need, and we offer a number of treatment options that could change your life for the better. Call us today at (844) 857-5992 for a consultation.