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The past decade has seen a surprising spike in the use of heroin, a drug that was once associated with the 1970s and multiple high profile overdose deaths, such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. But after retreating into relative obscurity for many years, heroin has returned to the spotlight. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), between heroin overdose deaths have increased five-fold. Now, with fentanyl, a drug 50 times more potent than heroin, being stealthily interspersed into the heroin supply, deaths are rapidly spiking.
In too many instances, addiction to synthetic opioids, such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet, can eventually result in a heroin addiction. Those individuals who can no longer obtain or afford the opioids may turn to heroin as a cheaper, more potent substitute. In fact, according to the CDC, 75% of new heroin users reported to having first misused prescription opioids. Heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Association (DEA), the designation given to drugs most prone to abuse and that have no medical value.
Identifying the visible signs of heroin abuse allows individuals to seek treatment options for their addicted loved one. As difficult as it might be to acknowledge the fact that someone you care about is addicted to heroin, it is in their best interests that you heed the signs and try to get them into treatment in a timely manner.
Understanding Heroin Abuse
Heroin is an opioid derived from the poppy plant native to regions in the Middle East, and is ingested by smoking, inhaling, or injecting the substance. The drug is so addictive that an individual can become addicted after just one hit. Initially heroin’s powerful effects provide a deep sense of relaxation, pain relief, and euphoria. The brain registers this pleasurable experience in the reward center and cues the individual to repeat it.
As tolerance increases, the addict will require higher and more frequent dosing as they chase the early rush they had experienced. In recent years, heroin is turning up on the street laced with the deadly fentanyl. In most cases, individuals who purchase this version of the drug are unaware of the presence of fentanyl, which can result in a deadly overdose.
Visible Signs of Heroin Abuse
When it comes to recognizing the visible signs of heroin abuse, it turns out there are plenty of them to notice, especially once someone is suspicious that their loved one might have a drug problem. While heroin addicts will go to great lengths to hide their drug addiction from others, as the addiction deepens they may eventually become less vigilant in these efforts. Being able to recognize the signs provides an opportunity for loved ones to intervene before it is too late.
Here is a List of Visible Signs of Heroin Abuse:
- Paraphernalia. Burned spoons, tin foil with burn marks, syringes and/or orange syringe caps, pipes, small plastic bags containing white or brownish powdery residue, hollowed out pens, balloons, straws with burn marks, missing shoelaces.
- Physical signs. Signs of IV drug use include needle marks located on the forearms, legs, and feet. There may be bruising, scabs, and unhealed track marks. The skin may be red and swollen if cellulitis has developed. Other physical signs include nodding off, sudden weight loss, constant sniffing and runny nose, chronic constipation, tiny pupils, and greyish or yellowish skin pallor.
- Behavioral signs. Individuals abusing heroin will become more secretive. They may avoid eye contact, exhibit isolating behaviors and withdraw from family and friends, have incoherent speech, become apathetic and lethargic, lose interest in their usual activities and hobbies, steal or borrow money to support the habit, sleep more, engage in deceitful behavior, exhibit mood swings, and ignore personal hygiene.
- Withdrawal symptoms. When a heroin addict does not have access to the drug they will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. These include stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, bone and joint pain, profuse sweating, chills, and fever.
Long-Term Effects of Heroin Addiction
Heroin abuse is very damaging to the body. As the addiction progresses, the individual’s health will decline, often resulting in serious medical issues. These long-term health effects include:
- Bacterial skin infections, or cellulitis
- Heart problems, including heart valve infection
- Chronic pulmonary diseases, including pneumonia
- Liver disease
- Blood clots from injection, skin tissue death, collapsed veins
- Contracting an infectious disease, such as Hepatitis B or C, HIV
Getting Treatment for a Heroin Addiction
Once the individual makes the decision to get the needed addiction treatment, he or she will begin the process by first meeting with an intake clinician or counselor at the rehab of choice. The purpose of this assessment process is to evaluate the severity and length of history of the heroin addiction. A physical exam will provide the general health status, and psychological assessments may be accessed if there is a co-occurring mental health disorder. Using the information gathered during the intake process, the clinical staff will design an individualized treatment plan accordingly.
Heroin withdrawal is a highly uncomfortable experience, so undergoing a supervised medical detox is advised. Without this ongoing monitoring and support, the individual will often give up on detox as withdrawal symptoms become unmanageable, thus never making it into treatment. With a detox team assigned to the individual, they can provide the medications and emotional support needed to complete the detox process.
Once the individual has completed detox and withdrawal they will be fairly stable and therefore able to actively participate in the addiction treatment program. A residential treatment program is highly recommended for someone attempting to overcome a heroin or opioid addiction. These inpatient programs provide 24-hour support and a structured environment, which keeps the individual moving forward. Treatment elements include:
- Individual talk therapy sessions
- Group therapy sessions
- Medication-assisted treatment, such as Suboxone or methadone
- Learning new coping skills for managing emotions, stress, and triggers
- 12-step programming or similar
- Addiction education classes
- Life skills classes
- Holistic therapies
- Recreation therapy
Solutions 4 Recovery Provides Comprehensive Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Solutions 4 Recovery is an Orange County-based rehab located in a beautiful coastal community. At Solutions 4 Recovery, a focus on individualized treatment and an integrated approach yield highly effective results. For more information about the program, please reach out to Solutions 4 Recovery at (888) 417-1874.