What Is Heroin?
Table of Contents
- What Is Heroin?
- How is Heroin Used
- Understanding Heroin Addiction
- How Does Heroin Affect the Body?
- What are the Side Effects of Heroin Abuse?
- Recognizing the Signs of Drug Abuse
- Is it Possible to Overdose on Heroin?
- Effective Heroin Addiction Treatment
- Find the Right Heroin Treatment Options Here
- Medically Reviewed By
Heroin is an opioid that is made from morphine, usually found in the form of a white or brown powder. It may also take on the appearance of a black, tar-like substance, commonly referred to as “black-tar heroin.”
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), heroin is currently classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. This means that it has an extremely high risk for addiction and, unlike other opioids which may be used as prescription drugs, no accepted medical use.
Keep reading to learn more about heroin addiction, as well as how to find effective forms of treatment today with Find Addiction Rehabs help!
How is Heroin Used
A person can engage in heroin use in several different ways. The most common ways of taking this drug are through smoking, snorting, or injecting it directly into the bloodstream. With purer heroin, most people smoke this form in order to achieve a faster and more intense high.
It is also quite common for heroin users to combine this substance with other substances. The most popular, of which, is cocaine, with this mixing process often referred to as “speed-balling.”
Understanding Heroin Addiction
It is important to understand that most people will not develop a drug addiction with the intention of purposely engaging in behaviors that can be harmful both to themselves and the people around them.
Rather, these individuals have turned to substance use as a means of providing relief from stressful or difficult situations that are happening both internally and externally within their surroundings.
When it comes to heroin, the euphoric rush and relaxing high this drug can produce can present an irresistible way to escape their potentially painful realities. Unfortunately, heroin’s addictive nature makes it all too easy to form a dependency on it.
How Long Does it Take to Become Addicted to Heroin?
Most individuals recognize that heroin is an addictive drug, and begin using it already aware of its high risk for abuse. However, what most people fail to realize is just how quickly their body can form a physical dependence on this drug use.
Every user is different, meaning there is no exact way to tell how long it may take for them to get addicted to heroin. While one person might get addicted after their first use, others might not get addicted until they have been using heroin for many weeks.
There is also the fact that physical addiction and physiological addiction can happen at different times. Overall, however, it can be generally assumed that once heroin enters the system, it is almost guaranteed that a person will become addicted to heroin.
With that being said, the best way to prevent heroin addiction is simply just to never use it in the first place. While the euphoric high heroin use can seem tempting, it is not worth the devastating consequences it can have on a person’s mental and physical health.
How Does Heroin Affect the Body?
Similar to certain prescription opioids, heroin attaches to opioid receptors in the brain, causing it to release a flood of dopamine. This reaction can produce a euphoric high, drowsiness, and relaxation, as well as a slowed respiratory rate.
These pleasant side effects are registered as positive reactions within the brain’s reward systems. This results in the building of a pattern, in which individuals will continue their heroin use in order to keep experiencing this high.
These behaviors will eventually cause an individual to build a tolerance to heroin, effectively creating a dependency on this drug in order to produce dopamine. At this point, the individual has officially developed a heroin use disorder.
How Long Does a Heroin High Last?
How long a heroin high lasts will depend on several different factors, including the quality and how much of the drug a person takes, as well as their tolerance to the drug, or whether they have combined other substances with it.
Generally, an initial high can begin as soon as a few minutes after administration, depending on a person’s method of usage. The resulting high can last for a few hours, usually anywhere between four to six hours long.
While a person may experience good feelings throughout the duration of this brief high, the resulting long-term emotional and physical side effects of this drug abuse greatly detract from these “benefits.”
How Long Does Heroin Stay In Your System?
Multiple factors determine how long heroin can stay in your system. When used, heroin enters every part of your body and can be detected by urine, saliva, and even hair follicles.
Drug tests are often used in recovery-based environments so that the treatment team can accurately detect when a patient has relapsed or is still using heroin.
Oftentimes, when a person is aware that they will be given a drug test, it can deter them from abusing heroin so that they will not have to suffer the consequences of a positive drug test. This can prove beneficial to those seeking help for their heroin addiction.
Different factors come into play for each individual suffering from heroin addiction when determining how long heroin stays in their system. These factors include:
- Frequency of use
- The amount of heroin that is used
- Method of use (smoking, injecting, etc.)
- Genetic and biological factors
Every person’s body is different, meaning how their body filters out certain substances is also different. However, even with all these different factors, there is still a general guideline for how long heroin can stay in your system.
Heroin and fentanyl can stay in your system and urine for anywhere between 24 to 72 hours. In saliva, heroin can be detected up to 36 hours after use. Compared to these, the use of hair testing can detect heroin after much greater periods of time, with a detection period of anywhere between 5 to 90 days.
What are the Side Effects of Heroin Abuse?
Heroin addiction can wreak havoc both on a person that has been using it for long periods of time, as well as someone who has just begun experimenting with this drug. These side effects of drug use can last for years even after heroin use has stopped.
Short-Term Side Effects
Over shorter periods of time, using heroin can cause a number of health issues that can quickly become dangerous if not properly addressed. These include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Itchy skin
- Lower body temperature
- Light sensitivity
- Dry mouth
- Slowed heart rate
- Slowed breathing
Because heroin is a sedative, the parts of the body that are needed to perform basic, vital functions like breathing
and heart rate can become depressed, causing them to slow to a fatal rate.
These effects on the body can lead to respiratory arrest, heart problems, coma, and even death due to a lack of oxygen traveling to the brain.
Long-Term Side Effects
A heroin addict who has been abusing this drug for long periods of time will typically experience a number of significant health complications. These will likely require extensive medical care to be properly treated and may become life-threatening over time. These include:
- Decreased dental health
- Extremely poor immune systems
- Weakness and malnutrition
- Sleeping problems
- Severely decreased appetite
- Significant weight loss
- Heart, liver, and kidney disease
- Collapsed veins
- Damaged blood vessels
Recognizing the Signs of Drug Abuse
There are several signs a person can look out for when trying to determine if a loved one may be struggling with an opioid use disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), these can include both physical and behavioral signs, such as:
- Taking opioids in larger amounts or over longer periods of time than originally intended.
- Continuously unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control opioid use, even if there is a genuine desire to do so.
- Spending significant amounts of time and money acquiring and using an opioid, or recovering from its effects.
- Experiencing strong drug cravings.
- Consistently having difficulties at work, school or home due to opioid use.
- Continuing to use opioids despite this causes persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems.
- Giving up previously enjoyable social, occupational or recreational activities to continue opioid use.
- Recurrent opioid use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (i.e., driving or operating other heavy machinery).
- Using opioids despite knowing this may exacerbate persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems.
- Developing a tolerance to an abused opioid, such as needing to use it more often or in higher doses in order to achieve desired effects.
- Experiencing withdrawal when not using, or using more frequently to avoid symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
Is it Possible to Overdose on Heroin?
Heroin overdose is the most deadly side-effect of heroin addiction. Heroin overdose happens when a user takes too much of the drug and their body becomes overloaded, leading to their system shutting down.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there were a total of 68,630 overdose deaths that occurred as a result of opioid use in 2020. Over 16,000 of these involved the use of prescription opioids, many cases of which also involved other drugs.
Signs of Heroin Overdose
There are several warning signs that a person can look out for when attempting to determine if someone is experiencing a heroin overdose. Recognizing these signs can be life-saving, and is becoming increasingly necessary as drug addiction continues to spread across the nation.
The most common symptoms associated with someone who is overdosing on heroin include:
- Shallow breathing or gasping
- Pale skin
- Blue-tinted lips and fingertips
When mixed with other substances, a person may exhibit similar effects to those forms of overdose, as well as additional symptoms. One of the clearest indicators of overdosing on combined substances is if a person is “nodding off,” or unable to stay conscious.
Effective Heroin Addiction Treatment
As with many forms of substance abuse, someone who is recovering from heroin addiction will need to seek out professional addiction treatment services in order to successfully achieve sobriety.
This is because stopping heroin use will result in experiencing withdrawal symptoms. This is because they are no longer using a substance that their body has become dependent upon, upsetting the chemical balance of their system.
Thus, treatment for heroin addiction will typically involve participating in a medical detox program, followed by inpatient or outpatient treatment services.
Individuals struggling with other opioids, benzodiazepine, or alcohol use disorders are typically the most at risk of experiencing drastic, and even life-threatening health issues during their withdrawal period.
Medical detox programs can help them combat the dangerous health consequences that may occur as a result of stopping their drug use. This is done by gradually weaning them off of heroin under constant clinical control and supervision.
During their stay at a detox treatment center, individuals may be administered addiction medicine to help combat and prevent withdrawal symptoms, as well as lower their risk of relapse.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Someone recovering from heroin addiction may experience a number of withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Muscle and bone pain
- Cold flashes
- Excessive vomiting
Similar to detox programs, inpatient treatment will require an individual to live at a rehab facility throughout the duration of their treatment process. This allows them to receive regular support and access to recovery resources.
These programs will likely also offer therapeutic treatment options to help address any underlying mental illness that may have caused their addiction in the first place.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders are quite common.
This is because many people turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medicating the emotional pain caused by their mental disorder. This, unfortunately, is never an effective option, and may only result in further mental health complications.
For those who are unable to meet the time or financial requirements of more extensive treatment options, outpatient services may be a better recovery option for them. These offer a more flexible and independent approach to overcoming addiction.
With outpatient treatment, individuals will typically participate in sober support groups, and individual or group therapy sessions, as well as relapse prevention, vocational training, and social skill-building services.
Find the Right Heroin Treatment Options Here
If you or a loved one is struggling with a heroin addiction, this can be a source of great physical and emotional pain for everyone involved. At Find Addiction Rehabs, we offer confidential help to people like you who are seeking out addiction treatment options that are right for them.
Whether finding a treatment center in your location or connecting you with recovery tools and resources, our hotline is available 24/7 to make sure you can get the help you need, anytime you need it.
Call us today, and let us help you take that first step on the path to recovery, where you can successfully overcome addiction and achieve a happier, healthier, and sober you!
Deborah Tayloe is a freelance writer specializing in health and sciences. Deborah earned a B.S.Ed. in Secondary Education/English, accompanied by a Spanish minor. Her writing expertise allows her to craft engaging, impactful articles to help people be well.
In addition, she holds a fully accredited Certificate of Natural Medicine and is a certified Herbalist. Through her understanding of complementary medicine, Deborah helps medical professionals give people the information they need to embrace natural approaches to wellness.
When she’s not working, Deborah trains for 5K races and advocates for animal rights.