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Heroin Addiction and Abuse

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A 2020 survey shows that roughly 902,000 Americans aged 12 and older used heroin within the past year, with 691,000 of them meeting the criteria for a heroin use disorder.11 In Nevada, an estimated 5,000 people aged 12 and older used heroin in 2019.8 In this article, you will learn what heroin is, why it’s dangerous, and how to seek help if you or a loved one has a heroin addiction.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive, illegal opioid drug.1 It can be snorted, smoked, or injected and is commonly sold as a white or brown powder or a sticky, tar-like substance called “black tar.”1 Other street names for heroin include Horse, Smack, Big H, Thunder, and Hell Dust.1 Heroin is often combined with other drugs or substances without the user knowing about it, which in some cases can increase the risk of toxicity and overdose.1

Heroin use in the United States has grown over the past 20 years. Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin overdose deaths in the United States quadrupled and the number of people reporting past-year heroin misuse or dependence increased 150% between 2007 and 2013.2 One reason for this could be related to an increase in heroin production and supply over a similar timeframe.4 In a 2014 survey, 94% of people in opioid treatment said they used heroin because it was cheaper and easier to get than prescription opioids.4

Nevada has seen a rapid increase in the number of heroin overdose deaths as well, with these deaths doubling from 2011 to 2016, though those deaths declined 20% between 2019 and 2020.3,10 One reason that heroin users have a high risk of overdose because they don’t always know how strong of a dose they’re taking, or what the drug may be laced with.1

Signs of Heroin Overdose

Signs of a heroin or other opioid overdose include:1,5,12

  • Confusion.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Not being able to wake up.
  • Tiny pupils.
  • Slow or shallow breathing.
  • Skin that is cold, clammy, or turning blue or purple.

Call 911 right away if you think you are someone else may be overdosing. If you have it, also give naloxone (Narcan, Kloxxado). Note that even if the person wakes up, they still need medical attention as soon as possible, as people can go back into overdose when naloxone wears off.

Side Effects of Heroin Use

As with other opioids, some common side effects of using heroin include:5,6,12

  • Drowsiness (feeling sleepy).
  • Slurred speech.
  • Lowered attention or memory.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Dry mouth and nose.
  • Skin itching.
  • Slowed breathing, which can lead to brain damage, coma, or death.

Long-Term Effects of Heroin

Long-term heroin or other opioid use can also lead to:5,12

  • Cumulatively increased overdose risks.
  • Increased risk of accidents and other injury.
  • Changes in decision making abilities and behavior regulation,
  • Altered stress responses.
  • Chronic, severe constipation.
  • Tolerance, meaning you need more and more of the drug to feel the same effects.
  • Dependence, meaning you will go through withdrawal if you suddenly reduce or stop taking the drug.
  • Addiction, or a compulsive need to use heroin or other drugs, no matter the harm they cause. The clinical term for heroin addiction is opioid use disorder, or OUD.

If you inject heroin or other drugs, you also increase your risk of the following:5,12

  • Skin infections.
  • HIV and hepatitis C.
  • Tuberculosis.
  • Damaged veins or blood vessels.
  • Heart infections.

Signs of Heroin Addiction

Doctors or other healthcare professionals diagnose heroin addiction as what’s known as an opioid use disorder (OUD). You may have an OUD if 2 or more of the following signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes are present within the last year:5

  • Taking more heroin than you meant to use or using it over longer periods of time than intended.
  • Wanting but being unable to cut back or stop using heroin.
  • Spending a lot of time trying to find heroin, using heroin, and getting over your use of heroin.
  • Heroin cravings.
  • Being unable to fulfill your roles at home, work, or school due to heroin use.
  • Using heroin even though it causes problems in your relationships.
  • Giving up things you used to enjoy to use heroin.
  • Using heroin under risky conditions, such as when driving.
  • Continuing to use heroin even though you know it’s harming your physical or mental health.
  • Needing more and more heroin to get the same effects (tolerance).
  • Signs of physical withdrawal if you try to stop using heroin.

Heroin Withdrawal

When you are physically dependent on heroin or other opioids, you will go through withdrawal if you suddenly cut back or stop taking it. Every person is different, but common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:7

  • Stomach pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Bone and muscle pain.
  • Goosebumps and chills.
  • Sweating.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat.
  • Frequent yawning.
  • Runny nose.
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (insomnia).
  • Anxiety.

How to Treat Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction can be treated on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Many people start with a period of professional medical detox. If you attend inpatient detox, you will be in a supervised setting where doctors and clinical staff can closely manage your withdrawal symptoms, and adjust treatment as needed to keep you as comfortable as possible during this often challenging part of early recovery.7 This may include medicines to help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, such as methadone and buprenorphine.

OUD medicines and behavioral therapies can also be a part of outpatient detox, where you attend treatment during the week but return home outside of treatment hours.7

After detox, most people continue their recovery through rehab programs, counseling, or peer support groups.

Which detox and treatment settings are right for you depends on a number of factors, such as:5,7

  • How long you’ve been using heroin.
  • How much heroin you use.
  • If you use any other substances.
  • Your overall physical and mental health.
  • Your support network.

Finding Heroin Addiction Treatment

As a leading provider of addiction treatment services, American Addiction Centers (AAC) can offer you heroin detox or rehab in Las Vegas, Nevada, and across the nation. Our caring and highly skilled staff members will support and guide you every step of the way. Call us today at , our 24/7 free and confidential helpline to get started on your journey to recovery from heroin addiction.

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Check your insurance coverage or text us your questions to learn more about treatment by American Addiction Centers (AAC).