A powerful opioid, heroin is a highly addictive and dangerous drug. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified it as a Schedule 1 drug. Heroin, like other drugs in this classification, is a controlled substance that currently has no medical use in this country. The potential for heroin abuse is high and often leads to severe psychological and physical dependence.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is made from morphine, a natural mind-altering (psychoactive) substance found in the resin taken from the seed pod of Asian opium poppy plants. When heroin is used, the body converts it back into morphine. When the drug enters the user’s brain, its molecules attach themselves to cells called opioid receptors that regulate pleasure and pain. It also affects the central nervous system and suppresses some of its functions, which cause a decrease in heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and body temperature.
Common Street Names
Heroin can be a brown powder, white powder, or a sticky black substance called black tar heroin. On the streets, the illicit substance is known by many different names. Big H, H, Smack, Black tar, Brown sugar, Junk, China white, Dragon, Horse, and Dope are some of the more common street names of the drug.
Several additional popular names include:
- Hell dust
- Chiva dope
- White horse
In the beginning, people who use heroin feel a pleasurable rush and a sense of happiness, joy, and well-being. The enjoyable feelings the drug produces cause the user to want more. As changes in the brain take place, the user needs to keep increasing the amount of heroin used to achieve the effect they crave. This quickly leads to tolerance and addiction. The person is no longer able to control their drug-seeking behaviors regardless of the negative consequences that could occur.
When a person has an addiction to heroin and they abruptly stop taking it or significantly reduce the amount they are taking, they will experience withdrawal. The symptoms of heroin withdrawal will not be the same for everyone. Factors that have an effect on the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms include:
- The length of time heroin was used
- How much of the drug was taken each time
- The method used to take the drug (smoked, sniffed, snorted, injected)
- If heroin was mixed with another substance such as alcohol or crack cocaine (speedballing)
- Whether or not there is a history of prior opioid withdrawal
- Whether or not there is a history of mental illness
Heroin Addiction Symptom Levels
Depending on the above factors, some people may experience mild withdrawal symptoms such as aches in their bones and muscles, abdominal cramps, and chills. Additional symptoms of mild symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Tearing eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Excessive yawning
Moderate withdrawal symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, tremors, and fatigue. Additional symptoms include:
- Cold flashes with goosebumps
- Hot flashes
- Uncontrolled leg movements
- Difficulty concentrating
Severe heroin withdrawal symptoms include all of the mild and moderate symptoms in addition to a rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure, impaired breathing, and dehydration. Additional severe symptoms include:
- Difficulty experiencing pleasure
- Muscle spasms
- Drug cravings
Heroin Addiction Symptoms Can Be Very Serious
Generally, heroin withdrawal is not considered life-threatening, but certain complications could arise that could be fatal.
- Severe dehydration could lead to heart failure
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Hypovolemic shock
- Extremely high levels of blood sodium (hypernatraemia)
- Kidney failure
According to an article in the National Library of Medicine, withdrawal symptoms may begin within several hours from when the last dose of heroin was taken and typically last seven to ten days.
- Muscle aches and pains generally begin on the first day of withdrawal and become more intense during the second day. Additional symptoms start on the second day.
- During the next several days, the person is in acute withdrawal. Symptoms are at their peak.
- Acute withdrawal typically ends on the sixth or seventh day. Symptoms begin to taper off.
- For some people, symptoms of withdrawal may last for several weeks or months. These symptoms are known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) and result from neurological changes from using heroin. These long-lasting symptoms commonly include fatigue, depression, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.
- Many heroin users experience intense cravings for the drug and feelings of reduced well-being for up to six months after going through withdrawal, which puts them at an increased risk of relapse.
Do You Need Help?
The heroin addiction epidemic shows no signs of slowing down. Research shows an increase in opioid overdoses, hospitalizations, and deaths. Do not become a statistic. If you or a loved one is suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction, help is available. Call and speak to a caring professional at English Mountain Recovery located in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Find out how to get the help you need and begin your journey on the road to recovery.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.