How Heroin Affects the Body
Chronic heroin use leads to several health complications, including the following:
• Antisocial personality disorder
• Sexual dysfunction
• Irregular menstrual periods
Chronic heroin use also causes the following effects when the drug is snorted:
• Damage to the mucosal tissues of the nose
• Perforation of the nasal septum (the tissue in between the two nasal passages)
Chronic heroin use also creates the following effects that are specific to injected heroin:
• Collapsed and/or scarred veins
• Soft-tissue infections
• Heart valve and blood vessel bacterial infections
Drug manufacturers put additives in heroin so that street heroin is not actually pure heroin. When this is the case, these additives increase the negative effects of heroin use. For example, additives cannot always be easily absorbed by the body, so they cause clogs in the body’s blood vessels that lead to the brain, kidneys, liver, or lungs. The result may be an infection, but it could also mean that the cells die and leave dead patches throughout the organs. In addition to that, the immune system may respond to these additives by causing arthritis or rheumatologic issues.
If someone is sharing drugs and needles with other users, even more serious consequences can erupt. When heroin use is experienced in this way, it leads to infections of HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and many others. They can transfer these illnesses to their sexual partners and their unborn babies.
• Since 1999, more than 760,000 people have died from drug overdoses. In 2018, approximately 67% of these deaths were due to opioids.
• In 2019, about 10.1 million adults and young people from the age of 12 and older stated that they had misused opioids in the year 2018.
• Also in 2019, 9.7 million people with prescriptions for opioids misused those prescriptions; 745,000 people also used heroin.
The opioid crisis had three waves. The first wave began in the 1990s when physicians started to prescribe opioids in greater numbers. Because of this, overdose deaths started to increase in 1999. In 2010, opioid deaths began to go up again, and these deaths were related to heroin. In 2013, the third wave began, but the increases in deaths were due largely to synthetic opioids. In particular, these deaths were related to fentanyl that was being illicitly made.
The fact that people started to abuse their opioid prescriptions is what led to the opioid crisis. Hydrocodone and oxycodone are two prescription pain medications that are chemically related to heroin. All three substances come from the poppy plant, and they work as substitutes when someone cannot obtain more of their prescription medications. Heroin is also less expensive than prescription medications.
Exchanging prescription medications for heroin can be dangerous because heroin is more potent than prescription medicines. On top of that, heroin can be laced with fentanyl, counterfeit pills, and cocaine. Customers do not know that their drug dealers are selling them impure heroin, so they are unaware that they may be in danger. The fact that heroin was laced with fentanyl and other drugs led to an increase in the opioid overdose rate of nearly 400% between 2010 and 2017.
How Does Heroin Affect the Body?
The short-term effects of heroin include the following:
• Going from being awake and then drowsy and back to being awake again
• Having a fuzzy brain
• Vomiting and upset stomach
• Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
• Flushed and warm skin
• Dry mouth
Along with the symptoms listed above, long-term heroin use can cause the following:
• Mental disorders
Schedule I on the Schedules of Controlled Substances
Heroin is classified on Schedule I of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedules of Controlled Substances. This means that this drug doesn’t have any use in a medical setting, and it cannot be used safely with medical supervision. It also has a high potential for abuse can also cause physical dependence or an addiction to develop.
What Does Physical Dependence Mean?
A person has a physical dependence when they need to take the drug in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms from appearing. In most cases, this occurs after someone has been taking opioid pain medications for at least six months. During this time, the body develops a tolerance for the medication, and dependency results because the body expects the person to continue to provide the drug. After this occurs, the person’s physician must gradually reduce the dose so that they can eventually stop ingesting the medication.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin withdrawal symptoms include the following:
• Uncontrollable leg movements
• Cold flashes
• Trouble sleeping
• Muscle pain
• Bone pain
Physical dependence may also lead the person to a substance use disorder or addiction.
What Does Addiction Mean?
A substance use disorder or addiction is considered to be a chronic illness, but it can be treated. If it is not treated, the person can experience life-long consequences. For example, an untreated SUD leads the person to continue to seek heroin even though this is causing deleterious consequences. In most cases, when someone is addicted to opioids, they are also physically dependent on the substance.
The physical dependence associated with opioids affects the autonomic nervous system, which includes breathing. It allows the person to make good decisions because the body’s reward system is not activated at this time. This is not the case when a substance use disorder is present.
With a SUD, the person is overcome by the need to satisfy the brain’s reward center. This compromises the body’s ability to make good decisions and exercise self-control. At this point, the person cannot decide to take care of their health rather than continue seeking heroin. These effects on the brain cause the person not to recognize whether or not the use of heroin is becoming problematic.
The Problem Is Not Insurmountable!
At Blue Crest Recovery Center, we help several people every month with their dependencies or addictions to heroin. You or your loved one will have the opportunity to be heard when you enter into treatment at our facility.
Heroin’s Effects on the Brain
Heroin interferes with the functioning of the brain. One area that is greatly affected by drug use is the cerebral cortex, also known as the “gray matter.” The gray matter is the outer portion of the brain. The frontal cortex at the front of the brain is responsible for thinking, planning, solving problems, and making decisions.
When someone ingests heroin, the drug enters the brain’s communication system and interferes with the nerve cells’ ability to send, receive and process the information. For example, heroin acts like the brain’s natural neurotransmitters, so they bind to the brain’s receptors. Then, they can activate these nerve cells. The neurons will send abnormal messages throughout the brain, and this causes issues in the person’s body and brain.
Heroin takes control of the brain’s reward system by releasing large amounts of dopamine. This occurs when people take heroin, but it also begins to occur when the person is in a place where they used drugs or is in the presence of people with whom they have used heroin. The brain remembers the euphoria that it experienced when the person took heroin, so it sends signals to the person to ingest more heroin. Rather than release dopamine, the brain is reinforcing the person’s desire to use drugs by sending these signals.
As the person experiences multiple surges of dopamine, the brain becomes accustomed to them. In response, the neurons begin to release less dopamine, or they will reduce the number of available dopamine receptors. When this occurs, the brain isn’t sending signals for dopamine as often as it did in the past. Therefore, the person cannot experience the same amount of euphoria as they did in the beginning.
At this point, the user cannot enjoy the things that they used to enjoy. The result is that the person needs to take more heroin just so that they can feel like their normal self again.
Heroin Overdose Deaths
Heroin overdose deaths have been steadily climbing since 1999. In 1999, officials recorded 1,960 heroin-related deaths, but in 2015, this number had jumped up to 15,469, but there is good news! Since 2015, the number of heroin-related deaths has been going down. In 2020, heroin-related deaths went down to 13,165.
The Symptoms of a Heroin Overdose
The most common symptoms of a heroin overdose include the following:
• Fingertips and lips that have a blue tint
• Pale skin
• Gasping or shallow breathing
Other signs of a heroin overdose include:
• The inability to interact verbally or physically
• Falling asleep while in a standing position
• A nodding head if the person is in a sitting position
Overdose never occurs as it does in the movies. It may take several hours for someone to overdose on heroin. The person may also slur their words, stumble while trying to walk, and become extremely annoyed that a loved one is asking questions about their behavior.
More Common Symptoms of a Heroin Overdose
You may also notice the following symptoms if your loved one is experiencing a heroin overdose:
• Nausea or vomiting
• A weak pulse
• Tongue discoloration
• Extremely constricted pupils
• Chest pains
• Stomach cramps
Other Consequences of Heroin Use
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, it is against the law to use a substance that has been determined to have the potential to be abused. As a substance classified in Schedule I of the Schedules of Controlled Substances, heroin qualifies as one of those substances. In addition to that, heroin may also lead to behaviors that can cause the user to be arrested. For example, drugs have been known to cause people to become violent.
The National Institute of Justice’s Drug Use Forecasting performed drug tests on people recently arrested for various crimes. These officials determined that 42% to 79% of men arrested in various cities gave urine samples that tested positive for substances. Also, the numbers ranged from 38% to 85% for females.
You or your loved one can recover from your heroin use disorder. As you become sober, you can repair the damage that was done to your relationships when you accept the need to receive treatment. If you or your loved one are ready to find your way toward sobriety, contact us at Blue Crest Recovery Center today.