What are the signs of heroin abuse, and how can learning the symptoms help prevent catastrophic damage to individuals and families?
Heroin use is a leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. In fact, heroin addiction continues to destroy lives, impacting millions of Americans, has skyrocketed year over year with no sign of slowing, even as the world faces a global pandemic in 2020. Despite the obvious consequences of heroin abuse, awareness seems to have done little to combat opioid-related overdoses. Individuals using heroin—either by injecting, snorting or smoking— are certainly taking extreme measures to hide their addiction. As such, it’s becoming increasingly more challenging to identify when heroin abuse is the culprit of ongoing struggles and health concerns. Recognizing the signs of heroin abuse can potentially change the outcome for yourself or a loved one.
Why heroin? Heroin users often discover an indescribable feeling of deep relaxation and calm when using. And for American’s suffering from chronic pain, many seek heroin to self-medicate. It’s certainly a much more cost-effective and easily attainable substance known for effectively regulating pain.
As they struggle with heroin addiction mounts, users may search for ways to continue using without discovery. As the disease progresses, many heroin users will find themselves vehemently denying a substance issue exists. It may require hiding injection marks, concealing paraphernalia, and constructing an intricate network of lies to cover up chronic use. For someone unfamiliar with the signs of heroin abuse, addiction may be difficult to spot. Read more for tips that can help clarify the signs.
Heroin: A Growing Epidemic in Colorado
Heroin, a Schedule I substance, is a dangerous and highly addictive drug. In 2018, there were more than 500 overdose deaths in Colorado. If left untreated, heroin abuse contributes to tens of thousands of deaths every year and affects many more people’s lives.
The opioid epidemic gained momentum in the 1990s and the 2000s when healthcare professionals began prescribing opioid-based medications in increasing amounts. Today, the term opioid encompasses various lethal synthetic alternatives like fentanyl. Opiate is a term used to refer to substances derived from the poppy plant. Unfortunately, heroin use is a growing concern in many states. Local communities are working to provide better access to adequate treatment through sober living communities, group therapy, NA meetings, and statewide substance abuse programs designed to address heroin use.
Colorado trends, particularly those correlating with opioids, suggest a recent resurgence in heroin addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse said the number of Americans who report having used heroin had been steadily increasing since 2017. Colorado recorded 543 opioid overdose deaths in 2018 from both prescription opioids like heroin.
How Heroin Is Used
The signs of heroin abuse often begin with how it’s introduced into the body. Heroin can be injected, smoked, or snorted. The common way to use heroin is to inject it directly into a vein. Unfortunately, injecting it is the most dangerous method because it’s often more potent as it enters directly into the bloodstream. Also, deadly diseases like HIV are much easier to transmit when shared needles become the norm. Accidental overdose is commonplace, but the signs of abuse will often reflect track marks and other physical details such as:
- Bad mood or dysphoria
- Blue lips or fingernails
- Drowsiness that lasts hours
- Pinpoint pupils
The Wall Street Journal cites studies done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and has confirmed that there are currently 808,000 heroin users in the United States in 2018.
People who inject heroin feel the effects within a matter of seconds. When smoked, people typically feel peak effects in 10 to 15 minutes.
Research suggests that injection is the route of administration chosen by about half of people who use heroin.
Prevalence of Heroin Use in America
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, heroin use has been steadily climbing since 2007. In 2016, almost 950,000 Americans admitted to using heroin at least once in their lifetime. The largest users were between 18 and 25. Fortunately, in the same year, heroin use in teens aged 12 to 17 has seen a steady decline.
Despite previous misconceptions, heroin is no longer dubbed an urban drug. It has shown high use in suburban and rural communities just the same. Geographic location, therefore, is often left out of the list of signs of heroin abuse.
Overdose deaths caused by heroin have increased steadily over the past 20 years. According to MedWeb, the heroin overdose death rate rose 400% between 2010 and 2017. Part of the increase is since heroin is often laced with alternative substances like fentanyl.
Colorado Heroin Substance Abuse
The Colorado Department of Human Services notes that the growing opioid epidemic has severely impacted too many Coloradans. There was a 2,035% increase in the number of heroin seizures between 2011 and 2015
Police have seen significant increases in seizures of heroin throughout the state. Between 2011 and 2015, seizures increased by over two thousand percent.
Hepatitis C linked to heroin injection increased by 80% in the same period.
Physical Signs of Heroin Abuse
The physical signs of heroin abuse vary from person to person. As with most addictions, symptoms often appear gradually and become more apparent as time and habitual use continue. Here are a few physical factors that might suggest heroin abuse is occurring:
- Constant runny nose
- Dramatic weight loss
- Feeling disoriented
- Frequent headaches
- Gaunt or drawn appearance
- Increased sleep
- Loss of self-control
- Lying or being secretive about daily activities
Behavioral signs of heroin abuse include:
- Drug-seeking behavior
- Gradual problems at school or work
- Slurred speech
- Stealing, lying, risky behavior
- Unkempt appearance
- Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
- Wearing loose or baggy clothing to hide weight loss
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- “Nodding out” or falling asleep at inappropriate times
Mood signs of heroin abuse include:
- Mood swings
Emotional Signs of Heroin Abuse
American Addiction Centers points out the emotional and mental toll of both short and long-term heroin use. These include factors and signs mentioned above, including severe mood swings, depression, withdrawing from family, friends, hobbies, and activities that were once enjoyed.
Behavioral Signs of Heroin Abuse
National Institute on Drug Abuse studies shows the deterioration of the brain because of heroin use. This deterioration may affect decision-making, behavior, and responses to stress. Reactions to social situations are often extreme and bizarre. Mental disorders are often linked to heroin use. Heroin users experience intense anxiety, panic attacks, hallucinations, fatigue, and manic periods.
When is it Time to Seek Treatment?
DrugAbuse.com cites signs when ongoing heroin use becomes a cause for immediate concern. If you or a loved one or friend is/are exhibiting any of these symptoms or signs of heroin abuse, it is time to consider looking into addiction treatment.
Heroin rigs our neurological reward system by influencing the production of feel-good chemicals in the brain known as dopamine and endorphins. Nearly one in four first-time users will become addicted to heroin.
The brain quickly links heroin to the activation of the dopamine and endorphin chemicals in the brain’s reward system. Eventually, the user becomes addicted and can’t function without continued use. This, along with the withdrawal symptoms of heroin, makes it hard for users to quit independently.
Some signs that addiction has formed include:
- Continuing use despite heroin-related problems
- Trying and failing to quit or cut down in use
- Having persistent cravings
- Building a tolerance to heroin
- Experiencing withdrawal or feeling “dope sick”
Needing escalated doses of heroin to get high, or starting to inject the drug, are strong indications of addiction. Once addicted, what may have once seemed like a cheap way to escape becomes a necessary habit of functioning in day-to-day activities.
Heroin Substance Abuse Treatment
Recognizing the signs of heroin abuse and addiction is an essential first step in seeking substance abuse treatment for yourself, a friend, a co-worker, or a loved one.
Substance addiction is a complex disorder. There are frequently co-occurring mental health issues that challenge rehabilitation and must be addressed through evidence-based programs for the most effective treatment outcomes.
Successful treatment techniques often combine medication and behavioral therapy administered by experienced and licensed clinicians. Because it is free and widely available, many facing substance abuse issues will choose support groups. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups can be found in most areas throughout Colorado. Here is a list of local resources in the Centennial State.
Effective Strategies for Treatment
The National Institute on Drug Abuse outlines several strategies for treating heroin addiction.
Beyond detox and treating the physical effects of heroin abuse, agencies and service providers aim to:
- Identify the biological, environmental, behavioral, and social causes of heroin dependence.
- Explore the physical, social, mental, and emotional consequences of heroin use and addiction.
- Develop improved strategies for both treatment and prevention of heroin use.
- Develop new and improved treatments to help people with heroin use problems to achieve a drug-free recovery and maintain a heroin-free lifestyle.
- Educate the public about the danger of heroin use.
- Increase government funding for heroin treatment research and providers.
How Can AspenRidge Help?
Recovery from heroin addiction is possible. AspenRidge Rehab and Recovery facility is one of Colorado’s most effective heroin addiction treatment centers.
Programs treat the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual concerns which cause or trigger heroin use. Techniques are used by the board-certified, knowledgeable, experienced members of the AspenRidge staff to address unique patient needs.
Evidence-based techniques are continually expanded and improved as new innovative treatments are discovered.
- Group and individual counseling
- Motivational Interviewing Therapy
- Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
- Family Counselling
- Assertive Community Therapy
Counseling and therapy are often combined with medication to treat all aspects of heroin addiction and its underlying causes. AspenRidge’s Colorado heroin substance abuse treatment provides individuals and families the skills needed to define their life away from heroin and the means to succeed personally and professionally.
What Can You Expect?
When you call AspenRidge’s hotline at 855.281.5588, a trained, licensed healthcare professional will answer your call 24/7. Your assigned intake counselor will assess your needs and discuss the most appropriate treatment plan for your heroin addiction. All treatment strategies are evidence-based and designed to help you deal with your addiction and learn the triggers that spark heroin use.
AspenRidge teaches strategies for resisting drug urges.
- Motivational Interviewing Therapy uses an interview format to explore patient motivations for heroin use.
- Recreational Therapy substitutes healthier physical activities, including jogging, hiking, canoeing, playing sports, rock climbing, horseback riding, kayaking, sailing, or surfing to build physical, social, mental, and emotional well-being.
- Neurofeedback Therapy charts and analyzes to maximize positivity and reduce negative attitudes.
To discuss AspenRidge’s heroin abuse treatment options, call 855.281.5588. We’re there to take your call 24/7. For more information on AspenRidge’s Colorado recovery centers, click here.