What is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly dangerous and illegal opioid drug that is processed from morphine. Morphine is a natural substance that is derived from the seed pod of various poppy plants that are grown in Mexico, Columbia, as well as Southeast and Southwest Asia.

Heroin can be injected directly into the bloodstream, snorted, or smoked. Oftentimes addicts mix heroin with other drugs such as crack cocaine to get a more extreme high.

In 2018, nearly 47,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. involved opioids including heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—and since then, the rate has risen.

Heroin addiction is a definite problem in the United States and a contributor to the opioid epidemic.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

Heroin can come in the form of a powder or in a sticky substance.

Black tar heroin is sticky, dark brown or black in color, and resembles tar—hence the name. The color can vary a bit depending upon whether or not the drug has been cut with other substances during processing, resulting in batches with little pure heroin. Black tar heroin typically is smuggled in from Mexico and is sold cheaply in the United States.

This type of heroin can be melted down and injected into the bloodstream.

White heroin is also available in powder form, even though it can look off-white, pink, or light brown sometimes due to added chemicals. Even though it is generally cut with other substances, it is the purest form of heroin people can get off the streets.

Brown heroin is less potent than white heroin because it is not as refined. This type is cheaper than white heroin and easier to produce. Brown heroin is mainly smoked by addicts, as it does not dissolve well.

Lastly, there is Asian heroin. According to the DEA, “Southeast Asian heroin is usually white, powdered, and highly water-soluble. Heroin from southwest Asia is typically a brown coarse powder with poor water solubility. Again, the color of the heroin changes depending on what materials it’s cut with before it’s sold on the streets.”

Each of these specific types of heroin can be harmful, addictive, and life-threatening.

How Heroin Addiction Develops

Similar to other addictive substances, physical and psychological heroin addiction can happen to anyone. No one strives to be an addict. While everyone makes the choice to try a drug for the first time, addiction is not a choice.

Unfortunately, heroin is an extremely addictive drug.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain, which are turned on and as a result, stimulating the release of dopamine and inducing a feeling of pleasure.

The instant rush of euphoria, which only lasts a few minutes, is what keeps addicts coming back for more.

Repeated heroin use physically changes the structure of the brain and can even deteriorate the brain’s white matter.

Combining these facts along with biological and environmental factors, it is obvious why so many users become addicted to heroin.

Signs of Heroin Addiction

While some signs of heroin addiction and use are similar to those of other drugs, there are still specific telltale symptoms that someone is using the drug.

Common heroin addiction symptoms include someone with pinpoint pupils, needle tracks on the body, skin infections, lower immunity, oftentimes sick or unhealthy looking, poor judgment, questionable mental functioning, itching, going in and out of consciousness, and/or flushing of the skin; there can be other signs as well.

The medical experts at WebMD list some of the long-term health effects of using heroin.

  • Collapsed veins
  • Insomnia
  • Heart infections
  • Skin infections
  • Chance of contracting AIDS & Hepatitis
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Mental disorders
  • Lung diseases

There are also typical overdose signs to be aware of.

These are someone with pale skin, being in and out of consciousness, gasping for breath or weakened breathing, blue lips or fingertips, slurring words, irresponsive, and changes in mental awareness.

Those who succumb to these effects can be heroin addicts or have tried heroin for the first time. Anyone can overdose on heroin.

Heroin addiction treatment is recommended for anyone who is using the drug, despite how long they have used it or how much they are using it.

Risk Factors of Heroin Abuse

Just like with other substances, each individual has a unique set of risk factors involved that may lead them into the world of addiction.

Each person is affected by biological and environmental factors starting in the womb. From birth on, people, events, experiences, and what is physiologically and biologically going on within the body all contribute to whether someone will one day become an addict.

Those who have been surrounded by substances at a young age, those who live in poverty, those who experiment with drugs, and those who have had traumatic experiences are more likely to become addicted to substances, including heroin.

This does not, however, mean that all individuals who are described above will become addicts—there is simply a higher propensity toward addiction.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Whether an addict stops using heroin cold turkey or is detoxing through an inpatient heroin addiction treatment center, there will be withdrawal effects and they are not comfortable.

These symptoms (starting from mild to more severe) include but are not limited to:

  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Tearing
  • Runny nose
  • Sweats
  • Chills
  • Yawning a lot
  • Muscle and bone aches
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Goosebumps
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Hypertension
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscle spasms
  • Impaired respiration
  • Difficulty feeling pleasure

Withdrawal symptoms can last a few days to a few weeks. Those who experience more intense and longer-lasting symptoms may have post-acute withdrawal syndrome.

Those who want to detox should seek out heroin addiction help through an inpatient facility to do so safely and under medical supervision.