Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive substance, which can cause both short and long-term health problems and increase the risk of overdose.
If you have a heroin addiction, you will need to complete a heroin detox. However, the length of time it takes you to complete this treatment depends on many factors, such as the extent of your drug use.
Although overcoming a heroin addiction can be challenging, treatment and ongoing support are available via American addiction centers, such as our own. The detox process is only a small part of your recovery journey, but the impact of completing this vital first stage in treatment can last a lifetime.
What Is Heroin?
Belonging to the opiate family, heroin is a Schedule I street drug synthetically made from morphine. Usually, heroin is a fine, white powder with a bitter taste, but it can also appear gray and black, depending on the substances it is mixed with.
Like other opioid drugs, heroin can be administered by smoking, injecting, or snorting. It has rapid onset effects that typically last for up to an hour. However, the consequences can last longer when smoked. As heroin is illegal, it is unregulated. As a result, there is no way to know the actual ingredients of heroin or its strength. For this reason, it is a hazardous drug.
When administering large quantities of heroin, an overdose can occur. Although more common when injected, it is also possible to overdose on heroin when used alongside other substances, such as alcohol.
Why Is Heroin Addictive?
Drug abuse creates havoc among the brain’s natural reward system. Though many things, such as exercise, food, and sex, activate the brain’s reward system and release happy hormones including dopamine and endorphins, heroin offers an instant high. With prolonged use, the brain becomes accustomed to this high, craving it at all costs, leading to addiction.
Although overlooked due to being medically used to treat severe pain, prescription opiates including morphine, codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), and oxycodone (Oxycontin) can also lead to addiction. It has been reported that prescription painkillers pose a risk factor for heroin use. Sometimes people turn to heroin because they can no longer obtain prescription painkillers or because heroin is cheaper.
If you are using heroin and have developed a drug addiction, it is essential to reach out for help as soon as possible. Without medical guidance, it is difficult to stop using drugs when an addiction develops.
What Are the Risks of Using Heroin?
Sadly, opioid addiction is at epidemic levels in the United States. As of 2021, three million US citizens were reported to have suffered from an opioid use disorder. This is primarily due to misinformation surrounding opioids given by pharmaceutical companies in the 1990s that suggested opioid drugs were not addictive. In 2019, nearly 50,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the United States alone, and more than 14,000 of those people died from a heroin overdose in particular.
If you use heroin, you risk developing a drug addiction. While you may think that addiction usually only occurs upon taking substances over a prolonged period, addiction can arise from a single-use.
Having an addiction means you cannot control your drug use despite any adverse consequences to your health. As addiction is a vicious cycle, your body develops a tolerance to heroin over time, meaning more heroin is required for the same effect. In addition, as you use larger quantities of heroin, you risk overdosing.
In medical settings, naloxone is used to reverse the effects of an overdose by blocking opioid receptors in the brain. However, this is only a temporary solution to heroin abuse, and the only way to avoid the risk of future overdose is addiction treatment.
How Do I Know if I Have a Heroin Addiction?
Otherwise known as substance use disorder (SUD) or opioid use disorder (OUD), heroin addiction affects your mind and body. As an addiction develops, you may experience some physical and psychological symptoms.
Psychological symptoms of heroin addiction include:
- Mood swings
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Hostility and aggression
Physical symptoms of heroin addiction include:
- Bruising or scabbing of the skin
- Watery eyes
- Dry mouth
- Runny nose
- Itchy skin
- Weight loss
- Flu-like symptoms
- Chest infections
- Respiratory problems
- Gastrointestinal problems or constipation
When injecting heroin, your risk of contracting hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV increases, especially if you share needles. Additionally, long-term heroin use can lead to grave health issues, such as:
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Blood clots
- Infection of the heart lining and valve
If you are using heroin and experience any of these symptoms, telling someone, such as a friend, family member, or healthcare provider, is in your best interest. We also recommend contacting one of the many American addiction centers located across the country for medication-assisted treatment.
How Can I Tell if Someone Is Using Heroin?
If you are hoping to uncover how to tell if someone is using heroin, it is important to remember that it can be hard to recognize a heroin dependency. This is because many people go to great lengths to hide their addiction.
Some people avoid telling loved ones or family members about their addiction due to fear and shame. In contrast, others may keep their heroin abuse a secret due to not wanting to be confronted or encouraged to stop. In some instances, it is possible for those who use heroin to live in denial, and as a result, they may not think they have a problem.
Should you find yourself concerned that a loved one is struggling with an addiction and needs heroin addiction treatment, the following signs may highlight if they have a problem:
- Poor performance at school or work
- Abandoning commitments and things which were once important
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Risky behavior
- Wearing long-sleeve shirts to hide injection marks
- Secretive behavior and lying
- Financial difficulties
- Poor self-hygiene
These signs on their own don’t necessarily point to addiction. If someone is showing two or more of these signs and a drastic change in their behavior, this could indicate something is wrong.
If you suspect someone you know might have a heroin problem, it is normal to feel angry or upset. However, it is best to remain calm. Advice about what to do next and how best to help is on the other end of a phone call.
How Long Does It Take To Detox From Heroin?
Seeking addiction treatment and quitting heroin might seem daunting, but you are not alone – support is available via American addiction centers.
While many treatment options are available, a heroin addiction treatment program will be tailored to your needs when you commence treatment. To begin recovery, you will complete a heroin detox.
Heroin detox is the process of removing toxic substances from your body. Although you may think you can detox at home, doing so is not advised. While outpatient programs for substance abuse exist, inpatient heroin detox via a rehab center is the best route. With a medical detox program, you will detox under specialized care in a safe environment.
If you are about to embark on a medical detox, you might be wondering how long heroin withdrawal lasts. Typically, heroin leaves the bloodstream quickly, and detox only takes around seven to ten days, but everyone’s experience differs slightly.
Your detox experience depends on factors such as:
- the length, severity, and frequency of your heroin use.
- how you administered heroin.
- your body’s ability to metabolize heroin.
- your medical profile.
What Do Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms Look Like?
As you undergo heroin detox and traces of the drug leave your body, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant, but they signal that you are overcoming your physical addiction.
Usually, the heroin withdrawal timeline looks like this:
- Heroin withdrawal symptoms start within six to twelve hours of your last dose
- Withdrawal symptoms peak two to three days into your detox
- Symptoms continue for seven to ten days from your last heroin dose and slowly subside
Although they differ from person to person, heroin withdrawal symptoms often include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Nausea and sickness
- Abdominal pain
- Fever and sweating
- Tremors and muscle spasms
- Mood swings and agitation
- Anxiety and depression
- Drug cravings
Heroin withdrawal symptoms are manageable. However, if you experience severe symptoms, your medical provider or detox center may be able to prescribe medication to relieve them.
Sometimes withdrawal symptoms persist for much longer than the initial ten-day mark. This is called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which can occur for up to a year after detoxification. Ongoing outpatient support can help if you experience PAWS.
Upon completing detox, your physical dependence on heroin will have lifted. However, as part of the recovery process, you will need to work on your psychological addiction with the support of a treatment provider or certified addiction professional.
Drug rehab support area:
What Does Life in Recovery Look Like?
Following heroin detox, it is essential to unpick the factors that may have caused you to use heroin in the first place. Although this can cause unpleasant thoughts or trauma to arise, doing so is essential to avoid returning to bad habits and relapsing.
Alongside heroin detox, an addiction treatment program will help you maintain long-term recovery by offering you treatments such as therapy. You may attend individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy sessions as part of your recovery treatment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, will help you swap your existing unhealthy coping mechanisms for healthy ones.
Addiction often has a co-occurring mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a result, like many others, you may have initially started using heroin to ease a mental health problem. By discovering these problems and treating them appropriately, you will not only experience a better quality of life, but you will be able to avoid potential relapse triggers.
While detox is short, recovery is a lifelong endeavor. Relapse is common, but what is important is getting back on track. The road to recovery can be a bumpy one, but we’re with you every step of the way.