Causes & Effects of Heroin Addiction

Understanding Heroin Addiction

Learn About Heroin Addiction & Abuse

An addiction to heroin is one of the most difficult forms of chemical dependency to overcome. Classified as an opioid, this perilous substance can quickly take hold of every aspect of a person’s life and render an individual vulnerable to a variety of consequences if treatment is not sought.

When smoked, snorted, or injected, heroin causes those who use it to experience intense feelings of euphoria and a profound inability to experience sensations of pain. Because of the highly addictive properties found within this drug, an individual can become addicted to it even after just a few uses. Furthermore, when addicted to heroin, a person will likely be unable to perform to expectation at work, maintain relationships with others, sustain good health, and lead an otherwise satisfying life. Heroin can also cause an individual to become physically dependent on it, which means a person will go through a process of withdrawal once the use of this substance stops. And because heroin withdrawal includes both physical and psychological pangs that can drive an individual back to using this substance again and again, professional help is most often warranted in order to defeat a heroin use disorder.

Fortunately, for those who desire to put an end to a heroin addiction once and for all, there are effective and life-changing treatment options available. In choosing to receive professional help for this type of chemical dependency concern, an individual can soon come to know a life that is no longer riddled with the adversities that heroin abuse elicits.


Heroin Abuse Statistics

The prevalence of heroin abuse in today’s world is rising and is currently showing no signs of slowing down. According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, almost .50% of people in the United States meet diagnostic criteria for an opioid use disorder, though researchers suspect it could be higher given the large number of individuals who are addicted to heroin but are also in jail. Additionally, research shows that males are far more likely than females to abuse and become addicted to this substance.

Lastly, experts have concluded that the suicide rate among those who abuse heroin is quite high. Either done on accident via an overdose or with intent because of the strife occurring in their lives, the suicide risk among heroin users remains elevated due to the increased prevalence of severe depression that often occurs at the same time as opioid abuse.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Heroin Abuse

In order to understand what causes an individual to resort to heroin abuse and, thusly, become addicted to it, one must consider a few contributing factors. The following causes and risk factors are those that addiction experts believe can make a person more vulnerable to abusing heroin:

Genetic: A person’s genetic make-up can be a strong determinant for the development of a heroin use disorder. If an individual has a family history of addiction, namely heroin addiction, that person is more likely to also struggle with similar concerns when compared to those who do not have a similar family history.

Environmental: An individual’s home environment in which he or she was raised or the places in which a person spends most of his or her time can greatly impact whether or not an individual abuses heroin. In addition to exposure to drug use early in life, those who are subjected to a great deal of stress, chaos, violence, or abuse are at an increased risk for experimenting and sequentially abusing heroin. The reason these factors can play such a significant role in the development of a heroin addiction has to do with the individual’s ability to cope with such stressors, which, if that person is unable to process in a healthy way, may lead to the abuse of heroin.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of prior substance use or mental illness
  • Experiences with peer pressure
  • Early/ongoing exposure to stress, chaos, and/or violence
  • Being able to easily acquire heroin
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Personal history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Abuse

The telltale warning signs of heroin abuse can vary from person to person. Depending on the method of administration, the longevity of the drug abuse, and the severity of the addiction itself, the warning signs that infer an individual is addicted to heroin can be vast.

The following behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial signs and symptoms of heroin abuse are those that may or may not be observable by others when one is abusing heroin:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Stealing
  • Possessing paraphernalia used for heroin abuse
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts or long pants in an attempt to hide injection marks from intravenous drug use
  • Struggling to perform at the expected level at work or school
  • Picking at one’s skin
  • Lying
  • No longer participating in activities or hobbies that one once enjoyed
  • Associating with a new peer group

Physical symptoms:

  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Constipation
  • Bruising or scabbing of the skin
  • Presence of needle marks on the arms or legs
  • Changes in eating habits

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Disorientation
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Poor impulse control
  • Diminished decision-making abilities

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Hostility
  • Excitability
  • Abrupt shifts in mood
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased interest in pleasurable activities
  • Depression

Lasting Effects

Effects of Heroin Abuse

Abusing heroin for an extended period of time can elicit a number of detrimental consequences that can quickly destroy a person’s life. The longer heroin abuse persists, the more severe these consequences can become.

The below listed effects are those that are known to occur if a person continues to abuse heroin and does not seek professional help:

  • Loss of one’s job
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Financial troubles
  • Homelessness
  • Conflict with close loved ones
  • Divorce
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Incarceration
  • Inception of self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Polysubstance abuse

Furthermore, a person who is grappling with an addiction to heroin is also likely to experience adverse health effects as a result of his or her use of this substance. The following are the health concerns that can occur if a person remains addicted to heroin:

  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Organ damage
  • Contraction of viruses, such as hepatitis or HIV
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms

Co-Occurring Disorders

Heroin Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Similar to other substance use disorders, those who are struggling with a heroin use disorder are at an increased risk for experiencing the symptoms of certain mental health conditions at the same time. Whether mental health concerns existed before the development of the addiction, or if they manifested once the abuse of this substance began, the following disorders are those that are known to impact the lives of those suffering from an addiction to heroin:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Heroin Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal: Because a person’s body can become accustomed to the presence of heroin, the abrupt cessation of using this substance can cause an individual to experience a series of uncomfortable and even painful symptoms as a result. Known as withdrawal, this process can include the following and trigger a person to abuse heroin time and time again:

  • Diarrhea
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Intense cravings for heroin
  • Muscle pain
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Chills
  • Bone pain
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Vomiting

Effects of heroin overdose: As an individual develops a greater tolerance for heroin, he or she will require increased amounts of this substance in order to experience the desired effects. When this occurs, a person is exceedingly vulnerable to experiencing an overdose. An overdose occurs when a person’s system become overloaded by the presence of heroin and attempts to prevent harm by prompting bodily reactions as a means of ridding the excess heroin from the body. During an overdose, a person may display the following signs, which should cue those around him or her to reach out for emergency medical attention so as to avoid a fatal outcome:

  • Weakened pulse
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Labored breathing
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Disorientation
  • Lips turning a bluish color
  • Coma
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle spasms
  • Constricted pupils
  • Tongue discoloration
  • Hypotension
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My dad relapsed again. Our entire family had had enough and we were willing to go to any length to end his addiction once and for all. He went to Serenity Knolls and it turned out to be the best decision we ever made. His recovery was nothing short of a miracle, from hopeless addict to empowered father and husband.

– James C.