Common Reasons People Use Heroin
How to Tell if Someone You Love is Using

Heroin is an illegal opioid narcotic, one which has been largely responsible for the recent nationwide opioid epidemic. Since the year 2007 rates of heroin addiction and overdose have been on the rise throughout the U.S. and tens of thousands of innocent people have lost their lives as a direct result. Heroin addiction can happen to anyone; a dedicated college student with a bright future ahead of them, a parent with a spot on the PTA and stable, coveted career, a medical practitioner who knows the dangers involved in opioid abuse like the back of their hand. Heroin addiction does not discriminate. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 948,000 Americans reported using heroin in the year 2016 alone. The majority of heroin users in the U.S. are young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, though no demographic is exempt.

At CuraSouth we have seen the devastation heroin addiction causes in the lives of everyone involved. Fortunately, recovery is possible regardless of how severe an addictive disorder has become. When it comes to heroin addiction recovery, medically monitored detox comes as a highly recommended first step. Our Tampa, Florida detox center provides clients with a combination of medication assisted treatment options and evidence-based therapies, providing a safe and pain-free drug and alcohol withdrawal while laying a solid foundation for continued success in sobriety. To learn more about heroin detox, contact us today.

Why Do People Use Heroin?

If you have been watching someone you love struggle with heroin addiction, one question is likely ringing in your mind. “Why?” Why would your loved one throw away everything they had going for them in order to continue using? Why doesn’t your loved one care about their own well-being; why don’t they care enough about you to just stop? Or at least TRY to stop? People who use heroin report feeling an intense rush of euphoria coupled with a complete eradication of anxiety. They describe feeling “warmth, relaxation and detachment,” three feelings which can be extremely powerful to someone who is struggling with the symptoms of an untreated mental illness, unresolved trauma or unfavorable environmental factors.

The reasons why someone picks up heroin in the first place depend heavily on personal circumstances. Some people might be peer pressured into trying heroin for the first time; they might want to be accepted by their peers, and agree to something they are not necessarily comfortable with. They might be dealing with severe symptoms associated with an untreated mental illness or PTSD, and be willing to try anything that offers them a respite from their emotional pain, no matter how brief. In short, people use heroin — at least initially — because of the effect it produces.

Over time and with repeated use, however, heroin use becomes compulsive and uncontrollable. The person undergoes significant neurological changes. The reward center of the brain is impacted and undergoes physical changes over time. According to an article published by the National Library of Medicine, “Repeated administration of high doses of heroin results in the induction of physical dependence. Physical dependence refers to an altered physiological state produced by chronic administration of heroin which necessitates the continued administration of the drug to prevent the appearance of a characteristic syndrome, the opioid withdrawal or abstinence syndrome.” The heroin user goes to great lengths to avoid withdrawal. At this point, heroin use is no longer a choice. To the user, it is quite literally a matter of life or death.

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How to Tell if Someone is Using Heroin

How can you tell if someone you love has been abusing heroin? There are several different indications. First of all, it is a good idea to keep an eye out for telltale behavior changes. Has your loved one been spending more time alone? Do they have an increased need for privacy? Do they take frequent trips to the restroom or sleep strange hours? Have they been neglecting personal hygiene, losing weight and wearing more long-sleeved t-shirts (potentially hiding track marks)? If you would like to learn more about the behavioral warning signs associated with heroin addiction, we recommend contacting an individual therapist with a personal background in addiction and setting up an appointment, or contacting a treatment center like CuraSouth for more information. Another telltale way to tell if someone you love is using heroin is by keeping an eye out for heroin paraphernalia. If a person is using heroin — whether they are injecting the drug, snorting it or smoking it — they need certain pieces of equipment in order to get high.

The Different Types of Heroin

Heroin itself can be found as a coarse powder or as a dark, sticky substance. When purchased in a powdered form heroin is typically off-white, yellow or brown. Black tar heroin is dark in color and sticky to the touch. While heroin can be snorted or smoked, most heroin users eventually transition to intravenous use because the effects are more intense and they are felt more quickly. When a person injects heroin they first reduce it to a liquid, which requires certain pieces of equipment like spoons and cigarette lighters.

Heroin Paraphernalia to Look Out for Include:

  • Intravenous Use – If your loved one is injecting the drug, you might find hypodermic needles or syringes, crude tourniquets fashioned from a belt, a shoelace or a rubber tube, and concealer used to cover up track marks. You might find torn up and stained cotton balls or q-tips, used to remove impurities from the heroin after it has been melted down. Metal spoons are frequently used to melt down the heroin; paraphernalia includes spoons which have been bent and burned (you might notice spoons are missing from your utensil drawer). Bottle caps can also be used to reduce heroin to a liquid. You might also find one or several lighters stashed away.
  • Nasal Use – If your loved one is snorting heroin, you might find rolled up money (bills), cut up straws, razor blades (used to cut the substance into thin lines) and an off-white or brown powder residue. Many people who begin snorting heroin eventually transition to intravenous use, which increases the risk of overdose significantly.
  • Inhalation – If your loved one is smoking heroin you might find burnt pieces of aluminum foil, which can be used to hold the heroin as it is being smoked. You will also likely find several lighters, matchbooks or candles, along with rolling papers or a glass pipe. If your loved one is smoking heroin they might also be mixing the substance with tobacco or marijuana, attempting to disguise the distinct smell.

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Why is Heroin So Addictive?

Heroin is an extremely addictive drug. The intense rush of euphoria a person experiences upon using the drug can be addictive in and of itself. According to NIDA, “Studies have shown some loss of the brain’s white matter associated with heroin use, which may affect decision-making, behavior control, and responses to stressful situations.” The severity of withdrawal symptoms also leads people to continue using heroin despite negative consequences. In order to avoid getting “dope sick” they seek, obtain and use heroin compulsively, which leads to the rapid development of addiction.

Why do people use heroin

The Short & Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use

There are many short and long-term effects of heroin abuse, both physical, psychological and behavioral in nature. The longer a person abuses heroin the more difficult it becomes to quit. However, this doesn’t mean recovery is impossible — it simply means a more intensive program of treatment will be necessary. As soon as heroin enters the brain it converts back to morphine and binds with opioid receptors, slowing down the central nervous system (which in turn slows down vital functions like heart rate, breathing and stress response).

Common Short-Term Effects of Heroin Use Are:

  • A warm flushing of the skin, an increase in body temperature.
  • A heavy feeling in the extremities/sluggishness.
  • Excessive drowsiness/an inability to stay awake.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Slowed breathing/respiratory depression.
  • Slowed cognitive function which can lead to a lack of coordination.
  • Risk of overdose and overdose-related death.

Common Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use Are:

  • The development of physical and psychological dependence.
  • The development of a physical tolerance, meaning more heroin is required in order for the desired effects to be produced.
  • Withdrawal symptoms, which occur when heroin use is stopped abruptly. A range of serious personal consequences, including legal issues, financial insecurity, health problems and issues in interpersonal relationships.
  • Serious health issues depending on the severity of the addiction and the method of ingestion (for example, lung damage if heroin is being smoked or abscesses/skin infections if heroin is being used intravenously).

NIDA reports, “Studies have shown some deterioration of the brain’s white matter due to heroin use, which may affect decision-making abilities, the ability to regulate behavior, and responses to stressful situations.” Fortunately, the majority of short and long-term consequences of heroin use can be reversed with prolonged sobriety.

How to Help Someone Who is Using Heroin

How can you help someone who is addicted to heroin and who repeatedly refuses help? You might feel as if you are at your wit’s end; nothing is working, not begging, pleading, setting boundaries or giving ultimatums. If you have seemingly run out of options, we suggest staging a professional intervention. At CuraSouth we work directly with several professional interventionists in Tampa, Florida and surrounding areas. We are happy to put you in touch with someone who knows how to get the ball rolling. Contact us to learn more.

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The Best Treatment Options for Heroin Addiction

If your loved one has been struggling with heroin addiction, which treatment option is the best choice? At CuraSouth we highly recommend anyone who is serious about maintaining sobriety enter into a multi-phased program of care. Medical detox is always a recommended first step, regardless of how severe the heroin addiction has become. In medical detox a person undergoes a safe and comfortable heroin withdrawal while being closely monitored by a team of experienced medical professionals. While the physical symptoms associated with heroin detox are rarely fatal, the intense drug cravings often lead a person back to heroin use before the withdrawal process has come to an end. This is why a short-term stay at an inpatient detox center is so beneficial. Once the person has been physically stabilized and the system has been completely cleared of all chemical substances, we recommend transitioning directly into a higher level of clinical care. Between one and three months in an inpatient rehab is suggested, though a person with a less severe substance use disorder and no underlying mental health conditions might opt to transition directly into a partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient treatment program. A combination of medication assisted treatment options like Suboxone and intensive psychotherapy has proven to be the most beneficial treatment for opioid addiction. To learn more about the best course of action for you or your loved one, contact us today.

Contact Us Today to Get Started

When you or someone you love is ready to seek help for heroin addiction, CuraSouth is available. Our admissions process is simple and straightforward and can be completed in as little as 15 minutes. We provide a complimentary pre-assessment during our initial phone call, along with a free, no obligation insurance benefit check. We work with most major national health insurance providers as well as most major regional providers in Southern Florida and surrounding areas. Finally, we help coordinate local travel to our Tampa, Florida detox facility. All you or your loved one has to do is ask for help. We will take care of the rest. If you would like to learn more about why people use heroin or how you can help someone you love seek professional help for heroin addiction, contact us today.

Travis Atchison

Reviewed for accuracy by: our Clinical Director:

Travis Atchison

Travis is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Addiction Professional. He has worked in various community-based settings, where he served families and couples, addressed issues related to homelessness and crisis and worked in a substance abuse setting.