If someone is showing signs of a heroin overdose, call 911 immediately.
For more than a decade now, it seems like we have been unable to turn on the news or read the newspaper without seeing a story about how heroin is causing trouble in our communities.
Unfortunately, for many of us, it doesn’t take turning on the news or opening the paper to see what heroin can do. As the opioid epidemic continues to wage in our country, more and more of us are witnessing firsthand what the deadly drug does to our loved ones.
Here in New Mexico, it is even more likely than in many other places that we have these experiences. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, New Mexico ranks 12th in the country for overdose deaths, and two out of every three of the overdose deaths in the state are tied to opioids.
However, there are more side effects from typical heroin use than the potential for overdose. Let’s dive into them.
What Is Heroin?
First of all, what is heroin? We hear about heroin frequently, but do even the majority of us know what it truly is? Chances are not.
Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid that derives from the drug morphine. When entered into the body, heroin acts almost as morphine does. While morphine is used pharmaceutically, heroin is fully illegal and is sold on the streets and consumed recreationally.
Heroin is addictive because it provides an immediate rush of pleasure, joy, and often leads a person to float in and out of a state of consciousness. These feelings often leave the person wanting more and more heroin. This urge leads to increased tolerance to the drug and eventually dependence and addiction.
Heroin addiction is defined as an uncontrollable set of behaviors to continue consuming the drug despite the negative consequences of using it.
Heroin is often used in three main ways. The most common method of use is injection. This is when the drug is injected directly into a vein. Injection is often followed by a rush of what feels like cold and near immediate effects. Heroin may also be consumed by snorting it in its powder form or smoking it.
How Many Americans Use Heroin?
As mentioned earlier, heroin use and overdoses are critical problems in New Mexico. We are not alone, however.
In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the United States faced the highest number of overdose deaths of all time — an estimated 93,331. Unfortunately, we have to understand that the number of deaths from heroin is also in the territory of five figures.
The CDC reported that in 2019, there were 14,000 American lives lost to heroin overdose. This number is seven times higher than the rate of death in 1999.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates in total that nearly half a million Americans use heroin.
Physical Side Effects of Heroin Addiction
The impact of heroin on a person’s physical health depends on a number of factors. These factors include:
- Overall health
- How much is used
- Length of use
- Method of use
- Any underlying health conditions
Most short-term physical side effects can be seen quickly after dosage. While these short-term physical side effects can become serious, they often subside after a temporary appearance.
Short-term physical side effects include:
- A rush of happiness or joy
- A trance-like state
- Unnatural relaxation
- Slowed breathing
- Slowed heart rate
- Numbness in limbs
- Flushed skin
- Runny nose
With continued use of heroin, the most serious long-term physical side effect is dependence. Dependence is a natural response by the body to the ongoing presence of heroin. It becomes clearer that dependence is in place through two things — tolerance and withdrawal.
We can see dependence through tolerance because as a body adapts to the drug’s presence, it requires more and more to reach the same effects.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms also show that a person has become dependent on the drug. Having withdrawal symptoms, at a minimum, means general discomfort when the drug is withheld from the body. Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Muscle pain
Withdrawal symptoms and tolerance often cause a person to return to heroin or continue increasing dosages. This heightens the risk of more serious and long-term physical side effects, as well as overdose.
Mental Side Effects of Heroin Addiction
As with any substance, heroin has an incredible amount of impact on our minds. The short-term mental effects of heroin are mostly seen and known as positive — they are the reason for using heroin in the first place.
With enough heroin use, as mentioned earlier, dependence and addiction can set in. When that happens, going without heroin can cause extreme mental distress.
Mental side effects of heroin use and addiction can include:
- The feeling of hopelessness
- Inability to sleep (insomnia)
- Fatigue (also physical)
- Intense cravings for more heroin
- Panic attacks
- Paranoia (fear of someone or something)
Over time, these side effects can overtake the mind and render it impossible for a person to regulate their own thoughts and typical functioning.
Other Side Effects of Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction, and any addiction, can cause havoc on all aspects of a person’s life. On top of the physical and mental side effects, a person may also face things like:
- Increased risk of overdose
- Pregnancy loss
- Sexually transmitted diseases from unsafe decision-making
- Kidney diseases
- Lung diseases
- Brain damage
- Relationship trouble
Signs of Heroin Overdose
Thinking of the possibility of overdose is scary, and most that use heroin never want to think of the possibility. However, it is impossible to completely ignore.
Experiencing an overdose is absolutely terrifying. It is of the utmost importance to know what to do in case you are around someone who may have overdosed.
Overdose occurs when someone has consumed too much of any given drug. Heroin overdose is clearer than other overdoses because the primary indicator is slowed or stopped breathing.
Opioids, like heroin, depress breathing rates. When too much is consumed, the rate of breathing is substantially lower. Depressed breathing looks like:
- Shallow breaths
- Pale skin
- Gasping for air
- Lips and/or fingers/toes turn blue
Depressed breathing is also joined by other symptoms like:
- Weak pulse
- Tongue discoloration
- Pinpoint pupils (the black centers of the eyes)
- Disorientation (confusion)
- Inability to stay awake
If someone is showing signs of a heroin overdose, call 911 immediately.
Overcoming Heroin Addiction Is Possible
As scary as facing withdrawal symptoms and beginning the overall journey to recovery seems, it is so worth it. To enjoy a happier and healthier life is to love life again.
Overcoming heroin addiction and dependence begins with detox. Detoxing from heroin, and facing withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, panic, fever, nausea, and more, is not easy to do alone. Please never detox from heroin alone, or by quitting cold turkey. Without the help of medical professionals, withdrawal symptoms can become worse and even life-threatening.
During a medically supervised detox, a client is given direct support to reduce withdrawal symptoms before they become overwhelming. This may also mean using medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT helps in stabilizing the brain’s chemistry and body functions without the symptoms of withdrawal.
The use of medications can relieve the symptoms of withdrawal and work in tandem with behavioral therapy and holistic treatments. These have proven to be most effective in the handling of opioid use disorder (OUD).
After detox, it is important to find treatment that includes a few things regardless of whether you begin an outpatient or inpatient program.
- Group therapy sessions
- Sessions should focus on specific underlying disorders, life issues, or treatment topics
- Treatment for co-occurring disorders
- This includes polysubstance misuse, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health disorders
- Life skills
- Job skills development and legal assistance
- Creating a plan to continue recovery following the exit from the program
Call Shadow Mountain Today
Shadow Mountain Recovery is where lifelong healing from addiction begins. We have three locations in New Mexico that offer a mix of treatments in both inpatient and outpatient settings.
Our Santa Fe location offers the chance to receive evidence-based treatments while also participating in things like adventure therapy with a hike at Santa Fe National Forest. Clients might also pick up art therapy ideas from community art shows.
The nature and mystique of the Southwest lend to the spirituality that is often at the core of addiction treatment. We are an all-inclusive treatment center that taps into that spirituality to help some clients fill the void that substance use can cause.
Beginning with detox and continuing through aftercare, we will work with you through the entire recovery process to make sure you reach your goals of happiness and healthiness.