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What Does a Heroin Addict Look Like and What Do You Need to Know about Addiction?

It's no secret that heroin—also known as H, junk, or smack—is a highly addictive substance.

The question is, “Why is heroin so addictive?”

Let's explore the subject of heroin abuse and addiction.

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Heroin Addiction and Abuse - Helpful Information About the Drug

First, let's talk about the substance from a chemical and societal perspective.

Heroin is derived from the poppy plant. Poppy is primarily grown in four areas: South America, Southeast and Southwest Asia, and Mexico. It is an opiate. It is packaged and sold as a white powder, a brown powder, or black tar. Heroin is snorted, smoked, or injected. In some cases people will eat it.

Heroin has been illegal in the United States since 1924. The U.S. government banned the stuff in response to the addiction problem the country. Unfortunately, the attitude towards drug addiction is that of disdain rather than hope. Today, the punishment for possession and distribution is extreme. Prisons across the U.S. are full of addicts incarcerated for addiction related crimes.

Experts have said the country is currently in the grips of a heroin epidemic. More and more people are using junk.

Reports indicate the use of street heroin more than doubled between 2007 and 2012. Current statistics suggest the use of H continues to rise exponentially. Addiction experts say this is largely due to the purity and availability of the heroin currently available on today's black market. The H now being sold on the streets is high quality stuff. Plus, it is more readily available than it has been in decades.

Purity + Availability of Any Drug = Widespread Addiction

Another reason heroin has become so popular is because of the spike in prescription medication addiction. Opiates such as Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Morphine, and Fentanyl are being abused now more than ever. People who have become addicted to prescription opiates often turn to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get.

Heroin is a sedative type of drug that slows down the body's natural processes and produces an extreme feeling of relaxation. Like Morphine and other opiates, it is a pain killer. Heroin is physically addictive and causes extreme (even deadly) withdrawal symptoms that are extremely uncomfortable. Aside from the obvious feel-good sensations derived from using junk, the pain of physical withdrawal is the reason why heroin addicts continue to use heroin despite the many problems it causes.

Why H is So Addictive: The Textbook Answer

Heroin is a dangerous substance that can initiate the cycle of addiction after just one use. An addiction to H starts with that first time. That first high. That first buzz. What starts out with "just trying" can end up with dying. That is the reality of the situation. People experiment with heroin out of curiosity. They have heard about the stuff and they want to know how it will make them feel. Then, they become addicted to it. Many people die as a result of abusing heroin - and most of them die accidently.

Addiction is a disease of the brain. It's no surprise the body can become addicted to H so easily. The brain was designed to welcome the stuff. This is because heroin is an opioid and the brain is constructed with opioid receptor sites. These receptor sites can be thought of as keyholes to locks waiting to receive the right key. Heroin is that key. H, the opioid - or "key" - fits perfectly into the brain's opioid receptor site - the "keyhole" to the lock. Once H unlocks these receptor sites, the brain experiences the feel-good sensations accompanied by the substance.

What happens after one use is that the brain signals the body to invite more heroin to these receptor sites. This induces craving, which prompts the user to want more, only it takes more to experience the same effect. This is called tolerance. It doesn't take long for the body to need heroin to function. This is called dependence. Without it, the body gets sick and experiences withdrawal. This is called misery. To avoid the painful experience of withdrawal, heroin users will use more and more of the substance. This is called the persistent cycle of addiction - more, more, more.

Why H is So Addictive: The Rest of the Story

Okay, so you've gotten the textbook answer. Now, let's consider what you might hear if you attended Heroin 101 at The School of Hard Knocks.

Heroin Addiction

Why is this drug so addictive? Because it makes you feel incredibly good. There's no need to sidestep the issue and only approach H from a clinical perspective - although there is value in understanding heroin addiction as a brain disease. Junk makes people feel absolutely awesome. It's a fantastic feeling. Wonderful. Stupendous. Unparalleled. H takes away every care in the world. It kills pain. It numbs worry, anxiety, fear, and every negative feeling that accompanies the human experience. It feels incredible, people. That is the reality of smack. That is why people fall in love with the stuff. That is why users exalt it as their Higher Power. THAT is why people die from heroin addiction.

Signs You May Be Abusing Junk if You're the user

If you're using heroin ever…at all….for any reason….. even just a little bit…..you are putting yourself at risk for becoming a full-blown addict. Heroin is tricky. It creeps up. It happens slowly and then suddenly. What starts out as innocent experimentation and recreational use quickly becomes physical dependence.

You may "only" be using junk once a month and telling yourself you do it to unwind and have a little fun. Using once a month isn't a problem, you tell yourself. You have a job, you take care of your responsibilities, and you don't spend that much money on the stuff. Or, maybe you just use it on the weekends and you've convinced yourself it's okay to indulge as long as you keep yourself in check and take care of your business.

Think again.

Addiction is a liar, liar, pants on fire. Your mind will convince you of the most ridiculous nonsense in order to justify your drug use so you can keep on using. This is how addiction works. The brain and the body want the drug because it makes you feel good. The brain and the body want more of that feel-good. As a result, your mind will trick you into all sorts of scenarios to use more H. You might think you have everything under control and your life could be falling apart.

Want to know if you are abusing heroin? Here are 5 signs you might be:

  • You use heroin. That's a telltale sign that you might have a problem. This drug is nothing to play around with. It's serious business. Even if you're just using occasionally, you could be on your way to full-blown addiction.
  • You spend a lot of time thinking about heroin.
  • You get sick if you don't use the stuff.
  • You have stopped engaging activities you once enjoyed so you can use it.
  • You use H even when you told yourself you weren't going to.

What Does a Heroin Addict look Like and Act Like?

Although you might think so, heroin use is not always easy to spot. It is important to get the stereotypical junkie image out of your mind. Not everyone who uses this drug injects the stuff with a needle and lives on the street. Not all H addicts are covered head to toe in filth with open sores all over their bodies. Every single person addicted to smack does not have sex to support their habit. If you keep thinking this is what a heroin addict "looks like," you could easily overlook one when they are staring you in the face.

It's important to know the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction. It’s possible to be abusing heroin and not yet addicted. Any use of heroin is abuse since it’s illegal. A person who is abusing this drug may use it at parties or in the night clubs. They may only use on weekends or when they go out. Their drug use is still under control or so they think because they can work and take care of their responsibilities.

You may not see any difference in a person who is abusing heroin at first. They continue to look and act the same when they aren’t high. However, their focus begins to shift from the other areas of their life to getting an opportunity to use again. They will avoid activities and events where they can’t use or call in sick to work or show up late because they are using.

As the person uses more of the drug, the system develops a tolerance to it. The brain will need more for it to experience that same high as before. Soon, the abuser won’t be able to function without it because the brain has become dependent on heroin to function. At this point, you can say the person has become addicted.

A person who is addicted to this drug will do just about anything to get it. They will act disoriented, angry, irritable or confused until they get another hit. They may show physical signs of withdrawal such as nausea and vomiting, sweating, shaking, and weak or hurting muscles because the body is begging for the next fix. They will continue to use even when they lose their job and families and have no money to buy more. They may lie and steal to get the money they need for more drugs.

If you think someone you care about is abusing H, there are some signs that can help you recognize a user. Once you know what to look for, you can spot a heroin abuser a mile away. When someone is under the influence of the drug, there are telltale signs.

Here's what to look for:

  • Glassy eyes and dilated pupils
  • Eyes that blink longer than normal…..it's a slow, droopy-eyed kind of blink
  • Slowed and/or slurred speech and/or incoherent speech
  • Nodding - it looks like the person is falling asleep and then quickly catching themselves
  • A disregard for personal hygiene
  • Constant financial difficulties
  • Missing time - they disappear for hours or days at a time with no accountability for their whereabouts
  • They go on sleeping binges and sleep for 12 or more hours at a time
  • They lose their balance and fall often
  • They have difficulties at work, which may result in a job loss
  • They have begun to hang around a different crowd

If you know something seems "off," and you instinctively know there has been a change in the person you care about, take notice. Don't trust what they are telling you. Addiction and lying go hand in hand. If you believe you are dealing with heroin addiction, you probably are. The good news is that help is available.

The image of a heroin addict has changed over the years. Today’s addict could be your neighbor down the street, the cheerleader for the high school football team or the nurse who works in the local clinic. Many people who abuse heroin started with prescription painkillers. They suffered an injury or had surgery and were prescribed an opioid pain medication like Vicodin or OxyContin. When they became addicted to it and couldn’t get another prescription, they resorted to searching for it on the street. The person was introduced to heroin because it’s more easily accessible and cheaper than prescription drugs on the street.

A heroin addict isn’t necessarily what you would call a “loser.” Many times, the person has a successful job or high grades in school. They are popular, smart and seem to have their life together. In fact, the person may be using and still look like the picture of success. You can walk down the street and pass them by and never know they are on their way to get their next hit.

As a person uses more often and becomes addicted to the drug, they will develop certain physical characteristics which may help you tell they have a problem. One of the primary indications is a severe weight loss. Heroin depresses your appetite so you don’t care to eat. A person may use the drug for hours or even days and not take the time to eat or sleep.

Many times, a person will appear to walk strangely because their limbs feel heavy. They may lose their balance or slouch as they walk. You may also notice signs of drug use by how they access the heroin. For example, those who inject it will have needle marks or wear long sleeves to hide them. If the person smokes it, they may have burns on their fingers. Their eyes may be puffy.

Over time, the drug will impact the brain. You may be able to tell someone is addicted to heroin by the way they act. They will spend more time alone and stay away from family. The person will stop caring what they look like.

The drug will impact their ability to think and make rational decisions. Their mind seems numb and they’re unable to think clearly. You may notice they have trouble answering even the most basic questions.

Getting Help for an Addiction to Smack

Many people are able to abuse heroin and still maintain some semblance of a life - at least for a while. Many addicts work high-powered jobs, raise families, participate in social events, and remain active members of their communities long before their addiction takes over. For others however, the progression from recreational use to full-blown, devastating addiction is a rapid progression. In either case, if heroin addiction doesn't end in death - and it often does - it almost always end in the painful realization of rock bottom.

The thing is - it doesn't have to. Rock bottom is not a requirement for recovery. If you or someone you care about is abusing H, the situation can be arrested before dire circumstances arise. The trick is knowing how to handle the situation so you can help yourself, your friend, or family member before the situation gets out of control - if it isn't already.

Heroin Addict Rehab and Detox

To deal with your heroin addiction, the best option is to find a facility where you can get clean and learn how to stay clean. The process begins with detox, but it doesn’t end there. You must follow up with treatment at a rehab facility. To understand what to expect and what to look for in a program, you need to know about both of these concepts.

Before you can get help with your addiction, you must get the drug out of your system. This is a difficult and often lengthy process with heroin because it can have such a powerful hold on you. You’ll need to find a detox facility that specializes in treating those who are abusing heroin.

Your system is going to fight you on getting clean because it has come to depend on the drug. After your last use, you’ll begin to have withdrawal symptoms within a few hours. It begins with flulike symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, aching muscles, weakness and stomach cramps. However, the mental symptoms are often much worse with you feeling anxious, irritable and depressed. You may experience paranoia and hallucinations. It’s common for addicts to start itching and peeling at their skin during withdrawal.

These symptoms are so painful that many addicts relapse and go back to using heroin to get relief. For this reason and to prevent other, more serious side effects, it’s important not to try to do this alone. A detox facility can help you deal with the symptoms of heroin withdrawal in two ways.

Medical Detox

Many facilities provide medications to help with heroin detox because of its severity. These medications will provide relief from the symptoms of withdrawal and either reduce them or eliminate them. They work by mimicking the effects of the heroin to trick the brain into thinking it’s still getting the drug. However, they are considered to be less addictive.

The downside of this method is most of these drugs are somewhat addictive and must be managed closely. It will take longer to detox because you must be weaned off them slowly.

Holistic Detox

The other method of detoxing from heroin is to focus on nutrition and exercise so your body responds in a positive way. The right nutrients can help equip your immune system to fight the withdrawal naturally. Exercise is also important because it releases the endorphins that make you feel good.

This method is considered safer because there are no concerns about a secondary addiction and you’re improving your health for detox and for moving forward with treatment.

Look for detox programs that address the unique issues that come from heroin use. Consider those which offer both methods of treatment to help you be successful with getting clean. Once you complete this first step, you’re ready to move on to step two.

Addiction treatment is an important process to equip you for living life without drugs. One of the essential components of any program is therapy. You’ll learn about why you became addicted and deal with any underlying issues, such as past trauma and mental issues. You’ll work to heal broken relationships and self-image problems. This aspect of treatment usually consists of both individual counseling and group therapy. In the group meetings, you get support from other recovering addicts as everyone learns how to live life without heroin.

You may also be prescribed medication to help you avoid relapse. These drugs are designed to inhibit your ability to get high even if you use heroin. Some medications may be given to deal with a mental health disorder that led you to become addicted.

You may get involved in social activities and community programs by volunteering. The idea behind these components of treatment is to help give you confidence to experience life without drugs and to give you a sense of purpose.

Not all drug rehab centers have the same programs, so it’s important to do your research and see what’s available. The best centers develop individual treatment plans that are customized to your needs and situation.

An addiction to junk almost always requires a detox program.

This is because stopping the use of heroin is most effective when it is accompanied by a medically supervised detox program. This happens at a rehabilitation facility. Many people avoid getting treatment for addiction because they are put off by the idea of checking themselves into a rehab. For now, don't focus on how long of a stay may be required for treatment. Focus on getting yourself or your loved the help that is so desperately needed. It's time to kick H to the curb.

Do some homework and learn more about getting treatment for heroin addiction. Contact Ashwood Recovery today if you want help dealing with your addiction or to find out how to help a loved one in this situation.

Ashwood Recovery

Heroin Rehab – The Step Forward to a New Life

Once you’ve completed detox, you will already feel much better. However, you may be afraid to face life on your own. What if you fall back into old patterns? What if you fail at this attempt to make a new start? This is why you must continue your journey with heroin rehab.

You will need to find a facility that treats people who were addicted to this powerful drug. You can attend an outpatient program where you are still allowed to go home and to work while getting the therapy you need. For a heroin addiction, you may need to look into an intensive outpatient program that provides more time in therapy each week and may even include family therapy.

For those who have a long-term addiction or have been using heavily, you may need to seek out an inpatient or residential treatment program. With this option, you stay at a rehab facility for a period of time, usually 30 days or even longer, while you get treatment. This option is ideal for those who want to focus on getting better with no distractions. It also keeps them away from the bad influences and triggers that led to their addiction in the first place.

Both options of treatment are valuable, but you must decide which one is best for you. Not all heroin addicts look alike, so not all treatment programs are the same.

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