Heroin Overview: Addiction Signs, Withdrawal and Treatment

Heroin is a highly addictive drug that can cause severe dependence and intense withdrawal symptoms. This severe dependence and fear of painful withdrawal symptoms can lead many addicts to avoid heroin addiction treatment, but without treatment and safe detox, many heroin addicts will never fully recover and may even face death.

What is heroin?

Heroin is a synthetic opiate drug made from morphine. It usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a sticky black substance known as ìblack tar heroin.î Heroin is typically injected, but can also be snorted, smoked or swallowed. Heroin enters the brain very quickly, making it highly addictive and causing users to quickly become dependent upon the drug.

Nicknames and Street Names for Heroin

* Smack
* H
* Tar
* Chiba or Chiva
* Junk
* Brown Sugar
* Junk
* Skag
* Mud
* Dragon
* Dope
* White, China White, White Nurse, White Lady, White Horse, White Girl, White Boy, White Stuff
* Boy, He
* Black, Black Tar, Black Pearl, Black Stuff, Black Eagle
* Brown, Brown Crystal, Brown Tape, Brown Rhine
* Mexican Brown, Mexican Mud, Mexican Horse
* Snow, Snowball
* Scat, Sack, Skunk
* Number 3, Number 4, Number 8

Physical Effects of Heroin Addiction

* An intense “rush”
* Dry mouth
* Impaired, clouded mental functioning
* Nausea and vomiting
* Slowed breathing
* Constricted pupils
* Drowsiness
* Addiction
* Physical dependence
* Collapsed veins
* Blood infections, such as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C
* Bacterial infections
* Abscesses at injection spots
* Infection of the heart lining and valves
* Kidney and liver disease
* Arthritis and other rheumatologic problems
* Permanent damage to vital organs

Withdrawal from Heroin

Dependent users of heroin who abruptly stop using the drug will experience severe symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms can begin within a few hours and peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose. They will often subside after about a week, but some individuals will experience persistent symptoms for months. Severely dependent users who are in poor health can be at risk for death if sudden withdrawal occurs; however, it is normally less dangerous to withdraw from heroin than alcohol or barbiturates.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

* Restlessness
* Muscle and bone pain
* Insomnia
* Diarrhea
* Vomiting
* Cold flashes and goose bumps
* Kicking movements
* Severe drug craving

Heroin Rehab Medications

Common medications used to safely assist heroin withdrawal and minimize symptoms are Chlondine and Buprenorphine. After withdrawal, several medications can be used to prevent relapse. These heroin rehab medications include:

* Methadone: This synthetic opiate medication has been used for more than 30 years to treat heroin addiction. Methadone mimics the effects of heroin in the brain but without the intoxicating or sedating effects. This allows users to gradually reduce their desire for opioid drugs and prevent withdrawal symptoms.
* Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is a recently approved treatment for opiate addiction. Unlike methadone, buprenorphine has less risk for overdose and withdrawal effects and can be prescribed in a doctor’s office.
* Naltrexone: Naltrexone is not widely used for treating heroin addiction, but is still approved for treating cases of overdose and patients who are already detoxified in order to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Treating heroin addiction involves a variety of treatment options, including medications and behavioral therapies. Heroin addiction treatment often begins with medically assisted detox in order to help the patient safely withdraw from the drug; however, detox alone is not a treatment and is not effective in preventing relapse.  After detox, patients will receive behavioral treatment through residential or outpatient settings.

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