Heroin Drug Facts | A Center for Addiction Recovery

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Information provided below is courtesy of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Heroin Overview

 Heroin Addiction TreatmentHeroin (diacetylmorphine) is derived from the morphine alkaloid found in opium and is roughly 2-3 times more potent. A highly addictive drug, heroin exhibits euphoric ("rush"), anxiolytic and analgesic central nervous system properties. Heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and as such has no acceptable medical use in the United States. Pure heroin is a white powder with a bitter taste. Most illicit heroin is sold as a white or brownish powder and is usually "cut" with other drugs or with substances such as sugar, starch, powdered milk, or quinine. It can also be cut with strychnine or other poisons. Because heroin abusers do not know the actual strength of the drug or its true contents, they are at risk of overdose or death. Another form of heroin known as "black tar" may be sticky, like roofing tar, or hard, like coal. Its color may vary from dark brown to black.

Heroin Signs of Abuse

People who use or abuse heroin will eventually display various signs and symptoms of their drug habit; still, not all heroin abusers will be the same, as some use heroin differently and in different quantities. It all depends on the level of dependency, which can easily be life-threatening if not medically supervised. Heroin withdrawal is one of the worst fears of any individual suffering from addiction making it the hardest drug to quit in the world. Here are some signs of heroin abuse:

  • Slurred speech
  • Weight loss
  • Changes in personality or behavior
  • Runny nose
  • Disorientated thinking or movements
  • Track marks on arms or legs
  • Constant lying
  • Increased sleeping
  • Scabs or bruises due to picking at the skin
  • Wearing long shirts and pants even during warm weather

Effects of Heroin Abuse

Major health problems from heroin include miscarriages, heart infections, and death from overdose. People who inject the drug also risk getting infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Heroin is metabolized to morphine and other metabolites which bind to opioid receptors in the brain. The short-term effects of heroin abuse appear soon after a single dose and disappear in a few hours. After an injection of heroin, the user reports feeling a surge of euphoria (the "rush") accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, a dry mouth, and heavy extremities. Following this initial euphoria, the user experiences an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Mental functioning becomes clouded due to the depression of the central nervous system. Other effects that heroin may have on users include respiratory depression, constricted ("pinpoint") pupils and nausea. Effects of heroin overdose may also include slow and shallow breathing, hypotension, muscle spasms, convulsions, coma, and possible death. Intravenous heroin use is complicated by other issues such as the sharing of contaminated needles, the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and toxic reactions to heroin impurities. Other medical complications that may arise due to heroin use include collapsed veins, abscesses, spontaneous abortion, and endocarditis (inflammation of the heart lining and valves). Pneumonia may result from the poor health condition of the abuser, as well as from heroin's depressing effects on respiration. Heroin addiction can remove an otherwise healthy and contributing member from society, and may lead to severe disability and eventually death.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from Heroin addiction may lead to harsh symptoms and uncomfortable effects on the body, such as:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Chills
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to sleep
  • Weakness
  • Depression

For information about heroin rehab, please contact us at 1 (800) 570-4562