“When your world feels chaotic, your relationships have crumbled and you don’t recognize yourself anymore, it’s time for help. Why can’t you see this?
I’m hitting my rock bottom in this relationship for sure. I have lost my job, people I loved, and my apartment. Your addiction is an incubator for destruction, and it attacks anyone in its wake.
The last few months in our family have been challenging. Our dad is sick, and our mom is maintaining the household while taking care of him. You are still absent in your addiction, and I am back home where I started – an unwelcomed reminder of how dominating your disease is.
We are all caught up in this hamster wheel of emotions, mourning the way our family use to be. Our dad has suffered a stroke and he must retire from a job he loved so much. His PTSD has become erratic, and he must get acquainted with his new way of life, as does our mother. This is a challenging task but adding your addiction into the mix is a recipe for disaster.
Your addiction to prescription pills has been expensive. You spent all your money, sold off a lot of our jewelry, and still cannot afford to maintain your habit. Now you have met heroin. It is cheaper and you have easy access to it. Now that I am more present back at home, I see you going on the nod a lot more often and it is terrifying.
I am right back where I tried to escape, watching your every move. Are you breathing? Are you driving? A friend of mine found you nodding out on a main road at a red light – you were driving. You go missing for hours, fall asleep at people’s houses, and I’m always looking for you. Something has got to give!
You have been pulling disappearing acts that scare the hell out of me and I have had enough. You are home now, high, of course. I confront you about your girlfriend and her child. I am trying to tell you that this has gone on far too long and I am going to report both of you to child services because you are not fit to be near a toddler. You don’t like what I am saying, you are combative, and the conversation heats up. Our parents become involved. In an effort to get away from us, you climb out on the roof and jump off. Things escalate so quickly, it’s a blur.
Dad has a PTSD attack and is now blacked out in a blind rage, letting out so many emotions about your addiction that he has suppressed for so long. I find myself between the two of you: Trying to protect you and trying to protect him. I take a blow to the ribs during this, and Dad just about has a heart attack.
We call an ambulance. At the hospital, I tell you we are done. I won’t let you take my Dad from me too. He doesn’t even want you to come see him, and I see in you, for the first time in years, remorse and understanding. We stopped talking for a while after that – strangers again… but not for long.”
– An Addict’s Sister
Heroin is an opioid street drug derived from morphine, which originates from the opium poppy plant. It comes in various forms, including powder, which can be white or brown, a sticky tar-like or hard substance (“black tar heroin”).
How is Heroin Used?
Heroin is used in multiple ways. Heroin can be snorted, sniffed, smoked, or mixed with water and injected intravenously. Sometimes, heroin users mix it with other drugs for a “speed ball” effect.
What Does Heroin Feel Like?
Heroin has the same pleasurable, euphoric effects on users that other opioid drugs do. Users may also feel other effects in the short-term, including not being able to think straight, itching, flushing and even nausea and vomiting. Some report a heaviness in the legs and a dry mouth. An overdose of heroin can cause unconscious, suppress breathing and lead to death.
“Heroin is extremely addictive no matter how it is administered, although routes of administration that allow it to reach the brain the fastest (i.e., injection and smoking) increase the risk of developing heroin use disorder. Once a person has heroin use disorder, seeking and using the drug becomes their primary purpose in life.” – (National Institutes of Health, 2021)
Heroin addiction is defined being unable to stop or control their use of heroin and continuing to use the drug despite serious consequences occurring in more than one area of life (home/family, work, school, et al.).
Just as with other drugs, users develop a tolerance to it. Higher and more frequent doses are required to achieve the same effect. Eventually, users are using more to ward off withdrawal symptoms versus chasing a high.
Withdrawal Symptoms of Heroin
“In the beginning, there’s a lot of nausea. But mainly the worst thing is the joint pain and restlessness combined with weakness and sleeplessness… What’s horrible is how badly you miss your drug, because you know it will give you relief. It’s very unpleasant, there’s no doubt about it… Basically, you just feel like crap.” – Emily,as quoted in “What It’s Really Like to Withdraw from Heroin and Painkillers,” (Minnpost.com, 2014)
Being “dopesick,” or experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms, can be intense. Symptoms can arrive just hours (usually, six to 12) after the last dose and remain for up to a week or longer. The most acute phase peaks within the first three days, generally, and users experiencing gradual improvement over the next four.
- Bone Pain
- Cravings for Heroin
- Goose Bumps (from chills)
- Involuntary Movements of the Leg
- Muscle Pain
- Runny Nose
- Stomach Pain
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, can linger for months after ceasing heroin use. It has less intense symptoms, yet can sometimes interfere with recovery and progress in addiction treatment.
Side Effects of Heroin Use
At one point, I had an abscess in my leg that was so bad, I had a staph infection. My leg was like four times its normal size. When the doctors cut my leg open to clean it out, I had maggots in my leg. They were eating the rot, the infection. That wasn’t enough for me to quit… I have contracted Hepatitis-C from sharing needles with people that I don’t know who. I’ve shot up toilet water because I didn’t want to spend any money to go buy a bottle of water… I didn’t care what it was going to do to me later on. Just, I wanted what it, the feeling of it right then and there. – Melissa,as quoted in Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opioid Addict (FBi.gov, n.d.)
It’s not just addiction and overdose that can happen with heroin use. Long-term users can suffer a range of effects.
- Gastrointestinal effects (stomach cramping, constipation, etc.)
- Reduction of white matter in the brain, affecting the ability to control behavior, respond well to stress, and make decisions
- Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV infections (with needle sharing)
- Kidney Disease
- Liver Disease
- Mental Illness
- Nasal Passage Damage (with snorting)
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Skin, Heart, and Lung Infections
- Vein collapse (from intravenous drug use)
Heroin Addiction Treatment
Addiction is typically self-medication for childhood trauma, mental illness, stress and other life issues. However, the root cause cannot be addressed until users get through the acute phase of detoxing from heroin.
Undergoing detox in a medical setting is the important first step toward recovering from heroin addiction. The staff at your detox of choice will ensure you stay medically stable and as comfortable as possible while your body adjusts to the absence of the drug it has grown used to.
Once detox is complete, attending a qualified heroin addiction treatment center it is highly recommended. There, those in early recovery will receive individual counseling from a trained therapist, group therapy and medical attention. Everything is geared toward helping the clients discover the reason behind why they starting using, building coping skills to assist with staying clean in the future, and crafting a firm foundation for a new, clean life.
Longer-term treatment programs work better than short-term. Even after a 120-day program, however, some former heroin users need more time in structured sober living as well as counseling on an outpatient basis.
It’s certainly a worthy investment, both in time and cost, because the rest of your life can be the best of your life. If you are someone you love is struggling with heroin addiction, reach out to a qualified treatment center today.
READ MORE IN THE “AN ADDICT’S SISTER” SERIES:
A Glimpse Out My Window: An Addict’s Sister Shares Her Story
The Distance Between Us: The Changing Roles Within a Family of Addiction
Falling in Love: A Toxic Relationship with Oxy
My Ignorance… Your Addiction: Codependency in Families with Addiction
New Beginnings: When Addiction Recovery Starts
Federal Bureau of Investigations, F. B. of I. (2016, February 4). Chasing the dragon: The life of an opiate addict | Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI. Retrieved June 12, 2022, from FBI.gov
National Institute of Drug Abuse, (2021, April 13). What are the long-term effects of heroin use? National Institutes of Health. Retrieved June 12, 2022, from National Institutes of Health
Williams, S. T. (2014, February 24). What’s it really like to withdraw from heroin and painkillers? MinnPost. Retrieved June 12, 2022, from Minnpost.com