I Only Do Heroin on the Weekends — Am I Addicted?
Occasional heroin use can quickly spiral into a full-blown addiction. Heroin alters the brain’s function and structure and can cause you to develop substance use disorder before you even realize it. While withdrawal and cravings can make it difficult to escape the cycle, an integrative, holistic treatment approach can address all aspects of a person, including symptoms and underlying conditions that contribute to addiction.
Learn about the symptoms and long-term effects of heroin use to determine if treatment is necessary.
Table of Contents
- The Long-Term Effects of Prolonged Heroin Use
- Why Heroin Use Always Becomes More Frequent Than You Planned
- The Dangers of High-Functioning Heroin Addiction
- Signs of Heroin Addiction
- Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
- Heroin Addiction Treatment
The Long-Term Effects of Prolonged Heroin Use
While most people feel the effects of heroin immediately after use, prolonged heroin use comes with many severe complications, from physical and psychological impacts to addiction and overdose. These effects can differ depending on the person, the length of the addiction, the amount that is taken and the presence of other substances. Symptom severity often worsens the longer the drug is taken.
Here’s a breakdown of the long-term effects of heroin use:
Heroin enters the brain quickly, binding to opioid receptors in many areas, including those involved in the pain and pleasure responses and regions that control heart rate, breathing and sleeping. As a result, long-term heroin use can lead to physical complications like:
- Infected heart lining and valves
- Abscesses in the skin
- Kidney and liver disease
- Weight loss
- Blood clots, which might lead to stroke or heart attack
- Risks of getting chronic illnesses
- Constipation and cramping
- Lung complications like pneumonia
- Sexual dysfunction
- Irregular menstrual cycles
Heroin addiction can also lead to collapsed or scarred veins in those who inject the drug and damaged nasal tissue in those who snort it. Severe complications include respiratory depression, seizures, overdose and death.
Heroin addiction can result in many psychological symptoms, and researchers are studying the long-term complications of heroin on the brain. Many studies show that heroin changes the brain’s physical structure, creating hormonal imbalances and long-term changes to neuronal systems that can’t be easily reversed.
Additionally, opioid drug addiction can lead to the following psychological symptoms:
- Mood swings
- Clouded mental functioning
- Hostility toward others
- Agitation and irritability
Prolonged heroin use can also lead to or exacerbate the symptoms of certain conditions like depression or anxiety. Opioid drug addiction might also result in the loss of the brain’s white matter, affecting behavior control, decision-making and responses to stressful situations. These changes to the brain can make a person in recovery more likely to relapse.
Heroin addiction impacts your behavior, which can then affect people in your life, including partners, close friends and family members. Substance use disorder can also cause a decline in work or school performance, which can have a devastating effect on your life. You might experience the following behavioral changes as a result of prolonged heroin use:
- Poor personal hygiene
- Periods of hyperactivity followed by episodes of exhaustion
- Inability to fulfill work or school responsibilities
- Frequent oversleeping
- Lack of motivation
- Slurred speech
Heroin addiction can also lead to aggressive behavior and increased risk-taking, such as sharing needles, driving under the influence or having unsafe sex.
Addiction and Overdose
As stated, prolonged use of heroin can lead to addiction, which can severely impact a person’s entire way of life. Heroin is highly addictive, producing massive levels of tolerance and dependence. Tolerance occurs when more of the substance is needed to achieve the desired results, while physical dependence occurs when the body adapts to the presence of the drug. When a person stops taking heroin or other opioids abruptly, it can cause painful and severe withdrawal symptoms.
Whether you misuse prescription opioids or take illicit substances like heroin, there’s always a risk of overdose. To prevent an opioid overdose death, it’s essential to know the symptoms, which can include:
- Shallow breathing and difficulty breathing
- Weak pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Spastic muscles
- Blue or purple nails or lips
- Pinpoint pupils
If someone you know experiences the above symptoms, seek emergency services immediately, administer naloxone if available and stay with the person until medical personnel arrives.
Why Heroin Use Always Becomes More Frequent Than You Planned
Heroin use can become more frequent because addiction progresses so quickly. It is such an addictive substance, and as a result, you might not recognize you’ve developed an addiction until it’s too late. What starts as one weekend taking heroin can quickly turn into three or four, and then you might find yourself seeking the substance and taking it all days of the week.
Since heroin changes your brain’s structure and function, misusing opioids or taking illicit substances can lead to cravings that strengthen with each use. The more frequent your heroin use, the more of it your brain will require to feel pleasure. You might use excuses to justify increasing behaviors, but this is how addiction begins.
While you might have first taken heroin for the pleasurable effects, over time, you will require more of the substance to achieve these results, leading to dangerous outcomes. Your body will struggle with uncomfortable heroin withdrawal symptoms as it becomes dependent and can no longer function properly without it. Fear of withdrawal is one reason people continue heroin use despite the negative effects.
The risk of developing substance use disorder increases if you have a family history of addiction or a co-occurring mental health condition like anxiety or depression.
The Dangers of High-Functioning Heroin Addiction
High-functioning heroin addiction is dangerous because it is difficult to recognize. People who struggle with high-functioning heroin addiction experience adverse side effects without displaying outward signs. They can often hide their withdrawal symptoms and behaviors from others while still being able to function in everyday life.
If this sounds like you, you may have a heroin addiction while still being able to maintain your hygiene, do household chores, interact with others and fulfill job responsibilities. However, what seems to be working in the present can quickly become lethal. Heroin use can soon spiral out of control, and many people at this stage seek heroin in an attempt to prevent the pain of withdrawal rather than achieve a high.
Tolerances and doses often change without realizing, and as the addictive disease progresses, it can be influenced by life events and stressors. For example, when a person can no longer afford heroin or suddenly loses their job, they might experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms and put themselves in risky situations to obtain more substances. While someone with high-functioning heroin addiction may think they are OK, it can quickly lead to severe consequences, including overdose or death.
Since high-functioning addiction is easier to hide, it can prevent friends and loved ones from noticing the red flags and encouraging you to seek treatment. You might be less likely to seek help if you find it easier to justify your behavior. While you can tell yourself you don’t have an addiction because it doesn’t impact your daily tasks, heroin use still causes immense harm to your mental and physical well-being.
Signs of Heroin Addiction
Since heroin is highly addictive, those who take it regularly often develop a tolerance. When this occurs, the body needs higher or more frequent doses to get the desired effects. You are addicted to heroin when you start showing signs of physical and psychological dependence. In other words, there is a compulsive and obsessive urge to obtain and take heroin, no matter the consequences.
The substance can impact your behavior and well-being, resulting in heroin withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking it. Addiction occurs when prolonged use causes problems, like health issues or failure to meet responsibilities at work, school or home.
The following are a few behavioral, physical and psychological signs of heroin addiction:
People with heroin addiction often go through behavioral and lifestyle changes. As the brain develops a tolerance and dependence on the substance, most people will do whatever they can to obtain and take heroin, which can seriously impact their relationships, work and home life. They may fail to make appointments, get to work or school on time or avoid friends and family in favor of taking substances.
People with opioid drug addiction also have an increased need for sleep and may appear sluggish, confused and have difficulty making decisions. They might also engage in risky behaviors or resort to stealing or selling prized possessions to sustain their addiction. They might wear long sleeves or pants to hide track marks, even when the weather is warm.
It also helps to recognize heroin paraphernalia and what the drug looks like to help identify heroin use in someone you know. Heroin can be injected, snorted or smoked, so you might notice needles, pipes, spoons and lighters in their home or vehicle. The substance is powdery, ranging from white to dark brown or black in color.
Prolonged heroin use can also wreak havoc on the body, making it pertinent to watch for physical changes in yourself or a loved one. As mentioned, people with heroin addiction often appear sluggish, drowsy or exhausted. They may oversleep or doze off at random moments, which can affect their ability to keep up with everyday tasks, like going to work or bathing themselves. Take note of physical changes in appearance, like being unshaven or wearing the same clothes for days.
When awake, they may appear lazy or in constant need of caffeine. Opioids are also known to lower metabolism. As a result, people with heroin addiction might not have much of an appetite. They may skip meals or appear skinny. Lack of nourishment can lead to rapid weight loss, so take note of changes that could result from nutritional deficiency, such as baggy clothing or thinning hair.
People often show psychological signs of heroin addiction, which might manifest as agitation, irritability or other symptoms. They may have unpredictable mood swings, ranging from depression and anger to euphoria and hyperactivity. People with addiction might also lose interest in previously enjoyed hobbies.
Many people turn to opioids to self-medicate mental illnesses like depression or anxiety for the drug’s initial effects. However, prolonged heroin use could actually trigger symptoms of mental illness, creating a problematic cycle. A person might experience worsened symptoms of depression, such as low motivation, sadness or numbness or social withdrawal.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
With physical dependence on heroin, the body adapts to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced abruptly. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant and painful, making it difficult for people to stop taking the substance without professional help. That’s why it’s essential that you seek professional heroin addiction treatment where physicians can ease you through withdrawal symptoms in the safest way possible.
The following withdrawal symptoms may occur within hours after the last time you take the drug:
- Muscle and bone pain
- Rapid pulse
- Increasing breathing and blood pressure
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Cold flashes and goosebumps
- Muscle spasms and cramping
- Dilated pupils
- Elevated body temperature
- Insomnia and other sleep disturbances
Most withdrawal symptoms peak a day or two after the last dose of heroin and may start to subside after a week. However, some people experience persistent heroin withdrawal symptoms for months. These can include anxiety, depression, constant fatigue, loss of interest in activities, difficulty making decisions, sleep disturbances and cravings.
While many people may feel the urge to return to heroin use to alleviate these distressing withdrawal symptoms, it is critical to understand that you have a reduced tolerance for opioids following withdrawal and are a greater risk of overdose if you are to return to substance use. Opioid drug addiction treatment centers can help you through withdrawal symptoms so you can feel more comfortable and able to focus on your recovery journey.
Heroin Addiction Treatment
While a complex condition, professional heroin addiction treatment provides the best chance of a lasting recovery. An integrative, holistic approach to heroin addiction treatment addresses the client’s mind, body and spirit.
At Sanctuary at Sedona, you access the following services in our heroin addiction treatment program:
- Nutrition education and recovery-focused diet
- Psychological and psychiatric therapy
- Connection and creative expression
- Spiritual healing
- Mindfulness meditation
- Group therapy
- Dual diagnosis treatment
Every person is different, so we tailor our programs to fit your individual needs and recovery goals.
Start Your Recovery Journey From Heroin at The Sanctuary
Heroin addiction is a serious problem, and its effects on those who take it can be devastating. If you or a loved one struggles with heroin addiction, please don’t hesitate to seek help. The Sanctuary offers an intensive rehabilitation program that can help you recover from your addiction and get on the road to a healthier life.
With a team of specialists in place, you can start your recovery journey today. We offer holistic heroin addiction treatment based on the latest research and treatment principles. Our program is designed to help you recover from your addiction and return to a safer and more fulfilling lifestyle.
To start your recovery journey at The Sanctuary, contact us today.