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Dependence on heroin

Heroin can be injected intravenously, inhaled by snorting or sniffing, or smoked. All routes of administration transport the drug to the brain very quickly. So, people who use heroin regularly can develop dependence to it, which they experience withdrawal symptoms when heroin dosing is significantly reduced or ends abruptly. More on symptoms of becoming physically dependent or addicted to heroin here.

Heroin dependence vs. addiction

Dependency on heroin develops in users who maintain the habit daily. By taking heroin daily, you (in effect) trick the brain into speeding up to counter the depressant effects of heroin. But when the body can no longer function at its normal level without the drug, you experience withdrawal symptoms when it is no longer available. If a dependent person suddenly stops taking heroin, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms will follow. But when you withdraw from heroin, symptoms eventually subside. If cravings remain afterwards, this is a sign of addiction to heroin.

Heroin is powerfully addictive. But addiction is different than dependence. Addiction is characterized by the psychological craving and urge to use heroin despite negative consequences to one’s life. Regardless of the method of abuse, heroin addiction often occurs as a result of frequent use. The longer a person uses heroin, the stronger the addiction becomes.

Heroin dependence time: How long to be dependent on heroin?

A person can become psychologically hooked on heroin even after trying it once, and that one time can easily lead to another use in the future. But generally, heroin dependence occurs within a few times of repeated dosing. Heroin causes rapid tolerance when used frequently, so doses increase dramatically from first dose onwards. Inhaling doses of heroin usually start at about 5 and 20 mg of pure heroin, while intravenous doses start from 5 to 10 mg.

Dependence on heroin symptoms

Heroin dependence is a medical condition characterized by symptoms that occur when you stop using heroin. If the following symptoms manifest when heroin is no longer available, these are a clear indicator that a person has become dependent on heroin:

  • a racing heartbeat
  • anxiety
  • dilated pupils
  • goose bumps
  • high blood pressure
  • paranoid delirium
  • severe gastrointestinal distress
  • sleeplessness
  • strong drug cravings

violent behavior

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Heroin dependence withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal begins within 6 to 12 hours after the last administered dose, with the appearance of symptoms that mimic those of a severe flu, along with anxiety and yawning. This is followed by a few hours of restless sleep. After 36 to 72 hours, heroin withdrawal symptoms peak. But, most of these symptoms resolve after 5 to 10 days.

Physical dependence on heroin

Both physical and psychological dependence on heroin are very strong, and in most cases they develop rapidly. Physical dependence occurs when a persons’ body becomes accustomed to the drug and adapts to functioning with heroin present. When heroin is used over and over again, the initial intense pleasure decreases within the first few weeks. And with continued use, the dosage needs to be increased to achieve similar initial effect (a.k.a. tolerance) and you crave the drug more often.

Psychological dependence on heroin

Heroin is psychologically addictive because it produces desirable feelings and emotions in the user. Psychological dependence occurs when satisfying the need for heroin becomes the main motivating force in a person’s life. People experiencing psychological dependency to heroin feel the urge to use heroin most times and can result in social marginalization. The sedative effects of heroin make serious problems such as homelessness, unemployment, abuse and other, easy to cope with. But anyone can easily become hooked; heroin is not a drug to be underestimated.

Heroin dependence questions

If you feel you or a loved one need help overcoming heroin dependence or abuse problem, feel free to ask any questions or share experiences in the comments section below. We will answer all legitimate questions quickly and personally, and we can also refer you to other resources for more professional advice.

Reference Sources: NIDA: Drug Facts: Heroin
http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
NIH FACT Sheets: Heroin
http://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/viewfactsheet.aspx?csid=123
Heroin dependence and medication treatments
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Heroin_dependence_-_medication_treatments?open
Canadian Department of Health: Heroin
http://www.cqld.ca/livre/en/en/13-heroin.htm
NCBI: Heroin Dependence
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15481866
NIDA: Heroin Abuse
http://drugabuse.com/library/heroin-abuse/

Photo credit: Carolyn Speranza

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9 Responses to “Dependence on heroin
Matt Finch
8:39 pm June 17th, 2014

I used to be addicted to heroin and it was harder to quit than anything else! I finally quit a few years ago after being unsuccessful on many attempts. I started focusing on nutrition, exercising and personal development, which all helped me feel good about life again. I also used the Chinese form of exercise “qigong” to help me stay clean. It really helped me reduce cravings.

Matt Finch
8:43 pm June 17th, 2014

I used to be addicted to heroin and got clean using nutrition, supplements, exercise, qigong and personal development. The reason I could never quit before was due to having imbalances in my biochemistry. It’s so sad how many people are turning to heroin due to it being cheaper and often easier to get than Rx opiates.

JD
6:33 pm July 8th, 2014

My brother lost his battle w/ addiction/dependence on heroin in May this year. He was slumped over on his couch as I’d found him on many occasions. This time he did not come back. The most heart wrenching thing ever. Yet, the hardest thing was watching him suffer and not being able to do anything to help, take his pain away, or save his life. God knows, I tried. In and out of hospital emergency rooms with him time after time. Encouragement, support, treatment, unconditional love was not enough. What can you do when the addict is not ready to quit except watch them die. My brother died years ago, we just buried him in May 2014.

gracie
9:03 pm July 12th, 2014

Hi, I have someone who has been shooting heroin for a couple years, at only 22 and with a life of depression I know why she is doing it. I tried to help and took care of her through withdraws, after 3 days she wanted to go home said she was done and would not touch it again. I tried my best to make her stay but she is an adult and I could not force her. I told her I would not ignore this and would help her to the next level cause it just doesn’t go away. Of course there is so much more to this story like she has a husband who is also addicted and I kept them apart for the 3 days trying to support them both best I could. They do not want to tell her parents, afraid. Parents do not understand, I agree they don’t. So this is why I took her in. I needed to do whatever I could. Being a drug user, crank and coke until I was 26 I know what drugs do to you. My daughter was a meth addict from 13 to 17. So my eyes are not blind but Heroin is a different animal. I have researched and researched trying to understand this monster of a drug. It was around when I was doing drugs but I just knew it was not to be played for some reason. Today people aren’t looking at it that way. So what is my question you ask.. Well I told the kids as I call them, when they were trying to stop that if they didn’t …. the first thing that will go after selling all their stuff they love would be their apartment. then the car. Well they just got evicted and are moving back to the parents home. I highly suspect even though she tells me NO that they are still using. After researching so much, and the depression I just don’t believe they are clean. She is doing it in order to function everyday. It takes the depression away. She has tried to take her life a couple times in her teens. This is more reasons I just don’t believe she is clean. They have detoxed a couple of times in the past only to go back to it. From everything I have learned the only way to tell if a person is still using is watching habits, like going to the bathroom to shoot up, craving the drug etc etc etc,. Are their any physical tell tales, like pupils or something ? How good are the home drug test ? Any special one anyone can recommend ? It appears that opiates stay in the urine for at least a day sometimes 2. How accurate is that? I want to help but with her telling me they are clean I need to know she isn’t 100 % before I take parents aside and make them realize we are talking about her life here. a life I am not willing to let go of ! Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. And to JD, my heart hurts and goes out to you and your family. I am very sorry for your loss. God does know and now He has your brother who is no longer in pain of any kind. His depression is gone. Unfortunately you and the family are left with the pain and memories of his hurting. I am sure he would not want you to remember him that way.

2:07 pm July 24th, 2014

Hello gracie. There are some good articles about heroin use and abuse here: http://addictionblog.org/tag/heroin-abuse/

In terms of drug testing, my personal opinion is to mandate it! Drug testing for opiates are accurate and non-invasive (urine sample) for 2-4 days after last use. I’d suggest that you call a diagnostics lab in your area or speak with your family doctor/pharmacist about the most cost effective home drug testing kit option for you.

Jeannie
11:17 pm March 19th, 2016

My son and his wife use heroin daily and have lost their home, their car, all of their belongings and their child lives with me. They are homeless and my son has a warrant for missed court date. Both have overdosed and they will die if I don’t get them help. Help me!

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
2:56 pm April 7th, 2016

Hi Jeannie. Call the help number displayed on our site to speak with a treatment consultant who can help you find a treatment program for your son and his wife.

Yvonne
9:17 am April 26th, 2016

My husband used it until the day he died my son and grandson found him kneeling over my son thought he was praying but he was dead. How do we cope with our love ones doing drugs and dying from overdose

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
2:22 pm April 29th, 2016

Hi Yvonne. I’m really sorry for your loss… It would be worth talking to a trusted spiritual or community leader or to confide in someone that you trust. With your belief in a Higher Power, know that as long as you take steps towards a resolution, the help you need will be provided. Also, look into Narc-Anon, it’s a 12 step program for families of addicts. You may share your experience there, and learn how people cope with similar situations as yours. Moreover, you can seek professional support through a family counselor, with experience in addiction. You are not alone… May your heart and soul find peace and comfort at this hard time.

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