Physical addiction to heroin

Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction to heroin? The line is delicate, but there is a difference. More on this distinction here.

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The earlier you are able to identify signs of heroin addiction, the better the chances are for successful recovery. But in order to address heroin addiction, you need to be able to distinguish the differences between physical dependence and addiction to heroin. Here, we help you do that. And we invite your questions about heroin use, abuse, or getting help with heroin addiction at the end.

Physical dependence on heroin

Heroin is a highly addictive, naturally occurring opium alkaloid. But when speaking about physical dependence it is really important not to confuse the term dependence with addiction. Physical dependence is related to the central nervous system and the way that the brain gets used to the presence of the drug over time. A person physically dependent on heroin experiences withdrawal symptoms when doses are suddenly lowered or ceased. While heroin leaves the system, the brain needs time to adapt.

On the other hand, addiction is characterized by uncontrollable, chronic administration of heroin, even in the face of negative outcomes to health, private, social life or work. Addiction is a serious relapsing mental disease that requires professional medical treatment. To distinguish them best, addiction is accompanied by strong compulsion or craving for more heroin and loss of control over the amount of heroin, while physical dependence is mainly characterized by experiencing of withdrawal symptoms when heroin is not available.

Physical signs of addiction to heroin

Heroin is delivered rapidly to the brain (regardless of mode of administration), which increases chances for negative effects to health. Heroin dependent users almost always develop addiction, to either avoid the serious withdrawal symptoms associated with withdrawal or as a psycho-emotional coping mechanism.

Some physical signs of addiction to heroin include:

  • changes in sleeping patterns
  • constantly seeking money
  • compulsion and cravings for heroin
  • decreased performance qualities
  • impaired coordination
  • leftover objects from heroin administration (foils, syringes, marked spoons, etc.)
  • loss of appetite and changes in weight over a short period of time
  • loss of control over the dosing, schedule and amount of heroin consumed
  • neglecting physical appearance
  • problems with time management
  • pupils size is often shifting, going from very small to wide opened
  • secretive behavior, loneliness
  • scars and bruises on skin from scratching
  • slurred speaking
  • unusual hyperactivity, followed by depression periods

Treating physical symptoms of addiction to heroin

Within 6 to 24 hours of the last heroin dose, a personal physically dependent on heroin enters the withdrawal period. Many of the symptoms of withdrawal are a result of rebounding hyperactivity in the nervous system. Without medication, symptoms will peak within 48-72 hours and may last for up to 10 days, depending on the last dose of heroin.

Depression, nausea, vomiting, malaise, general feeling of tiredness, cold sweats,insomnia, diarrhea etc. are among the most common symptoms of detox off heroin. A range of treatments are available in order to help heroin addicts go back to their normal and healthy lives. Pharmacological treatments to address withdrawal symptoms include the use of buprenorphine and methadone, both of which work by binding with opioid receptors in the brain to reduce cravings. Naltrexone is also used to block receptors and stop heroin from taking action, and naloxone is used in cases of heroin overdose.

It is also important to match a person’s individual and unique needs with the course of the treatment. Behavioral therapies such as contingency management therapy and cognitive-behavioral interventions, for example, are other possible treatments for heroin addiction. When combined with pharmacological medications, these treatments can help restore the user’s normal functions and empower them with positive habits and attitudes to develop a healthy life in the future.

Physically addicted to heroin questions

Are you or is someone that you know physically addicted to heroin? Please let us know how we can support you. We will be glad to answer any of your questions. Or if you want to share a personal story, please contact us in the following comments section. We try to provide all legitimate queries with a personal comment and prompt response.

Reference sources: NIDA on Heroin: Abuse and Addiction

NIDA: Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide
TOXNET: Hazardous Substances Data Bank: Heroin
National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration / Morphine (And Heroin)
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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