Morphine vs. Heroin – What is the Difference?

needle, spoon, morphine bottle, and heroin

It’s no secret that the U.S. is caught in the grips of an opioid addiction crisis. In 2018, (1) approximately 10.3 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids. In 2017, more than 70,000 American’s died from drug overdoses, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids.

Opioids are a class of drugs that are usually prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain, but also come in illicit forms. They are often used during major surgeries, treatment for cancer-related pain, and to keep patients comfortable at their end of life. Prescription of opioids for chronic or ongoing pain has decreased in recent years as knowledge of opioid dependence has increased and better non-narcotic solutions appear.


The oldest man-made opiate, Morphine was invented in the early 1800s and derived directly from opium. America’s first opiate epidemic occurred following The Civil War. Thousands of soldiers returned home with opiate dependencies after having been treated with morphine for injuries. Addiction was little understood in the 19th century, but it soon became clear that anyone who took morphine for more than a few days would feel quite ill if they abruptly stopped.

Morphine is still used in medicine but is generally limited to hospitalized patients or specific circumstances, including severe pain that is persistent and around the clock. For most other applications, one of the dozens of modern semi-synthetic opioid compounds is used instead. Part of the reason why is that more processed and refined opioids have fewer side-effects.


During the 1850s, addiction to opioids became a major problem in the United States. Civil War veterans addicted to morphine made up the largest part of the addicted population. Diacetylmorphine was developed in 1874 and was intended to be a non-addictive alternative to morphine. Sold by Bayer under the brand name Heroin, it soon grew in popularity in Europe and the United States. Heroin is 2-3 times as powerful as morphine and ironically turned out to be even more addictive. Instead of halting the opioid addiction wave spreading across the country, heroin only made matters worse. Our understanding of addiction was minimal at best during this time and it wouldn’t be until 1924 when the law finally caught up. The manufacture and distribution of heroin and its derivatives became illegal in the U.S. and Europe in 1925.

Prohibition didn’t do anything to reduce the demand of course, so a black market soon developed. Heroin can be a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin. Other common names for heroin include H, horse, hell dust, and smack. It is made from opium taken from the flower pod of the opium poppy. These plants are typically grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Afghanistan, Mexico, and Colombia.

The main differences between morphine and heroin are in potency, heroin being on average 3 times as potent as morphine. Morphine is rarely found in the black market and is almost exclusively in the medical field. Heroin is the opposite; it has no recognized medical use in the United States. Heroin is entirely a black-market commodity and manufactured without pharmaceutical controls for quality, potency or purity. In the last 10 years, an alarming trend has arisen that has an extremely powerful synthetic opioid called fentanyl being mixed with heroin. This has led to a dramatic spike in overdose deaths and only magnifies the peril of heroin use.

If you or a loved one is suffering from opioid dependency, we can help.

What Are Track Marks?

Track Marks on Arm and Signs of Heroin Use | Harmony Recovery Center

Track Marks on Arm and Signs of Heroin Use – Heroin is an illicit opioid derived from morphine, an alkaloid found in the poppy plant. When injected, skin lesions known as “track marks” are often visible on a user’s arms, legs, and sometimes other areas of the body.

Heroin is an overwhelming addictive drug, and its abuse has consequences that reach far beyond the user’s emotional and physical health. There may be virtually endless repercussions, and heroin tends to wreak more havoc than many other drugs of abuse.

Because it is often injected, people who share needles can also be subject to contracting a number of infections, including those that are potentially life-threatening, such as hepatitis and HIV. People who are dependent on heroin also typically face social, legal, and financial issues that can completely destroy their lives in a short amount of time.

Heroin use has been increasing dramatically in the last few years for a few different reasons. However, people involved in the ongoing opioid crisis believe that it is due to the mass-prescribing of opioids that began two decades ago. Pharmaceutical companies, such as the makers of OxyContin, marketed their product misleadingly as being safe and non-addictive, despite evidence to the contrary.

As a result of OxyContin’s widespread accessible, people begin to develop addictions, especially when given prescription opioids long-term. Many of those who became unable to afford or obtain their drug of choice eventually turned to heroin use because it is relatively inexpensive and easily acquired.

Unfortunately, the drug cartels saw this coming. They realized that the increase in opioid addiction in the U.S. would also increase demand, so they responded with producing, trafficking, and distributing more heroin in the U.S.

Regardless of how heroin is ingested, regular users often encounter an array of medical problems that can become severe. Those who use heroin intravenously, however, face a unique set of challenges as injection sites increase, must be reused, and skin sores and damage to veins continue to accumulate over time.

What Are Track Marks?

Track marks occur a user injects heroin into a vein—known as “shooting up.” The intravenous use of any drug can cause track marks, but this method of administration is particularly common among heroin users. Medical issues with injection sites can become very serious and have the potential to result in amputation or even death.

Track marks develop when a user injects drugs at the same sites multiple times. When a mark is fresh, it will appear as a raw and slightly bloody inflamed area. Older track marks will often be discolored and calloused and may present with abscesses and pus.

How to Identify Track Marks

Track Marks on Arm and Signs of Heroin Use | Harmony Recovery Center

Track marks on arms are the most common because the veins on the arm are prominent, making it easy to administer drugs. They are most often found in the inside crook of the elbow, as new users learn how to inject heroin, not unlike receiving a shot at a doctor’s office. Other track marks on arm injection sites may be located near a large vein on the back of a user’s hand or wrist.

Track marks on legs are commonly found on the inner thigh, and some users will inject into large veins on their feet. Injections often become more and more difficult and painful as some veins and sites are rendered useless, and the person is then forced to inject in other places around the body.

If heroin use continues beyond this point, some users will inject between their toes, and eventually into their forehead, neck, chest, and whatever place they can find available. Once a user has progressed to this point, their condition is clearly very severe, and they are at a high risk of irreversible damage to their body and death.

Many heroin users will go to great lengths to conceal their drug use and track marks. Makeup or bandaids might work in mild cases, but as the problem becomes worse, they may be forced to wear long sleeves and pants, even in warm weather, as a means to cover the destruction they have caused to their bodies.

Of note, track marks are not always an indication of current drug use. Many reused injection sites can become long-lasting scars that do not fade well without help from cosmetic surgery. And, unfortunately, this is an elective surgery that may be cost-prohibitive and not covered by insurance.

Why Track Marks Occur

Track marks appear bruised because blood may leak out of a vein that has been injected. The darkening of veins is due to scarring and the buildup of toxins. Also, arterial damage can occur at the site of injections, which can rupture and result in hemorrhage, gangrene, or ischemia (restriction of blood supply to tissues).

Repeatedly injecting heroin into the same site is ultimately going to cause scarring of surface veins. This will cause the vein to collapse eventually if the abuse continues long enough. Another significant disadvantage of injecting heroin is that users often do not sanitize injection sites. This lack of personal protection puts them at an increased risk of developing cellulitis and thrombophlebitis.

One of the most common and severe effects of chronic IV drug use is the development of collapsed veins. As damage occurs to the lining of veins, blood clots can form. Multiple uses of blunt needles, repeated use of the same injection site, or improper injection technique can cause the vein to become blocked completely.

The Development of Addiction

Track Marks on Arm and Signs of Heroin Use | Harmony Recovery Center

Injecting heroin results in a rapid and intense release of the drug into the brain, and therefore has a higher potential for causing addiction than, say, smoking or snorting. For this reason and others, many experts believe heroin to be the most addictive and dangerous drug in the world.

Repeated heroin use often leads to the development of tolerance, a condition that forces a person to use ever-increasing amounts of the drug to experience the desired effects. If use continues to escalate, users put themselves at a higher and higher risk of overdose.

Another component of a burgeoning addiction is dependence. Dependence can be both chemical and psychological and occurs as the body and mind adapt to a drug’s presence, becoming unable to function correctly without it. When a user tries to quit or cut back, he or she will then encounter highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that are often the catalyst for a return to regular drug use.

Finally, the last component of addiction is compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite the negative consequences their drug use causes. At this point, a person will likely do almost anything to obtain and use their drug of choice, and they may resort to borrowing money or stealing items from others—prostitution and other crimes are not uncommon.

Getting Treatment for Heroin Addiction

From detox to intensive treatment to aftercare, Harmony Recovery Center offers a full continuum of care for people struggling with drug addiction. Our health providers and highly-trained addiction specialists will guide you or your loved one step-by-step, one day at a time toward long-lasting sobriety and wellness.

Services we offer include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Outpatient detox
  • Partial hospitalization programs
  • Intensive outpatient and outpatient programs
  • Peer support groups
  • Individual and family counseling
  • Holistic practices such as yoga and medication
  • Experiential activities such as art and music therapy
  • Health and wellness education
  • Substance abuse education
  • Aftercare planning

If you or someone you care about is struggling to overcome a dependence on heroin, it can feel like being trapped, hopeless, and helpless, with no way out. Call us today and discover how we help those who need it most break the chains of addiction for life!

⟹ READ THIS NEXT: Signs of an Opioid Overdose

Is Heroin a Stimulant?

Is Heroin a Stimulant? | Harmony Recovery Center

Is Heroin a Stimulant? – No, heroin is not classified as a stimulant. It is a potent central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It is an illicit, highly addictive semi-synthetic opiate drug derived from morphine, a compound found in the opium poppy. Heroin is usually found as a white to brownish color powder that is laced with sugar, starch, powdered milk, quinine, or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

Pure heroin is white and has a bitter taste. Common methods of administration include smoking, snorting, and injecting. Another form of heroin called “black tar” is a dark, sticky, highly impure substance that is subject to crude processing methods and is often dissolved and injected.

Heroin’s Effects on the Body

Heroin works by attaching to and activating specific receptors in the brain known as mu-opioid receptors. Our brains have naturally occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters that attach to these receptors throughout the brain and body. These neurotransmitters control pain, regulate hormone release, and induce feelings of well-being, when appropriate.

When opioid receptors are activated in the brain’s reward center, they initiate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for pleasurable and rewarding feelings. This effect can result in a reinforcement of drug-using behavior. Consequences of heroin use then depend on a variety of factors, including how much was used and for how long, how the drug was administered and the speed at which it reaches receptors, among others.

Is Heroin a Stimulant?: Short-Term Effects

Once heroin reaches the brain, it is then converted back to morphine and quickly binds to opioid receptors. People who use heroin usually report feeling a rush of pleasurable sensations, the intensity of which is influenced by the aforementioned factors. The rush of heroin is usually accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, and a heavy feeling in the extremities. Adverse effects include nausea, vomiting, and severe itching.

After the initial rush, users will probably be sedated and drowsy for several hours. During this time, mental function is clouded, heart rate is reduced, and respiration can slow down to the point of being life-threatening. Perilously slow breathing can also result in coma and irreversible brain damage.

Is Heroin a Stimulant?: Long-Term Effects

Repeated heroin use alters the physical structure of the brain, as well as the manner in which it functions. This alteration leads to chronic imbalances in neuronal and hormonal systems that are not easily reversed. Research has shown that some deterioration of the brain’s white matter can result from heroin use, which can impair decision-making capabilities, affect a person’s ability to regulate behavior, and adversely alter responses to stress.

Over time, heroin use also produces profound degrees of tolerance and dependence. Tolerance occurs when increasingly larger amounts of a drug are required to achieve the desired effects. With physical dependence, the body becomes accustomed to the presence of a drug, and withdrawal symptoms onset if use is suddenly reduced or discontinued.

Heroin Withdrawal

Is Heroin a Stimulant? | Harmony Recovery Center

Withdrawal symptoms can manifest within just a few hours after the last dose of heroin. Symptoms of withdrawal include the following:

  • Teary eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Restlessness

  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills and goosebumps

Initial heroin withdrawal symptoms peak between 24–48 hours after the last dose and wane after about a week. However, some people have shown persistent psychoemotional withdrawal signs for several months after detox.

Prolonged heroin use often leads to a heroin use disorder—a condition akin to an addiction, which is considered to be a chronic, relapsing disease. Addiction includes physical dependence but is additionally characterized by compulsive drug-seeking in spite of the incurrence of severe, adverse consequences.

Heroin is profoundly addictive regardless of how it is administered. Still, methods of administration that allow the drug to enter the brain the fastest (e.g., injection) increase the risk of progressing to heroin use disorder. Once a person has developed heroin use disorder, seeking and using the drug becomes a top priority in their lives.

Medical Complications of Long-Term Heroin Use

Method of administration notwithstanding, chronic heroin users will encounter a wide range of health complications, including insomnia and constipation. Lung problems, including various types of pneumonia and tuberculosis, may result from the user’s poor health and reduced immunity, as well as from heroin’s ability to dramatically depress respiration.

Many heroin users also suffer from mental health disorders, such as depression. Males often experience sexual dysfunction, and menstrual cycles in women may become irregular. There are also consequences associated with the different methods of administration. For example, people who regularly snort heroin can damage the nasal tissues and those who inject often incur sores and abscesses in the skin.

Health consequences of repeated injections also include scarred or collapsed veins and bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart. Many of the adulterants in street heroin may be substances that do not easily dissolve, and this can result in blockages in the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, and brain. These blockages can subsequently result in infection or the death of small batches of cells in vital organs.

The sharing of unsterile injection paraphernalia or fluids can lead to some of the most serious health consequences of heroin use. Intravenous heroin use increases the user’s risk of contracting infections such as hepatitis B and C, HIV, or any number of other blood-borne viruses.


Is Heroin a Stimulant? | Harmony Recovery Center

It can be difficult to determine if someone is overdosing on heroin. Passing out or nodding off are common indicators of heroin use. People who suffer from an overdose often report that it feels like a stronger rush of calmness or heaviness than they are accustomed to experiencing. You can tell that someone is probably experiencing an overdose if he or she passes out shortly after using heroin or loses consciousness more rapidly than usual.

Additionally, cold and clammy skin, bluish skin around the fingernails or lips (cyanosis), shallow, slow, or labored breathing, and a weak pulse are clear indications of a heroin overdose. People who don’t respond to painful stimuli, such such as light pinching or pressure on their breastbone, have probably overdosed. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these signs after using heroin, make sure you or another person call 911 immediately.

What to Do for an Overdose

After calling 911, if the person isn’t breathing, perform rescue breathing or CPR. After providing 2-3 rescue breaths, administer Narcan (naloxone) if it is available. Avoid doing anything that may place the person at risk for other health complications. Trying to revive a person by any method other than CPR or administering naloxone can put them at a heightened risk for other health problems:

  • Do NOT attempt to reverse the effects of heroin by using a stimulant such as coffee, cocaine or meth
  • Do NOT shake them or attempt to force them to wake up
  • Do NOT place them in a cold bath or shower
  • Do NOT try to induce vomiting

NOTE: If you use heroin or other opioids or you know someone who is at high risk for an opioid overdose, talk to your health care provider or pharmacist about obtaining naloxone. This lifesaving drug is available over the counter in most states, and some organizations provide free access to the medication.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

An addiction to heroin is a devastating and possibly life-threatening condition that requires immediate, professional treatment in a specialized facility. Regular heroin users may be one dose away from dire consequences, including coma, permanent brain damage, or death.

Harmony Recovery Center employs a comprehensive approach to addiction comprised of services clinically-proven to be vital for the process of recovery. These services include cognitive-behavioral therapy, counseling, peer support, medication-assisted therapy, aftercare planning, and more.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to heroin, contact us today. Discover how we help people break free from the cycle of addiction and go on to lead happier, more fulfilling lives!

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System? | Harmony Recovery NC

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System? – Heroin (diacetylmorphine) is an extremely addictive opioid drug that is derived from morphine. It can be injected, snorted, and smoked.

Heroin is a relatively short-acting drug, and the substance itself doesn’t stay in a person’s system for very long. However, while processing the drug, the body breaks it down into several metabolites that can remain in the body for much longer. By detecting certain metabolites, heroin can be identified on most drug tests for as long as four days after the last use. It can also be detected for up to three months using a hair test.

Many factors can influence how long the drug will be present in a person’s system, including individual differences in rates of metabolism, the amount of the drug most recently used, a history of long-term use, urine pH and hydration levels.

When heroin is administered, the body metabolizes it relatively quickly. Depending on which source you believe, metabolic processing can clear as much as 50% of the heroin first introduced into the system (also known as half-life) in anywhere between 3-30 minutes.

Although heroin itself can be processed quickly, several metabolites can remain for a longer period. Estimates for the amount of time heroin and its metabolites can be detected on a drug test after the last use are as follows:

  • Urine test: 1-4 days
  • Saliva test: Minutes up to 48 hours
  • Blood test: 6 hours
  • Hair test: Up to 90 days

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System? – Other Factors That Affect Heroin Detection

Other factors that can influence how long heroin will linger in the body and be detected on a drug test include:

Level of Hydration

If someone consumes a large amount of fluids, they may dilute the concentration of identifiable drugs present in their urine. Depending on the test’s sensitivity, this could affect the rate of a false negative result.


If someone uses a low dose or has a long period between doses, they are less likely to produce a positive result than if they use a higher dose closer to the time of testing.


Some people’s bodies process drugs more rapidly or slowly depending on metabolism, which could be a reflection of general health status as well as multiple genetic and environmental influences.

Length of Use

It will probably take more time for a long-term user to clear all the heroin from their system when compared to a shorter-term or occasional user.

Urine Acidity Levels

The acidity in a person’s urine can influence how heroin is excreted. It could either accelerate the rate of drug removal or lead to some urinary tract reabsorption of the drug, which would somewhat impede its elimination.

Heroin Withdrawal

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System? | Harmony Recovery NC

Over time, people who routinely use heroin often develop a physical dependence, which means the person’s body grows accustomed to a constant supply of the drug in their system. People who are dependent on heroin and discontinue use will experience withdrawal symptoms as their body adapts to a lack of the drug’s presence.

Symptoms of acute heroin withdrawal syndrome are often described as flu-like and can include the following:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia

Most heroin users encounter withdrawal symptoms within 6-12 hours after the last use. On average, symptoms peak between 1-3 days and begin to subside after 5-7 days. This timeline may closely follow those associated with more short-acting opioids such as Vicodin or morphine, but not so much longer-acting opioids such as methadone or OxyContin. For longer-acting medications, withdrawal symptoms may not onset until 12-48 hours and persist for 10-20 days.

The character and intensity of withdrawal can be influenced by many of the same factors that affect how long a drug remains in the body, such as the duration of use and amount consumed. Other factors may include age, health, and the use of other substances.

As with other opioids, heroin withdrawal is seldom life-threatening, but they can be quite unpleasant. Medical detox programs can help users navigate their withdrawal safely and with minimum discomfort with medication-assisted therapy.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

It is extremely dangerous to use heroin regardless of how the drug is administered or how often. Heroin is highly addictive, and users face an ever-present risk of overdose and death. The risks have been even higher in recent years as fentanyl and its analogs are being used as heroin adulterants with increasing frequency.

Fortunately, people can and do recover from heroin addiction. Evidence-based treatments, such as those offered by Harmony Recovery, involve medication, counseling, and behavioral therapies. In rehab programs, people learn how to modify the way they think about drugs and deal with other problems that may compel them to use.

If you’re tired of struggling with the cycle of addiction, seek help immediately and begin your path to a full recovery! Contact us today to find out how we can help you reclaim the fulfilling life you deserve!

Related: Why is Heroin So Addiction?

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms and Detox: What to Expect

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms and Detox | Harmony Recovery NC

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms and Detox: What to Expect – Heroin is an illegal, powerful opioid street drug that has an incredibly high potential for abuse and addiction and is notorious for the very unpleasant effects that users experience when they attempt to quit or dramatically reduce consumption – otherwise known as being “dope sick.”

Those people who have engaged in the long-term, excessive use of heroin may develop a physiological dependence. Dependence occurs as the brain becomes used to the presence of a psychoactive substance, and becomes unable to function normally without it. This effect results in harrowing and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that occur as the body is struggling to correct the chemical imbalance that ensues.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

The initial comedown from heroin can vary from person to person regarding duration and severity, but physical heroin withdrawal symptoms typically onset within 6 -12 hours after the last use and peak within 1-3 days. After this, they gradually subside and are usually absent by the end of a week. Some people, however, may experience weeks or months of mental/emotional withdrawal symptoms, also known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

PAWS occurs as a person’s brain chemistry continues to return to normal. As the brain gradually recovers, levels of chemicals undulate as they approach the new equilibrium, resulting in post-acute withdrawal symptoms.

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms may include the following:

  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Fatigue and low enthusiasm
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Sleep disturbances

Each individual will experience acute heroin withdrawal uniquely, but there are several certain common features, including the following:

Drug Cravings

Most people who undergo heroin withdrawal encounter a powerful desire to use more of the drug. This feeling is referred to as a craving and is prevalent among people detoxing from addictive drugs or alcohol. The craving is prompted by both the user’s desire to relieve heroin withdrawal symptoms and to re-experience the intense and euphoric feelings that heroin use induces.

Mood Swings

Dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria and is characterized by depression, irritability, agitation, and anxiety. Unfortunately, dysphoria is a common feature of heroin withdrawal, and even without a history of mental health disorders or trauma, these mood fluctuations are to be expected. This is just one of the many reasons why it is vital to seek emotional support while undergoing heroin withdrawal.

Aches and Pains

As a semi-synthetic opioid, in addition to producing euphoria, heroin serves as a potent painkiller by blocking the body’s pain pathways. A rebound effect occurs while withdrawing from heroin, and the person will likely experience achiness and pain in various areas of the body.

Excessive Bodily Fluids

Heroin withdrawal can cause an overproduction of bodily fluids, such as tears, sweat, and mucus. As with other short-term physical withdrawal symptoms, this is a result of the body restabilizing itself.

Diarrhea and Stomach Pains

Another common effect of heroin withdrawal is stomach pain, which is produced by spasms in the digestive tract and may be accompanied by diarrhea or loose and frequent bowel movements. The discomfort of diarrhea and abdominal pain in conjunction with concerns about having “accidents” may make it difficult to follow a regular routine.

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are typical features of heroin withdrawal. These symptoms can exhaust a person physically, result in discomfort and dehydration, and, along with diarrhea, can compel those who suffer to remain close to a bathroom much of the time.

Restlessness and Sleep Disturbances

People experiencing heroin withdrawal symptoms often feel restless, which in combination with anxiety and insomnia, can make a person feel quite agitated and unhappy. Heroin withdrawal frequently results in sleep disturbances, particularly insomnia.

Medical Detox and Treatment

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms and Detox | Harmony Recovery NC

While many seek medical intervention for heroin withdrawal, many also do not, for a variety of reasons. For example, they may not know that medications are available, such as Suboxone, that can help them feel better and carry significantly less potential for abuse than methadone.

In some instances, users underestimate how unpleasant withdrawal symptoms will become, and they think they are better off enduring it at home, alone. Unfortunately, this approach frequently leads to relapse and is less likely to succeed than detox in a medical setting. The reason for this is partly because heroin withdrawal symptoms aren’t being managed, and also due to the user being free to obtain more heroin and may do so while he or she is in the throes of acute withdrawal.

Moreover, addiction professionals urge users to undergo a supervised clinical detox, where patients can be continuously monitored and withdrawal symptoms treated and managed with approved medications. This method is designed to protect against relapse and maximize comfort and reduce suffering.

After detox, patients are urged to participate in an addiction treatment program that uses an integrated, evidence-based approach to the treatment of substance abuse and mental health disorders. Indeed, many people who engage in excessive drug and alcohol use also suffer from a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety, among others.

It is imperative to treat these conditions in conjunction with substance abuse to prevent relapse and improve the patient’s mental wellness and outcome. Our caring clinical staff are certified addiction specialists and render treatment to patients with compassion and expertise. We provide patients with the tools, resources, and knowledge they need to recover and maintain long-lasting sobriety and well-being.

You can reclaim your life and experience the happiness you deserve! Please contact us immediately to begin your journey to recovery!

Heroin Effects and Signs of Use

Heroin Effects | Harmony Recovery Center

Heroin, or diamorphine, is an opioid drug synthesized from the naturally-occurring opium poppy, a flower indigenous to Asia, South America, and Mexico. As a schedule I narcotic in the United States, heroin has no approved medical uses but is a popular recreational drug because of the euphoric effects it produces.

The purest type of heroin resembles a fine white powder, although it is readily found as a dark brown powder or as a black substance called black tar heroin that is either sticky or dry and hard.

Slang or street names for heroin include the following:

  • Dope
  • H
  • Smack
  • Junk
  • China white
  • Horse or white horse
  • White lady
  • Brown
  • Mexican mud
  • Tar or black tar
  • Skag

The Opioid/Heroin Epidemic

In recent years heroin use has skyrocketed to epidemic proportions, claiming thousands of lives. Per statistics gathered by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin-related fatalities surged by 39% from 2012 to 2013. Furthermore, deaths as a direct result of heroin overdose saw a fourfold increase over the 11-year span of 2002 to 2013.

Today, most heroin in the United States is smuggled in from Latin America and both Southeast and Southwest Asia. Substantially pure heroin is rare. Hence, most heroin found on the street is diluted or cut with other substances, such as the following:

  • Talcum powder
  • Sugar
  • Starch
  • Powdered milk
  • Baking soda
  • Flour
  • Caffeine
  • Crushed over-the-counter pain medication
  • Quinine
  • Powder laundry detergent
  • Rat poison

Heroin may also be cut with fentanyl and carfentanil, which are 50 and 5000 times more potent than heroin, respectively, and are responsible for thousands of overdoses.

How Heroin Works

Heroin, opiates, and opioids are central nervous system (CNS) depressants.

When injured, nerve cells near the site of the injury warn the brain. In turn, the brain engages in survival mode, modulating concentrations of natural painkilling hormones, called beta-endorphins, at opioid receptors throughout the body.

Heroin, other opioids, and opiates also activate beta-endorphins to mitigate pain. Beta-endorphins also possess a secondary effect of suppressing the production of GABA, which in turn inhibits dopamine production in the brain. Subsequently, heroin boosts dopamine concentrations and induces feelings of well-being, happiness, and euphoria.

The area of the brain with the most significant dopamine activity is commonly referred to as ‘the reward center.’ These neural circuits are responsible for the pleasure experienced during rewarding activities, such as eating, sex, securing resources, business or social successes, or virtually anything that we interpret as promoting our biological survival.

Heroin Effects

Heroin Effects | Harmony Recovery Center

The feeling of euphoria caused by an intravenous heroin injection is incredibly powerful and overwhelming. Some heroin users report feeling a deep sense of calm satisfaction and warmth that melts away their stresses and concerns.

An intense high that persists up to five hours follows the initial rush. In many cases, a heroin user will be “on the nod,” or “nodding out,” as if balanced in a warm, drowsy state between awake and asleep.

Besides the rush of euphoria, there are several short-term heroin effects, such as the following:

  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Heavy hands and feet
  • Clouded thinking and impaired judgment

Heroin Addiction

Unlike the steady, proportional ebb and flow of reward chemicals that motivate beneficial conduct throughout everyday life, the brain’s response to heroin is extreme. Heroin causes an influx of dopamine that is disproportionate to one’s circumstances. In fact, some studies suggest that heroin use can multiply neuronal dopamine concentrations as much as tenfold.

Such an oversaturation disrupts and alters otherwise normal patterns of chemical neurotransmission, and long-term abuse adversely reconfigures the entire brain. Alongside this substance-induced physiological transformation comes a corresponding disturbance in behavior.

Heroin Effects | Harmony Recovery Center

Heroin triggers sensations of false reward so profound that the mind becomes destructively single-tracked, hell-bent on maintaining the high and often sacrificing itself in the act. The self-sabotaging character of this preoccupation with the drug is what makes heroin addiction, and addiction in general, so remarkably tragic.

A heroin addict can, and often does, speculate and even rationalize why they ought to quit as a matter of ethical principle. And yet, the physical experience of craving heroin is much more real and immediate, thus more important, and is prioritized accordingly.

Signs of Heroin Use

Through repetitive heroin use, a person’s body begins to tolerate greater quantities of the drug. As tolerance increase, the brain requires more and more of the drug to produce the same desired high or to alleviate uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Tolerance is the chemical mechanism responsible for drug cravings and, ultimately, addiction.

Apart from a markedly increased tolerance, there are multiple warning signs of heroin addiction, such as the following:

  • Mitigating withdrawal symptoms through repeated abuse
  • Lacking control over drug consumption
  • Revolving life around heroin procurement and intake
  • Forgoing activities one once enjoyed
  • Avoiding social situations, friends, or family members
  • Continuing heroin use despite clear evidence of adverse life consequences

Some psychological warning signs that indicate a heroin addiction include:

  • Appearing unreasonably anxious, afraid, or paranoid
  • Lacking all motivation and seeming spaced out and lethargic
  • Experience unprovoked bursts of energy or mood instability
  • Exhibiting unexplainable personality or attitude changes

Heroin Withdrawal

When a person discontinues persistent heroin abuse, a chemical void is left behind where the drug once was. The body requires a substantial amount of time to detox and rebalance, during which a host of unpleasant, often dangerous symptoms arise.

These may include the following:

  • Muscle aches
  • Agitation
  • Repeated yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Overactive tear ducts
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Dilated pupils
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Long-Term Heroin Effects

Heroin has pronounced long-term effects that compromise the brain stem’s capacity to carry out vital bodily functions, such as the following:

  • Respiration
  • Swallowing
  • Heart rhythm
  • Blood pressure
  • Consciousness

Other long-term physical effects may include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Collapsed veins
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Infected abscesses
  • Infection of the heart valves and lining
  • Severe constipation and other digestive issues

Furthermore, because heroin is often laced with other substances, there is an unknown multitude of potentially harmful complications that can arise. Frighteningly, heroin abuse has been correlated with a deterioration of the brain’s white matter, which is partially responsible for decision-making, behavioral control, and stress reflexes and management.

Intravenous heroin use carries with it an increased risk of diseases transmitted through a needle, hepatitis, and HIV, and sharing an unsterile needle dramatically increases these risks. If left untreated, hepatitis B and C can diminish liver function or cause liver failure, and HIV can become AIDS.

Heroin Overdose

As a CNS depressant, heroin affects the brain’s ability to automatically regulate breathing. For this reason, oxygen deprivation in the brain, or hypoxia, can occur and result in permanent brain damage or coma.

Warning signs of a heroin overdose include the following:

  • Very slow and/or shallow breathing
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Bluing of the lips, fingertips, or other extremities
  • Gurgling sounds

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction treatment begins with a medical detox in which the patient is monitored and administered medication to lessen withdrawal symptoms. After detox, patients are encouraged to enter long-term inpatient rehab followed by intensive outpatient treatment.

Our center offers a comprehensive, evidence-based and individualized approach to addiction treatment that includes psychotherapies, counseling, group support, and aftercare planning services.

Recovery is a lifelong endeavor, but you don’t have to do it alone. We have the tools you need to regain your life.