Drug addiction can often be spotted just by the appearance of the individual’s eyes. Of course there are several other physical changes that can give away the fact that someone is struggling with addiction, but the eyes may offer the most revealing evidence. The eyes of a heroin addict are particularly unique.
Someone with a heroin addiction will present with constricted, even pinpoint pupils. In addition to the unique small pupil size, the eyes will also be bloodshot and even droopy. The eyes of a heroin addict can be haunting even, seeming unfocused and lifeless, although the color of the iris, the colored section of the eye, will be intensified. About 8 hours after heroin use the eyes will become teary or watery, then become dull and hollow in appearance, and they may develop dark circles under them.
Other drugs of abuse can also affect the eyes, but heroin and opioids are unique in causing the constriction of the pupils. In fact, most other substances will cause the pupils to dilate, or enlarge. The pupil constriction in heroin users happens when the heroin attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain and alters the central nervous system. When the pupils constrict, called miosis, it means that the heroin has affected the parasympathetic functions of the autonomic nervous system.
A strong sense of urgency about treating heroin addiction has been fueled by a recent spike in overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl-laced heroin. The synthetic opioid, fentanyl, is manufactured in China, is extremely potent and deadly, and is responsible for the recent rash of overdose deaths in the U.S. A heroin addict can unwittingly purchase fentanyl-laced heroin, which may produce a fatal outcome.
Heroin is derived from morphine, a natural byproduct of particular poppy plants in regions like Afghanistan, Colombia, and Burma. Opium is produced through the fluid that seeps out of the poppy seedpod and is then dried into a resin product.
Heroin is a highly addictive substance that leads to rapidly increased tolerance to the drug, resulting in increased usage in an effort to continue to experience the initial euphoric high. Heroin use causes a powerful reaction in the brain’s chemistry, attaching to opioid receptors in the pain and pleasure centers. A flood of dopamine leads to the “rush” that is felt upon injecting heroin, snorting or smoking heroin.
Heroin will significantly alter the brain chemistry, causing the brain to eventually cease producing its own dopamine. Without the drug, the user will become unable to experience pleasure at all, only leading to higher dosing. When chemical dependence takes hold, any attempt to stop taking heroin results in highly uncomfortable flu-like withdrawal symptoms. At this point the addict needs to take the drug to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms and feeling very sick, referred to as “dope sick”.
The Centers for Disease Control has published data from 2017, the most recent data available, citing alarming statistics regarding heroin. According to this report, deaths from heroin increased sevenfold from 1,960 in 1999 to 15,482 in 2017. Now with fentanyl embedded in the heroin supply, overdose deaths continue to rise.
Signs of Heroin Addiction
When it comes to recognizing the visible signs of heroin addiction, in addition to the eyes of a heroin addict there are plenty of other obvious signs. While heroin addicts are secretive and will go to great lengths to hide their drug addiction from others, this will become more difficult as the addiction deepens.
The effects of heroin use are virtually instantaneous, with an immediate surge, or rush, of euphoria and sense of pleasure. Common short-term effects include:
- Warm flushing of the skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Itchy skin
- Eyes of heroin addict with pinpoint pupils
- Limbs feel heavy
- Clouded thinking
- Incoherent speech
- Slowed heart rate
- Being in a state between conscious and semiconscious, or nodding out
Some other signs that a person might be engaging in heroin use include:
- Paraphernalia. Syringes, burnt spoons or tin foil, small baggies, pipes, balloons, straws, rubber tubing, and hollowed out pens are all items associated with heroin use.
- Needle marks on forearms, legs, and feet
- Bruising, scabs, unhealed track marks
- Sudden weight loss
- Runny nose
- Grayish skin pallor
- Money missing
- Mood swings
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Apathetic and lethargic
- Social withdrawal
- Secretive behavior
- Exhibit withdrawal symptoms
What are the Long-term Effects of Heroin Addiction?
Heroin abuse is very damaging to the body. As the addiction progresses, the individual’s health will decline, often resulting in serious medical issues. These long-term health effects include:
- Bacterial skin infections, or cellulitis
- Sexual dysfunction in men
- Heart problems, including heart valve infection
- Chronic pulmonary diseases, including pneumonia
- Mood disorders
- Liver disease
- Blood clots from injection, skin tissue death, collapsed veins
- Contracting an infectious disease, such as Hepatitis B or C, HIV
What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Heroin addiction treatment now usually involves medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which utilizes certain opioid antagonists and agonists to help control cravings and slowly reduce the desire for the drug. These medications are prescribed for the purpose of stabilizing the individual in recovery while reducing the risk of relapse, allowing them a better shot at moving forward successfully in recovery. In most cases, the drugs are prescribed for a limited time, such as 3-12 months, before beginning a tapering schedule. However, in some cases long-term use of these drugs is warranted.
MAT is always closely monitored, as these drugs themselves are prone to abuse. Some individuals may use them illicitly, often crushing the drug and snorting it or liquefying the drug and injecting it. These drugs are always prescribed as one part of an aftercare strategy that includes outpatient services, like psychotherapy and support groups. MAT medications include:
Methadone: Methadone is the most strictly controlled drug of the MAT medications. It replaces heroin, tricking the brain into thinking it is getting the heroin. Methadone must be obtained through a methadone distribution station.
Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist that produces similar effects as heroin but to a much lesser degree. This replacement drug will eventually cause cravings to be reduced, lowering the risk of relapse.
Naltrexone: Naltrexone is a non-narcotic drug that blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of heroin, so the euphoric response is not experienced. Over time, the individual will no longer crave heroin.
Heroin Detox and Withdrawal
It is important to understand is the need to enroll in a medically supervised detox program, versus attempting to detox alone at home. Without medical oversight and emotional support, the withdrawal symptoms, which resemble intense flu-like symptoms, will not be adequately controlled and the individual will quickly relapse to using again just to end the pain of withdrawal.
A supervised detox provides medical assistance, including continual monitoring of vital signs and managing the discomforts of withdrawal symptoms and cravings with medication. The detox professionals also offer emotional support to help the individual navigate the discomforts of detox and successfully complete the process. Heroin detox and withdrawal takes about one week to complete.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle spasms
- Joint and bone pain
- Intense cravings
Getting Help for a Heroin Addiction
When an individual is ready to be treated for a heroin addiction it is important that they are personally committed to the often-challenging recovery process. States Ashley Anderson, a recovery specialist in New York City, “It’s much more effective to come into therapy of your own volition. Even though others may benefit from you having treatment, therapy is a personal choice because it’s right your you and you alone.”
When it is right, a long-term residential program is the most effective level of support for treating heroin addiction. While outpatient services are available, it is recommended that someone in need of treatment for heroin dependency enroll in a 90-day residential program for best results.
Comprehensive treatment for heroin addiction includes the following elements:
Psychotherapy. Therapy plays a central role in the treatment of addiction. A number of psychotherapies are available that have been clinically studied and determined to be effective. These include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectal behavior therapy, motivation enhancement therapy, and contingency management.
Groups. People tend to bond in recovery groups where they will share about their own personal struggle with addiction and gain useful insights from peers and the addiction counselor who leads the support groups. Family therapy groups are also a key element in recovery programming.
Meetings. Many rehab programs integrate recovery meetings into the weekly schedule. These include twelve-step groups or alternatives like SMART Recovery.
Psychosocial. An important aspect of recovery is learning how to remain sober over the long term. Individuals in recovery will acquire new skills and coping techniques that will become useful post-rehab when they attempt to navigate their lives. Relapse prevention planning is a key goal for individuals preparing for recovery.
Ken Seeley Palm Springs Addiction Recovery Services
Ken Seeley Communities provides professional addiction recovery services including comprehensive treatment for heroin addiction. Ken Seeley is widely respected in the recovery field, and is well known through his appearances on A&E’s Intervention series as a professional interventionist. Ken Seeley Communities the full range of addiction recovery services, including professional interventions, medical detox, outpatient rehab, residential treatment, and transitional housing. Ken Seeley Communities approaches addiction recovery as on a continuum, with each phase of the process leading organically to the next. Alumni are provided with excellent continuing care options to help reinforce recovery for a sustained and successful outcome. For more information about the various programs, please contact Ken Seeley Communities today at (877) 744-0502.