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How Is Heroin Taken

“Everyone is doing it.” That was the most common phrase in middle and high school that could get many into trouble. We saw it on TV growing up: the unpopular girl wants to fit in with the cool teens, and they tell her she has to steal clothes or sunglasses. While these situations were always far-fetched and not necessarily relatable, they still held some truth behind them. One of the main reasons for teen substance use is the desire to fit in. Seeing other classmates using drugs like heroin – while laughing and having fun – made the decision pretty easy for you to give it a try, even if you didn’t know anything else about heroin.

How Is Heroin Taken

In Hillsborough County, 474 overdose deaths involved heroin in 2021. This is almost as many as neighboring counties Manatee, Pinellas, and Pasco put together – 528 heroin-involved overdoses occurred between all three counties. At Clean Recovery Centers, we understand that people don’t start using heroin to overdose. That is why we provide education and tools for our communities. Let’s take a look at how heroin is taken and what kind of effects it has on the body.

The Scope of Heroin in the U.S.A

While heroin has been around for decades, the use of heroin has been on a decline in the United States. This is not because it isn’t readily available, there are just more options for opioids on the market. In 2020, the heroin overdose rate decreased by 7%. However, 13,000 people lost their lives to heroin-involved drug overdoses. The trends noticed in recent years have been fluctuating, seeing the highest increase in overdoses around 2015-2016. Since then, heroin overdoses – whether the only cause or being involved – have been on a steady decline. In 2021, 9,173 drug overdoses involving heroin occurred.

Statistics of Heroin Use in Florida

From 2019 to 2020, Florida saw a decrease in heroin-related deaths. While 7,026 overdoses involving heroin occurred in Florida, EMS crews administered over 33,000 doses of Naloxone. While this trend is seeing an increase, it shows that more people are reporting overdoses and getting help as soon as possible. These calls have been related to heroin relapse as well as initial heroin use.

What Effects Does Heroin Have on the Body?

Heroin is a central nervous system depressant, binding with the opioid receptors in the brain and body. The initial effect can be described as a “rush,” an intense feeling of euphoria and relaxation. Over time, the brain’s opioid receptors become desensitized to the amount of heroin being used, and will require more to feel the same effects. The body also feels the effects of heroin, as cloudy thinking and increased sleep make it difficult to remember basic needs like eating. Poor nutrition in combination with a weakened immune system leads to chronic infections and trouble healing wounds.

Heroin comes in different forms, and being able to know which type you have can determine how it will be taken. Identifying heroin can be difficult, especially with the number of substances that are available in a white powder.

The Risks of Smoking Heroin

As with smoking any substance, there is a risk of lung infections and damage when heroin is smoked. The most common type of heroin to be smoked is black tar heroin. It is a sticky, tar-like substance and is usually packaged in plastic. As use increases over time, frequent lung infections can lead to chronic bronchitis or COPD. Also, dry mouth from smoking heroin can cause tooth and gum decay.

The Risks of Injecting Heroin

How Is Heroin Taken - Addiction Treatment FloridaInjecting heroin is one of the most common ways of use. By way of injection, heroin is absorbed directly into the bloodstream, making the effects felt immediately. With this comes a multitude of side effects. First, one of the telltale signs of heroin addiction is track marks. Track marks are the bruises and wounds that come from injecting heroin, especially in the same areas. Heroin track marks can turn into infected wounds, abscesses, and can lead to sepsis.

When needles are shared, the risk for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis increase. With the immune system already compromised, these illnesses can become life-threatening, especially when left untreated. Scarred and collapsed veins can make receiving treatment difficult, as there is no way to administer an intravenous (IV) line.

The Risk of Snorting Heroin

Snorting heroin can cause chronic breathing and lung problems. The linings of the nasal passages can become inflamed, which makes breathing difficult. Think of how those with deviated septums or breathing problems need a CPAP to help them breathe while sleeping. The same can be said for those who snort heroin, they can eventually need help to breathe normally again. However, heroin users are not prone to seeking medical attention, and the difficulties with breathing can lead to breathing stopping altogether.

The Short and Long-Term Side Effects of Heroin Use

When heroin is used frequently, the body will begin to feel the side effects of heroin. Some of the short-term effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Itchiness
  • Obscured thinking
  • Heaviness in the arms and legs

Most of these side effects are felt early on, and happen every time heroin is used. Some of the long-term side effects include:

  • Gastric distress such as constipation and diarrhea
  • Sexual dysfunction in men and hormone imbalance in women
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty regulating breathing or temperature
  • Increased depression, anxiety, and mood swings

What to Expect From Heroin Withdrawals

When the body becomes dependent on heroin, it needs it to function. This is where heroin withdrawal symptoms come in. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping

These symptoms can appear in as little as 6 hours after the last dose of heroin and can last between 4 and 10 days. While not usually life-threatening, withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable and can take a toll on mental health. If ever thoughts of harming yourself or others occur, seek medical attention.

How to Manage a Heroin Overdose

A heroin overdose occurs when the body is overwhelmed with the amount ingested. One of the most telling signs of an overdose is a gurgling or choking noise. At this point, an overdose is highly likely. Some other symptoms include:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Coma
  • Blue fingernails and lips

When an overdose occurs, it is key to act fast. When a person stops breathing, hypoxia sets in. This means that the vital organs are no longer receiving oxygen. The first step is always to call for emergency medical assistance. Stay with the person until they arrive and keep them propped up or on their side if they can’t stay upright. If Narcan is available, give a dose to the person. Narcan works by counteracting the effects of opioids, and it is not harmful to give if the person is not truly overdosing. Once help is on the scene, be honest with all substances taken and if Narcan has been administered.

Getting Treatment for Heroin Use Disorder in Tampa, FL

As with other opioids, many of us know someone who is (or was) managing a form of opioid use disorder. For those that have been affected by heroin – whether yourself or a loved one – there is hope to end the cycle and find freedom and new life.

Clean Recovery Centers utilizes a unique three-phase approach for heroin addiction recovery. Our staff of dedicated professionals treats each individual like family, and encourages learning new skills and habits for a healthy lifestyle. We understand that no two addiction stories are the same, and we provide options to fit all varieties of people. That is why we take pride in offering rapid-resolution therapy (RRT) at each of our facilities. We dive into the root causes of addiction and work to heal past trauma.

If you or someone you love is living in the grasp of heroin, it does not have to be a permanent way of life. Clean Recovery Centers is here to provide therapy, wellness techniques, skill-building, and companionship while you focus on healing and recovery. Call us today at (888) 330-2532 to learn more about our program and housing options.


What is heroin and how is it used?

Heroin is an opioid derived from morphine and can be used by smoking, snorting, or injecting.

How long does heroin stay in the human body?

Heroin typically stays in the human body for 12 to 24 hours.

Can you smoke heroin?

Heroin can be smoked, most commonly in black tar form.

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