The heroin epidemic is at an all-time high, and as an unfortunate by-product of that, there is now also an epidemic of heroin overdoses that take the lives of thousands every year. Overdoses are an unfortunate reality of the continuing abuse of opiates such as heroin that are derived from the opium poppy substance morphine.

Heroin is an extremely cheap and powerful opiate that is incredibly addictive, affordable, and accessible in nearly any town or city you can visit in the US. There are occasional intentional overdoses, but the vast majority of overdoses are accidental or unintentional and are the result of illicit use. 

Even though it takes a relatively small amount to overdose, the likelihood is further increased by the tendency of heroin to be adulterated with any number of potentially deadly substances like fentanyl, making heroin one of the easiest illicit drugs to accidentally overdose on. Also yet another reason why heroin is recognized as one of the most dangerous and deadly illegal recreational drugs in the world.

This risk of overdose is literally taken into the user’s hands every time they choose to use heroin. No matter if they smoke it, snort it, or inject it, they run the risk of a lethal outcome. Even if you don’t use heroin, someone you know might, and knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a potential overdose can save a life.

Heroin Overdose Signs & Symptoms

Heroin is one of the most powerful and dangerous recreational depressants that are abused. This means it slows down many of the vital functions of the body, such as central nervous system communication, as well as respiration.

When someone consumes too large of a dose of heroin, there are a wide variety of things that can happen. Most overdose cases will see several of the symptoms, some will see many, and a few will only experience a very limited number. 

As quickly as just ten minutes after dosing, the potent depressant nature of heroin brings many of the body’s vital functions to an absolute crawl. This includes heart rate and respiration, and with an overdose, both can stop within minutes, making death extremely easy. With a large enough dose of heroin, the entirety of bodily systems simply shut down permanently.

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Those that have been in the midst of a heroin overdose have also said they have felt a range of sensations and symptoms that varied in severity and intensity. These symptoms include dry mouth, abdominal spasming, intense drowsiness, disorientation, constipation, and difficulty breathing. The symptoms are all self-diagnosable, so if you or someone you know has recently ingested heroin and is displaying any of these symptoms it is advisable to seek immediate medical attention or assistance.

While the overdose itself will generally not cause any pain, there can be significant pain associated with many of the symptoms of overdose. The most painful thing that many users recall in regards to their overdose incident, was the intensely painful and jarring withdrawal and chemical detox that the emergency drugs like naloxone cause when it binds to the opioid receptors.

How to See The Signs That Someone Is Addicted to Heroin Before an Overdose Happens

One of the crucial steps to stopping a heroin overdose is to prevent it in the first place. Knowing how to recognize that someone you know may be addicted to heroin is one of the most vital things you can do to help save a life.

Heroin, being a depressant, will make the user sleepy. It is not uncommon for heroin users to nod off or even fall deeply asleep while doing everyday tasks, or simply being inactive. They will often move slower, and will even think and speak at a much slower cadence. If their eyes are open enough, you can also look at the size of the pupil, as someone under the effects of heroin will usually have very constricted, or small pupils.

If the individual has been injecting or “shooting up” their heroin, they will usually have noticeable wounds called tracks that can indicate they have a habit of using. Some users inject in inconspicuous places though, so this may not always work. 

Those who take heroin this way will also experience near-total constipation while they are using, so regular use of laxatives without medical necessity can also be an indicator of illicit heroin use. When going through the withdrawal stage, this state of constipation is often quickly and severely reversed, leading to potential dehydration issues from diarrhea.

Additional indicators that someone may be using heroin, or currently under the influence of heroin, are feelings of heaviness and difficulty moving with surety, disorganized or confused thinking, general disorientation, difficulty or inability to make coherent decisions, and memory loss.

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Heroin addiction can also make the users enact significant lifestyle changes. This is due to heroin becoming the central force around which their life begins to revolve. This usually leads to fear of exposure by friends or family, and so the user often retreats into isolation, or into small groups of other users. The damage to professional, personal, and familial relationships is often noted to be severe.

There are also indications that someone who is abusing heroin is experiencing their heroin wearing off. If they suddenly feel muscle pains or aches, begin getting chills while also sweating, get nauseous or vomit, be unable to sleep, feel nervous, or feel itchy.

Getting Help for Symptoms of a Heroin Overdose

If you, someone you know, or someone close to you may be having trouble with a heroin addiction or has suffered a heroin overdose, it is in the best benefit and safety of the individual to work with treatment professionals. By helping the individual map out their plan for recovery, using inpatient methods, outpatient methods, or a combination of both, they can make more progress in long-term recovery than was ever possible alone.

Reach out today to a premier inpatient/intensive outpatient rehab center that can walk you through the beginning stages of recovery so that you can be set up for a successful, lifelong sobriety.

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens

Amanda is a prolific content writer, and is in recovery from disordered eating. She has a passion for health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and being a mother of a beautiful daughter.

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