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One of the most obvious signs of heroin abuse is the appearance of track marks and scabs on the arms of the user. These marks on the arm can be evidence of prior injections, or they could be signs of infected skin or abscesses. “Heroin arm” is the term used to describe the sores that result from heroin addiction.
Learn About Heroin
Heroin is derived from morphine, which comes from opium, a substance found in the seedpod of the poppy flower in Southeast Asia. Heroin use causes a powerful reaction in the brain’s chemistry, attaching to opioid receptors in the pain and pleasure centers. This causes a deep sense of relaxation and intense euphoria.
Heroin in pure form is white, but on the street is usually a brown or off-white powder. It can also be found in the form of a black sticky substance called black tar. Heroin is commonly cut with other substances or drugs, making it either diluted, as when cut with sugar or caffeine powder, or extremely deadly, as when cut with fentanyl.
Heroin is ingested into the body in several ways. This includes being snorted, smoked, or injected. In the U.S., heroin is an illegal narcotic, a Schedule I controlled substance. This designation means that the drug has no medical value, and is highly addictive and prone to abuse.
Heroin addiction can take hold quickly. It quickly hijacks the brain’s reward system, causing intense cravings. In time, the user becomes very sick when the effects of the drug wear off, prompting a repeat of the cycle.
In recent years, the heroin supply has been infused with the deadly opioid, fentanyl. The presence of fentanyl is what has led to a spike in overdose deaths.
What is Heroin Arm?
Because the usual mode of heroin use is via injection, the sores that appear on the arms are telltale signs. These “track marks” are found scattered along the veins that are found on the arm. The needles used cause punctures, which result in small scabs and bruises.
If the needles are tainted with bacteria they can cause an infection on the skin and cause abscesses and blisters.
Infections associated with heroin injection include:
- Staph infection.
- Hepatitis C.
- Septic thrombophlebitis.
- Flesh eating bacteria.
Heroin-Related Staph Infections
Staph infections are the most common type of bacterial infections for heroin users and are caused by the staphylococcus bacteria. Lesions form on the skin, another sign of heroin arm.
When staph breaks through the skin it can enter the bloodstream and land in joints, bones, the lungs, or the heart. Staph can have serious results, such as blood poisoning, toxic shock syndrome, or sepsis.
Signs of a staph infection include:
- Painful rash.
- Skin redness.
- Sores or ulcers.
- Discharge of pus.
- Muscle aches.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Abdominal pain.
Treatment for Heroin Arms
Treating heroin arm will depend on the cause of the marks. The only way to get rid of the small scabs caused by needles is to stop using them. Creams and ointments, though, may relieve some discomfort. The biggest risk is that veins can become damaged and collapse.
If the heroin arm is caused by an infection, the person will need medical care. A doctor can lance a skin lesion to allow pus to drain. For most infections, antibiotics are prescribed.
Why is Heroin so Addictive?
Heroin causes a flood of dopamine to be released into the bloodstream. This is the chemical that informs us that we are experiencing pleasure. The brain records this in the reward system as a sensation that should be repeated. Thus, the brain prompts the person to seek the drug by eliciting cravings.
Over time, the brain cannot keep up with the demands of the drug and slowly allows the drug to take over. That early rush is no longer happening. The person then increases the dosing in an effort to recapture the early effects.
Between doses, intense withdrawal symptoms and cravings promote the addiction cycle. In order to avoid the highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, the user must feed the addiction with ongoing doses. Thus, the person has become both dependent on and addicted to heroin.
Breaking Free From Heroin
Those who wish to stop using heroin must commit to enrolling in a lengthy rehab program. A heroin habit is not easy to overcome, but it is fully possible with expert help.
These are the actions needed to break the grip of heroin:
- Medical Detox. Heroin withdrawal symptoms appear about 6-12 hours after the last dose and then peak by the 2nd or 3rd day. Detox timeline:
Days 1: Flu-like symptoms, such as chills, muscle aches, nausea, sweating, and fatigue.
Days 2-3: These are the hardest days, as symptoms become more intense. In addition to the flu-like symptoms, there is agitation, excessive yawning, diarrhea, insomnia, shaking, restless leg movements, and cravings.
Days 4-6: Symptoms slowly begin to subside.
Day 6 on: Nausea, insomnia, depression, and anxiety may still be present for a few weeks.
- Psychotherapy: Therapy involves a number of evidence-based approaches to effectively guide the person toward adopting new healthy thought patterns. Any related emotional issues are also addressed and worked through during therapy.
- Group therapy: Small groups of peers discuss their points of view and experiences with each other. The counselor may have them participate in group activities, and will provide topics to discuss.
- Recovery meetings. Recovery meetings offer a space for peers in recovery to learn from each other. These groups include 12-step programs like A.A. and N.A., as well as non 12-step programs like SMART Recovery and others.
- Psychosocial education: Clients are taught about how addiction develops and how to recognize the risks associated with relapse. They are also coached to create their own relapse prevention plan.
- Adjunctive: Methods such as yoga, meditation, art therapy, and other holistic practices can be beneficial in heroin recovery.
The sight of heroin arm, with its scabs, scar tissue, and bruises, is a wake-up call. If you have acquired a heroin addiction, there is help for you. Reach out today.
Bodhi Addiction Treatment Offers a Comprehensive Heroin Recovery Program
Bodhi Addiction Treatment provides the most effective treatment for someone with heroin addiction. If you are experiencing a heroin arm and are ready to return to health, please call us today at (877) 328-1968.