Downgrading From Hard Drugs

Downgrading from Hard Drugs

Downgrading from Hard Drugs


If someone considers downgrading from hard drugs, it may be one specific approach to dealing with substance abuse that they feel will work for them. Unfortunately, as a society, we tend to view hard drugs as bad and so-called soft drugs as not so harmful. The reality is that a hard or a soft drug can lead to addiction, health problems, and many adverse effects.

The distinction between a hard and soft drug for many people is legality. Even this isn’t necessarily a good way to think about things.

For example, alcohol is legal if you’re 21 and older, yet it can be one of the deadliest substances. There are also states such as Oregon that are focusing efforts on decriminalized hard drugs. Under new legislation in Oregon for decriminalized hard drugs, you can’t be arrested for having small amounts of drugs like heroin or methamphetamine, both of which are dangerous, deadly drugs. The best option for most people who struggle with drug abuse is to be entirely drug-free rather than downgrading from hard drugs. Many in the recovery community don’t believe any drug use is conducive to a healthy lifestyle if you deal with addiction. 

Below, we go into more about the differences between hard and soft drugs and what you should know about the concept of gateway drugs as well.


Hard vs. Soft Drugs

There are different ways you might view the differences between hard and soft drugs. For example, in some countries, there is a legal distinction made between the two, with soft drugs theoretically being less harmful to people’s health than harder ones. In the Netherlands, soft drugs are not considered harmless, but they have less severe effects. Sedatives, marijuana, and sleeping pills are soft drugs under this model.

Hard drugs in the Netherlands include heroin, amphetamine, and cocaine. The penalties for drug possession of a hard versus soft substance vary from one another. In the United States, we have controlled substance schedules that guide our federal drug laws and laws surrounding drug possession.

A controlled substance is one with a high potential for abuse or addiction. The Controlled Substances Act puts all substances regulated under federal law into one of five schedules. Along with the abuse and addiction potential, whether or not the substance has a medical use is also a consideration.

  • Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, with no current, federally accepted medical applications in the United States. There is no safe use for these substances. Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, and GHB. Interestingly, marijuana is Schedule I in the U.S., yet it’s legal for medicinal and recreational use in many states across the country. We talk a little more about marijuana and its legality below. 
  • Schedule II drugs have high abuse potential but with some accepted medical uses. These illegal drugs include cocaine, methadone, morphine, PCP, and methamphetamine.
  • Schedule III drugs have a lower potential for drug addiction than Schedule I or II substances, with medical uses in the U.S. Schedule III substances are hydrocodone, codeine, anabolic steroids, and barbiturates.
  • Schedule IV substances have a relatively low potential for abuse than Schedule III, with accepted medical uses. Schedule IV drugs include prescription medications like Valium and Xanax.
  • Schedule V substances have the lowest potential for dependence compared to substances on the other Schedules, and cough medicines with codeine are an example of these.

While drug Schedules are one way to distinguish the risks of substances, there’s not a particular scientific or legal distinction that we can point to when we talk about hard and soft drugs.

  • For some people, it’s not about the legality or the impact on criminal records for something like simple possession. Instead, it might be about how socially acceptable it is to use a substance.
  • For example, it can be more socially acceptable to use prescription pain medicines rather than heroin in some people’s eyes, even though both have similar effects and risks. Both prescription pain medicines and heroin cause dry mouth, slurred speech, and potentially deadly short-term effects, yet one category includes FDA-approved medications. 
  • A list of hard drugs for a lot of people might include heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. For others, since cocaine isn’t as addictive as heroin, they might not have it on their list of hard drugs.

There are a lot of gray areas when making distinctions like these between substances.



America’s Deadliest Drugs Are Legal

Again, legality and the classification of drug crimes aren’t always an excellent way to separate a hard and soft drug. In the United States, the three deadliest drugs are all legal.

  • The first is tobacco. More Americans die from smoking-related health problems than drug overdoses, car accidents, and homicides combined.
  • Cigarette smoking may lead to one in five deaths in America every year.
  • The U.S. has seen tobacco use go down significantly in recent decades, but it’s still a top killer.

The next-deadliest drug is alcohol.

  • Alcohol-related health problems kill tens of thousands of people every year, which doesn’t factor in causes like homicide and drunk driving. 
  • Alcohol-related deaths have been steadily going up in the U.S. over the past few years, and official death toll numbers may be significantly undercounting alcohol deaths.
  • There are so many ways that alcohol can be one of the deadliest drugs. The health effects of excessive drinking are just one type of risk. There are injuries, crime, and violence, for example, that make alcohol use particularly dangerous and deadly.

The third deadliest drug is opioid pain killers.

  • Since the 1990s, drug companies have been pushing opioid pain medicines on doctors who gave them to patients. 
  • These substances were part of marketing campaigns, and patients got addicted, and many ultimately died as a result.
  • In the past decade, policymakers have been putting more restrictions on prescription opioid pain killers, but it remains a deadly problem in the U.S.

Hard drugs, while dangerous, are linked to far fewer deaths than the three legal substances above. You also have to consider things like bath salts, which can be a highly dissociative drug but are also a common household item. 


Are There Gateway Drugs?

When talking about a hard or soft drug, the idea of gateway drugs also comes up. The theory is that so-called soft substances like marijuana might lead to harder drugs because the gateway drug affects the brain’s pathways.

In some cases, with the use of soft substances, the brain may be more vulnerable to the abuse of other substances, including illicit or harder drugs. These risks are more significant the younger someone is when they start experimenting with substances.

Marijuana is frequently, as was mentioned, what we think of like a gateway drug, and it’s also federally illegal on its own. Much of the prison population is serving time for a criminal offense related to marijuana possession, even as it becomes legal in many states around the country. The criminal justice system hasn’t yet caught up, and there are many drug convictions not yet overturned for the possession, use, or sale of marijuana. 

Drug offenders who got jail time for marijuana and are still behind bars often question why they’re being treated differently by the legal system than legitimate businesses in states where recreational marijuana use is legal. Some are currently serving life sentences in prison for drug crimes related to marijuana and felony drug possession. All of this underscores the fact that legality doesn’t always dictate whether or not a drug is harmful. 


Is Downgrading from Hard Drugs Possible?

Some people think they can downgrade from more problematic substances and only use soft substances like alcohol or marijuana. While everyone is different, this may not be a practical approach to addiction issues. You may find that you cannot use just one type of drug, and as we highlighted, soft substances have genuine adverse effects.

Sobriety is often the best option for someone with a history of substance misuse because casual substance use might not be something they can maintain. Drug treatment and treatment for any co-occurring mental illness can help you avoid facing a felony offense for using hard substances. 

If you or someone you love is dealing with substance use, we encourage you to call Anchored Tides Recovery at 866-600-7709 to learn more about a treatment program that will work for you.

How to Heal the Brain After Drug Use

how to heal the brain after drug use


Learning how to heal the brain after drug use and improving brain function after drug abuse takes time and patience. There are things you can do during addiction treatment when you’re working with your therapist and treatment team, and on your own, that can help heal your brain. Below, we’ll explore how the use of psychoactive substances affects your brain initially and what you can do to help the process of improving brain function after drug abuse.


How Drug Use Affects Your Brain

Our brains are our most complex organs, containing gray and white matter; the human brain allows us to do everything in our lives. 

  • Our brain regions regulate essential functions and determine your behavior and your feelings. 
  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, your brain is who you are, what you think, and how you feel. 
  • Your brain includes various neural circuits and brain cells, all connected and working together on your cognitive functions. Neurons are responsible for transmitting signals to one another and other parts of the brain. These neurons also relay messages to the spinal cord and nerves through your body.
  • When a neuron sends a message, it releases a neurotransmitter into the gap between the following brain cells in the chain. The neurotransmitter attaches to receptor sites on the other neuron.

So what does all this mean as far as a substance use disorder? 

  • Drugs interfere with how your neurons send and receive signals using neurotransmitters, creating addictive behaviors. 
  • With some drugs, like heroin or marijuana, neurons activate because the drug’s chemical structure is similar to a natural neurotransmitter. As a result, the drug attaches and then starts the neurons. 
  • Opioids are an example. Opioid drugs, including heroin, mentioned above, and prescription pain medicines, activate opioid receptors. Over time, opioid addiction can occur because of this activation. 
  • The drugs might be replicating natural neurotransmitters in the human brain, but they aren’t activating neurons the same way as natural rewards. 
  • Abnormal chemical messengers are sent throughout your brain and body, increasing the potential for addictive behaviors to take hold. 

Drugs, including cocaine and other stimulants, lead neurons to release large amounts of neurotransmitters or prevent the chemicals’ recycling. These effects also disrupt communication and brain circuits. 


Dopamine and Addiction

The high you get from drugs is likely because of a surge of chemicals these substances can induce. 

  • Neurotransmitters in the basal ganglia, also known as your brain’s reward circuit, are a big part of this. 
  • The surges of neurotransmitters when using drugs occur at much higher levels than what happens with natural rewarding activities like eating or social engagement.
  • One neurotransmitter drugs release is dopamine.
  • Our brains want us to continue repeating pleasurable activities, so when you use drugs, and there’s a dopamine release, it can trigger addiction to the substance.
  • Dopamine causes changes in the brain reward cycle and neural connections, making it easier to repeat habits in an ongoing way through reinforcement. 

Over time, with addictive drugs, you get stuck in a cycle of extreme highs and lows. If you’re not using the substance you’re addicted to, you may feel severe depression because your dopamine levels require the drug at that point. The same is true with alcohol addiction. Addiction is technically a brain disease. 

If you stop using the drug, you go through emotional, physical, and mental side effects in the short term. These effects are withdrawal symptoms. You might have intense drug cravings, anxiety, and physical symptoms similar to the flu, depending on the drug you’re addicted to.



Longer-Term Effects of Drugs on the Brain

Long-term effects on your brain structure and function, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, can include:

  • Impulse control issues and behavioral effects, making you more likely to engage in risky behaviors. 
  • Emotional control, so you might feel numb, or you could have too strong emotions, leading you to lash out or experience problems in relationships.
  • The effects of drugs impact the brain’s hippocampus, which helps you learn information and make memories. You may struggle with memory issues if you have substance use disorder.
  • Overtime for drug-addicted subjects and people with a substance use disorder, it can be more challenging for the brain to process new information or maintain executive functions. You may be less flexible in your thinking or behavior.
  • There are numerous possible mental health disorders and effects of drug addiction, whether it’s an illicit drug or a prescription. For example, you might have sleep problems, experience anxiety, or be more likely to develop depression.

So, what can you do?


How to Start Healing

The first step of improving brain function after drug abuse relies on quitting the substance you’re addicted to. 

  • You’re likely going to need a managed detox program as you go through symptoms of withdrawal. 
  • During managed or supervised detox, you have medical care as you go through withdrawal symptoms. 
  • The medical care providers can keep you safe and help improve your comfort level, making it less likely you’ll relapse during this time.
  • When you detox, this is an integral part of how to heal the brain after drug use. Detox is a time when although you might have uncomfortable symptoms, your brain is restoring itself to a sense of balance.
  • Your brain chemicals can start to get back to the way they’re meant to be, and you can begin to adjust to what it might look like to function without drugs in your daily life.

From there, other things you can do to help with improving brain recovery after drug abuse include:

  • Participate in behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is an effective treatment as you recover from an addiction. When you participate in CBT, it can help you identify and change your harmful thought patterns. CBT can also encourage the growth of your brain’s neural network. Neural networks affect your thinking, feelings, and worldviews. Brain scans show CBT increases activity in the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. You can learn to control impulses and emotions, reversing some of the damage from drugs and restoring standard brain functionality. Most treatments for drug addiction include extensive talk therapy and behavioral treatment. 
  • Meditate or learn to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness and meditation aren’t just soothing at the moment. Research shows us that they help strengthen brain connections. You want to learn how to refocus your thinking, and then you can work on having more control over how you take in outside information. Meditation and mindfulness can reduce your risk of relapse and increase the grey matter in your brain. You may be able to improve the function of your hippocampus, helping you with memory and learning. Meditation can decrease the cell volume in your amygdala, helping with anxiety, stress, and fear.
  • Consider your diet and exercise routines. Your brain may be lacking vital vitamins and nutrients from when you were in active addiction. Work on repairing it with a healthy, nutritious diet containing things like healthy fats. Engaging in physical exercise can help your brain rebuild connections, and it’s an excellent natural dopamine booster. Physical activity can help you manage stress and reduce anxiety levels. 


Treatment for Drug Addiction 

Anchored Tides Recovery encourages you to contact our team by calling 866-600-7709 to learn more about how to heal the human brain after the effects of drugs and how to get treatment initially. It’s never too late to receive substance use disorder treatment and start making positive changes in your life and your health and wellness. Long-term recovery can help reverse some of the chronic effects of drug use. 

Is Gender-Specific Treatment Actually Gender-Specific?

Gender specific Treatment

Gender specific Treatment


In a yearly national survey of treatment centers in the United States, in 2019, more than 7,800 of 15,960 centers reported offering treatment for women and individuals who identify as females. That, on its face, sounds great as far as the availability of gender-specific treatment, right?

Maybe not so much. 

There may not be a genuine consideration for gender-specific differences and gender issues in the treatment for substance abuse. Even when it’s not mixed-gender treatment, a program might still not be entirely speaking to the needs of women and gearing treatment to women. We are finding as time goes on that the definitions of what truly gender and women-specific treatment can vary significantly between centers and programs. 

When a center reports the availability of programs just for women, it might mean they have a weekly meeting just for women, for example. The broad terminology can mean there are some offerings for women, but they aren’t specific to the needs of women, particularly within the societal and individual context of their situation. There’s a scarce availability of truly gender-specific treatment programs. 

Understanding how our language impacts treatment is essential to deliver that genuinely women-centric focus in treatment. We have to learn more about the roots of treatment and the philosophies it’s built on because those continue to drive how we speak about and treat women. We also have to learn to be more curious in our questioning of what’s brought you to the place you’re in now, rather than simply assigning you a label.

All of this is challenging work because it requires that we reframe what treatment is and the concepts it’s built on. This reframing of the philosophy and language of treatment is a top priority for delivering women-centric addiction treatment for drugs and alcohol. This approach is different from programs that simply offer a gender-specific tract or discuss some gender-specific issues. 


The Male-Centric Treatment Framework

The concept of treating addiction goes back to the early 1900s

  • Courtenay Baylor is one of the names that come to mind as a pioneer in addiction treatment. 
  • Baylor essentially wrote the first textbook on how to be a substance abuse treatment counselor.
  • Baylor’s work is vital in how we do things even today. He based his treatment approaches primarily on men, which continues to influence substance abuse counseling in a larger sense.
  • In his book, Baylor only had one chapter on the treatment of women.
  • Samuel Ashwell was similarly a thought leader in this area, yet he spoke that men didn’t want to treat hysteria, linking it primarily to women. 
  • The idea of women struggling with addiction as being hysterical is one that’s stuck around, even if we don’t realize it.
  • The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book includes language primarily for alcohol-dependent men.

So, where does this leave women? What are the lingering negative consequences for females who have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, such as an opioid use disorder? Much of this reinforces some of the primary reasons women don’t get help in the first place—namely, shame is a big one, as are relationships and family commitments. Women-focused treatment and women-only programs need to realize what their shortcomings are to address differences in treatment outcomes. 



Why Aren’t We Asking More Questions?

At our gender-specific treatment center, we are rethinking the traditional ideas of addiction and how we can best treat it.

  • Many women who have a history of substance abuse also have a borderline personality disorder (BPD) or similar co-occurring disorders. 
  • A diagnosis of BPD is closely associated with a history of trauma, yet for men, we might diagnose them as having post-traumatic stress disorder instead of a personality disorder. 
  • As a woman with this diagnosis and a substance use disorder, the message becomes “you are the problem,” rather than talking about what happened to you to get you to this point.

Using labels is the prescriptive language often found in outdated gender-specific models not considering sex differences. 

  • When prescriptive language is part of your treatment program, you become your label, even in a gender-specific environment. 
  • You may internalize that label as who you are, which again goes back to the idea that you’re the problem rather than the concept that you have a problem that needs treatment.
  • Often, the labels created as part of prescriptive language models in a rehab program prevent the actual problem from being treated.

Another issue with prescriptive language and labels?

  • There’s no sense of curiosity on the part of your mental health providers, which ultimately leads to unfair treatment. 
  • A treatment provider may believe that because you have the label of BPD, to go back to the above example, they know all of your problems and how you should be treated. 
  • That eliminates the questioning and curious element of treatment. Therefore you’re not receiving addiction treatment as the individual you are.

With this problem of prescriptive language in mental health status, providers aren’t asking relevant contextual questions.

Labels lead to the same treatment for everyone, yet we know that what’s most effective for addiction is to treat everyone with an individualized treatment plan.

  • Treatment language doesn’t tell us what we need to know, as it stands currently. 
  • Instead, we say the person needs to “be fixed.” 
  • When we don’t account for context and experience in the treatment process, we also don’t consider how society influences substance use disorders.

For example, women in treatment are often victims of trauma, violence, sexual abuse, and inequality, which play a pivotal role in mental health and substance abuse disorders. Trauma-informed care and specialized treatments should be an integral part of treatment for individuals, leading to differences in the addiction recovery process. 


Moving From a Deficit to Strength-Based Perspective

Along with taking out prescriptive language and labels, our rehab center’s treatment of substance use moves from a deficit perspective to one of strength. So what does this mean?

Using the borderline personality disorder example, we build you up based on your inherent strengths. With BPD, you may have a focus on your alliance with others. In our approach, we might want to ask what continues to give you strength and a sense of resilience despite your past. We also consider the social context that you’ll return to in our treatment method. Other treatment options that aren’t genuinely gender-specific programs or women-specific might help with job placement and rebuilding family relationships. Still, they don’t consider broader societal elements that will affect your recovery.

  • What societal messages will you receive? 
  • What power differentials will you experience, and how can we internally empower you to deal with those? 
  • Are you returning to a supportive environment, or is it one where something like domestic violence could be an issue? 
  • What is your marital status, and is there a history of abuse? How can we create a foundation despite the traumatic events you’ve dealt with for complete treatment effectiveness? 

Individualized mental health care is about asking what your story is rather than creating stories we believe are relevant to you.

  • We work to exchange labels for curiosity in the addiction community and our mental health settings. 
  • We want to ask questions instead of making assumptions or adding a label where we see a problem. 
  • We also strive to externalize the situation outside of who you are to help you take accountability differently.



Our treatment team will move away from the perception of “I am the problem” to dealing with the problem for our female patients. We can look at core issues and gender-associated differences in patients and how particular situations such as physical abuse could have led you to where you are. 

So with all of this in mind, if you’re seeking treatment or looking for something individualized to who you are, you want to ask whether a program is a gender-specific treatment or if it just has a gender-specific tract.

Anchored Tides Recovery’s ongoing commitment to ensure that gender-specific treatment in all ways means we avoid outdated language in treatment that doesn’t consider the unique elements of what it is to be a woman and how that plays into your individualized treatment needs. Anchored Tides Recovery believes there are tremendous benefits of gender-specific treatment when looked at in the ways above, improving clinical outcomes and retention in treatment. If you’re interested in learning more about how we offer a truly inclusive gender-specific approach to treatment, call our helpline today, 866-600-7709

Signs of Heroin Use in Teens and Young Adults

signs of heroin use

signs of heroin use


The signs of heroin use can be obvious eventually, but early on, not as much. Heroin is a highly addictive, deadly drug for many people, and it’s at the center of the opioid epidemic occurring in the United States. Heroin and other opioids are a big part of a growing substance abuse problem in the United States, and unfortunately, opioid use disorder can be deadly.


What Are the Signs of Heroin Addiction?

The physical signs of heroin use vary depending on personality, genetics, and other individual factors. Physical symptoms of heroin addiction or use include:

  • Constricted pupils when under the influence
  • If someone smokes it, they may have an ongoing cough
  • Dark circles around the eyes
  • When going through withdrawal, a person could have large pupils
  • Heavy eyelids or a droopiness in the face
  • Burn marks on the fingers or mouth, if it’s smoked
  • Nose bleeds if heroin is snorted
  • If injected, track marks on the arms which are needle marks
  • Weight loss
  • Scabs and signs of skin picking
  • Flu-like symptoms if going through withdrawal
  • Drowsiness or increased need for sleep
  • Slurred speech
  • Mood swings
  • Wearing long pants or sleeves, even if the weather is warm or hot
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Itchiness

Some of the behavioral symptoms and psychological symptoms of heroin use or a heroin addiction include:

  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Inability to make good decisions
  • Concentration problems
  • Seeming disoriented
  • Unpredictability in mood
  • Euphoria
  • Lack of enjoyment
  • Loss of self-control
  • Anxiety
  • The presence of drug paraphernalia like aluminum foil
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Changes in menstrual cycles 

When someone has a heroin use disorder, it can have many adverse effects on their entire life. Complications and negative outcomes from ongoing heroin use can include:

  • Job loss
  • Problems at school
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Problems in relationships or divorce
  • Legal problems
  • Domestic violence
  • Child neglect and abuse
  • Infectious disease exposure
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver disease
  • Collapsed veins
  • Lung damage
  • Damage to other vital organs
  • Overdose or death

It may be a gradual process where you piece together various signs of drug abuse. For example, it can be challenging to know at first in a teen because teens are known for mood swings and generally erratic behavior. For many people, behavioral signs of heroin abuse might be the first indicator. For example, isolation, deceptive behavior, changes in friend groups, or seeming easily agitated or overly fatigued can all be possible symptoms of heroin use or the use of illegal drugs in general. 


How Heroin Affects the Body

When you take heroin, it activates specific receptors in your brain, creating short-term effects. Your body has neurotransmitters, which are natural chemicals. These neurotransmitters bind to receptors in the brain and body, regulating pain, feelings of well-being or euphoria, and hormone release.

When your opioid receptors activate in your brain’s reward center, they stimulate dopamine release. Dopamine creates the high you feel if you use heroin. Unfortunately, what also happens is that the reward center’s activation causes a reinforcement of drug-seeking behavior and usage. When someone takes heroin, they get a pleasurable rush. How much of a rush they feel depends on how much heroin they take and how quickly it binds to their opioid receptors.

Immediate effects of heroin might include flushing of the skin, a feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs, and a dry mouth. Sometimes, you could experience severe itching along with nausea and vomiting. Right after using heroin, drowsiness can occur and last for several hours. Mental functioning is cloudy, and the heart function and breathing slow down.

Opioids like heroin depress breathing because they change neurochemical activity in your brain stem. The brain stem controls automatic bodily functions, including not just breathing but your heart rate. If you take a dose of heroin that’s more than what your central nervous system can handle, breathing can slow down to a dangerous level. When breathing slows too much, it’s an overdose. An opioid overdose can cause permanent brain damage, coma, and death.



The Effects of Heroin on the Brain

With repeated exposure to heroin, the brain’s structure and physiology change, creating long-term effects. Those changes can cause imbalances in your hormone and neuron systems. These are difficult, although not impossible to reverse.

Researchers have found your white matter may deteriorate in response to heroin use. A decline in the brain’s white matter may impact your ability to make decisions, respond to stress, and regulate your behavior. Dependence is a significant risk factor with heroin, as well as developing a tolerance. Even after using heroin a few times, you may create tolerance and need higher doses to get the same effects. When you’re tolerant, you can also become physically dependent on the opioid. If you’re dependent on heroin and stop using it abruptly, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms, which is one of many effects of heroin abuse. 

Symptoms of withdrawal tend to occur within a few hours after the last time you use heroin. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Bone pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Goosebumps and cold flashes

For most people who use heroin, the withdrawal symptoms peak within 24 and 48 hours after their last dose; they get better over about a week. Some people experience longer-term symptoms over a few months.


What Are the Signs of a Heroin Overdose?

If someone you love is experiencing a heroin overdose, it can be challenging to know if that’s what’s happening or they’re very high. Learning to recognize the differences can be lifesaving. If someone is high on heroin, they might seem out of it and have slurred speech, but they can still respond to stimuli such as loud noises.

Signs of an overdose, on the other hand, can include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Not responding to stimuli
  • Awake, but not able to speak
  • Slow, erratic, or shallow breathing 
  • Stopped breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure 
  • The skin might turn bluish-purple in someone with a lighter skin tone. In people with darker skin, it could be gray or ashen.
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Limpness
  • Clammy, pale face
  • Vomiting
  • Lips and nails turn blue or purplish
  • Slow, erratic, or stopped heartbeat

If someone is overdosing on heroin, you should administer Narcan right away if possible. Even if you have it available, you should also contact 911 or your local emergency services provider. A heroin overdose is a dire and often life-threatening situation.


What Can You Do?

If you believe someone you love is using heroin or suffering the effects of heroin use, it’s a difficult situation. Heroin is a hazardous and addictive drug. Once someone is addicted to heroin, they’re probably also physically dependent. Getting professional treatment as soon as possible is the most crucial thing for heroin users or anyone with a substance use disorder. 

Most people will need a professional detox if they’re dependent on heroin. During this time, a patient receives close observation and medical care to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Going through withdrawal can be one of the most complex parts of stopping heroin, so a supervised detox can reduce the risk of relapse and alleviate some of the challenges during this time. Once a person fully detoxes from heroin and any other substances, they can begin addiction treatment.

Along with types of counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, there are medication-assisted treatment options with FDA approval to help people with heroin addiction and dependence. Often, heroin users also have another co-occurring mental health disorder that can be made worse by the effects of heroin addiction. A treatment program should address co-occurring disorders like bipolar disorder and treat the symptoms of heroin abuse and addiction. 

If you’re interested in learning more about maintaining sobriety, treatment, and recovery from heroin addiction, we encourage you to contact the team at Anchored Tides Recovery by calling 866-600-7709.