Snorting Heroin Risks & Signs of Heroin Abuse

Dr. Saurabh Bhardwaj

Dr. Bhardwaj, Medical Director is a Board-Certified Addiction Psychiatrist (ABPN) and currently the Medical Director of Defining Wellness Center in Brandon MS. He is also an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Director of Center for Innovation & Discovery in Addictions (CIDA) at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He has been in Mississippi since 2018, building Addiction services for the state's only medical center and joined Defining Wellness Center in 2022 to provide specialized dual diagnostic services. He is a recipient of Ruth Fox scholarship from AAAP and trailblazer teaching award from UMMC. He is also a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

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In the United States, heroin has become a major problem — one that has sadly killed thousands of Americans in the past year. Unfortunately, heroin is a problem for many reasons. For one, it is a drug that can be used in a variety of ways, potentially creating numerous pathways to addiction for its users. Many think of heroin as a drug that is usually injected, and while this is certainly often the case, it can also be snorted. Snorting heroin comes with its own risks and symptoms and can be particularly problematic for its users.

Thankfully, despite the inherent dangers of snorting heroin, there is hope. People who use heroin and who snort it can recover if they are given access to appropriate treatment methods.

Why Do People Snort Heroin?

Heroin is snorted for many reasons. These include:

  • People who are afraid of needles will prefer this method as it is less painful.
  • Having difficulty using needles or finding a vein can be a problem for some heroin users.
  • Heroin powder is typically relatively easy to snort. It is often easier to snort heroin rather than injecting it. Injecting heroin involves a few pieces of equipment and appropriate preparation of the heroin while snorting it can be done much easier.
  • Snorting heroin tends to provide a less intense high, and this leads people to believe it is a less dangerous method of use. Some heroin users who are afraid of overdoses adhere to snorting for these reasons.
  • Stigma remains a powerful reason that keeps people from injecting heroin. Injection is the most common method of heroin use, but it comes with visible signs, such as track marks, and is associated with an intense stigma. Injection provides an alternative method of heroin use.

While snorting is believed to be associated with a less intense high, it doesn’t ultimately change someone’s addiction to this very dangerous substance as there is no information to indicate that people who snort heroin are less likely to become addicted to the drug than needle users. Furthermore, individuals who snort will still build a tolerance to the drug, causing them to require more heroin in order to obtain the same high. This, sadly, further deepens the cycle of addiction.

What Are Some of the Signs of Snorting Heroin?

Heroin intoxication comes with many signs, regardless of how it is actually used. Signs of heroin abuse include:

  • Abruptly changing friends or social groups to hang out with a new crowd that also abuses drugs
  • Neglecting responsibilities at school, home, or work, putting one’s academic or financial future in danger
  • Legal or financial trouble when none previously existed
  • An increase in secretive behaviors, like using encrypted apps on one’s phone or being less willing to share where one is going for social activities
  • Shallow breathing
  • Sleeping more
  • Appearing disoriented or “out of it”
  • Sudden, unexplained weight loss
  • Difficulty smelling or tasting
  • Dramatic changes in personal appearance with less attention paid to personal hygiene and grooming
  • Decreased cognitive function and ability to solve problems
  • Increased risk-taking behavior, such as engaging in violent acts or irresponsible sexual activity
  • Mood swings and increased paranoia
  • Sudden spikes in anxiety or depression

However, individuals who snort heroin tend to show some symptoms on their own. These include:

  • Exhibiting severe problems with smell or taste
  • Runny or bloody noise
  • Constant sniffling
  • Nasal inflammation

What Are Some of the Risks Associated with Snorting Heroin?

Sadly, there are many risks associated with snorting heroin. These risks can potentially hurt a person long after they stop using the drug, making it vital that they seek medical help if they are addicted.

From a physical perspective, heroin use and abuse are associated with heart damage, lung damage, brain damage, and more. It increases the risk of a coma and contracting certain diseases, including HIV and hepatitis. It may also result in brain damage, particularly if someone experiences an overdose that results in a cessation of oxygen to the brain. This is also more likely if someone uses heroin that has been cut with a more dangerous drug such as fentanyl.

Emotionally, an individual may suffer from increased depression, anxiety, paranoia, cognitive dysfunction, and more. Heroin users often drive away their friends and family, resulting in a loss of emotional support. Legal and professional risks include losing one’s job, engaging in risky behavior, and being arrested for purchasing heroin.

Tragically, the most serious risk is an overdose, during which someone takes so much heroin that it shuts down their body. This can lead to death.

There are also risks that are specific to snorting heroin. These include:

  • Damage to your nose, sense of smell, and sense of taste
  • Difficulty swallowing, eating foods, or drinking
  • Damage to one’s septum, including potentially forming a hole in one’s nasal septum

What Are Some of the Signs of a Heroin Overdose?

Snorting heroin, like using it in any other way, can lead to an overdose. An overdose can lead to severe illness and death. There are many signs of a heroin overdose. These include:

  • Slow breathing, shallow breathing, or no breathing
  • Vision problems, such as narrow vision. Pupils may appear extremely small and constricted
  • Dry mouth and a discolored tongue
  • Low blood pressure and weak pulse
  • Blue-tinted nails and lips as oxygen struggles to get to these areas of your body
  • Loss of consciousness or a general lack of responsiveness to outside stimuli
  • Coma
  • Drowsiness and disorientation
  • Muscle spasms

What Can You Do in the Event of a Heroin Overdose?

The first thing that you should do if you believe that you or a loved one is having an overdose is to call 911. Depending on the situation, 911 operators will have a series of instructions about what to do and how to treat the individual in question. If you receive guidance, keep calm and listen to their instructions.

If you are using heroin with that person, you should know that you may be in a state with a Good Samaritan law. Many states, including Mississippi, provide legal protections to a person who calls 911 to seek treatment for a person who is overdosing on heroin, even if they are using heroin with the person. As such, if you are using drugs with someone and they overdose, you can safely call 911 without fear of arrest or prosecution for summoning the authorities.

It is also worth noting that a heroin overdose is often reversible with the administration of naloxone. Naloxone is a fast-acting nasal spray that can reverse a heroin overdose. It does so by attaching to the opioid receptors of a person who is overdosing on heroin, thus blocking other opioids from doing the same and reversing the effects of an overdose. Naloxone administration requires minimal training, and the medication can generally be obtained by request. It is often carried by people who are around individuals who struggle with using heroin or other opioids.

Physical recovery from a heroin overdose can occur in as little as 24 hours. In some cases, however, those who have overdosed on heroin mixed with certain substances can have other issues, including organ damage. A hospital stay could be required to manage medical problems.

Once one recovers from the initial effects of an overdose, it is vital that they take steps to better their life. An overdose can be used as an opportunity for an addicted individual to seek treatment and recovery from their disorder.

How Can Heroin Addiction Be Treated?

While the above information is obviously concerning, there are ample reasons for hope. With proper treatment, heroin use, including snorting heroin, can be treated. Heroin treatment takes many forms and can be done in many ways.

Outpatient therapy is a common form of addiction treatment. When undergoing outpatient treatment, a person will receive professional therapeutic services but still live at home. This is a good option for those who need to keep up with work and personal responsibilities while working on their addiction issues.

Partial hospitalization programs are also common. These programs involve more intense outpatient therapy that occurs over longer periods of time. Partial hospitalization is supervised and comprises several hours of treatment each day. At the end of the day, however, clients return to their homes.

Inpatient therapy is the most intensive form of treatment. It involves someone staying at a residential facility for 24 hours a day. Clients receive full-time care and supervision over a set period of time. This is typically reserved for individuals who are experiencing serious addictions.

In addition to the various treatment settings, there are a number of therapeutic modalities used for individuals who are suffering from heroin addiction. Behavioral therapies, which involve discussing the root of one’s addiction with a trained therapist, are very common in a rehab setting. A behavioral therapist can review past traumas and help a person who is addicted to heroin find alternative ways of dealing with their struggles. Therapy can also help someone better manage cravings. Trauma-informed therapy, which examines a client’s past traumas, can be extremely useful in helping many people dealing with addiction stemming from traumatic events.

Medication-based therapies are also commonly used. Heroin addiction and cravings can be extremely painful, but a variety of medications, including methadone and buprenorphine, can help someone reduce cravings and change their experience if they do use heroin, thus breaking the cycle of addiction.

A variety of alternative therapies have also shown promise when it comes to dealing with heroin addiction. These include horseback riding, music therapy, and art therapy. Yoga and meditation have also shown promise in dealing with heroin addiction, particularly when combined with more traditional forms of therapy.

Where Can You Get Help for Heroin Addiction?

Thankfully, evidence indicates that people who have a heroin addiction can absolutely recover and lead healthy, productive lives. If you are in the Mississippi area, you have the option of world-class treatment facilities from places like Defining Wellness Centers.

At Defining Wellness, we believe that all people can recover from heroin addiction no matter how severe their disorder is. We offer a full array of treatment options for people who are addicted to heroin, and our team provides a series of dual-diagnosis services that are designed to help people treat their addiction and the issues in their life that lead to the addiction. We founded Defining Wellness specifically to give people like you and your loved ones hope for a better life. We have decades of experience and success in this field, and we’re available right now to help you. Don’t wait another day — call today at (855) 790-9303.

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