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Heroin Abuse And Anxiety Disorders

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 28, 2019

Heroin abuse affects thousands of Americans, many of whom also battle an anxiety disorder. Some people may use heroin as a way to cope with their anxiety. Unfortunately, this addictive drug can actually worsen mental health conditions.

Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million people in the U.S. Anxiety is highly treatable, through the use of therapy and medication.

However, less than 37 percent of people seek treatment for anxiety disorders. Many choose to self-medicate their symptoms with illicit substances like heroin instead.

Heroin is a powerful drug that can result in severe physical dependence. Abusing this narcotic can also amplify other health conditions, including anxiety.

Heroin abuse can also cause symptoms of anxiety in people who did not previously struggle with any mental health conditions.

Research shows that most illicit drugs can lead to anxiety and mood disorders — this is particularly common among those who have mental health conditions in their family. However, heroin is considered one of the riskiest drugs for developing an anxiety disorder.

The Connection Between Heroin And Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., and are marked by excessive worry and panicky thoughts. Anxiety disorders can also cause a person to ruminate. This means they focus on a specific worrisome topic over and over again.

Heroin is a highly addictive and life-threatening opioid, but the high causes intense pleasure. This narcotic causes feelings of drowsiness, warmth, and sedation. For those who struggle with anxiety, heroin may seem like a quick way to relax.

Abusing heroin may temporarily relieve a person’s mind of fear and negative thoughts. But in the long run, heroin abuse can ultimately cause or heighten a person’s anxiety.

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Signs And Symptoms Of Heroin Abuse

Heroin abuse affects people of all ages, genders, and lifestyles. While people can have different reactions to drugs, there are some telltale signs that suggest a person is struggling with heroin abuse.

If you are concerned that someone you love is battling a heroin addiction, be aware of these signs and symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of heroin abuse include:

  • fatigue
  • drowsiness
  • preoccupation with getting money
  • missing valuables
  • small pupils
  • change in appetite
  • semi-consciousness, or “nodding out”
  • itchiness
  • nervousness
  • headache
  • selling items or clothing
  • marks on skin from heroin injection
  • muscle aches
  • yawning

People who struggle with chronic heroin use may become dependent on the drug. If they stop use suddenly, they may begin to show signs of withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can include nausea, sweating, and severe anxiety.

Signs And Symptoms Of Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is a serious issue in the U.S., and affects more than 18 percent of the adult population each year. Anxiety can severely impact a person’s daily life, and can have lasting effects on their health and well-being.

Research has found that nearly 70 percent of people with a history of opioid use also battle an anxiety disorder. Many of these people may have used heroin to self-medicate symptoms of their anxiety disorder.

A single instance of heroin abuse can cause a person to feel anxious, and chronic use of the drug can lead to long-term symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

Signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:

  • excessive worry
  • phobic thoughts
  • focusing on disaster
  • being overly concerned about health, family, finances, or work
  • uncontrollable fear
  • rapid weight change
  • insomnia
  • repeated cycles of worrying
  • stomachaches
  • headaches
  • back pain

When moderate anxiety is being treated properly, people can enjoy healthy lives and fulfilling careers. But if anxiety is being self-medicated with street drugs like heroin, this condition can have lasting impacts on a person’s mental health.

Anxiety Caused By Heroin Withdrawal And Detox

Most illicit drugs can lead to dependence and withdrawal, but heroin is linked to an especially difficult withdrawal phase. One of the main symptoms of heroin withdrawal is intense anxiety. This can begin as soon as 12 hours after last heroin use.

Quitting heroin can be difficult. Medical detox programs can be beneficial for those who want to get off heroin. During medical detox, patients are provided supervision and support as they pass through the withdrawal phase.

Anxiety is often a major hurdle for people during heroin detox, even if they did not have prior struggles with anxiety. Medical detox staff may provide medication-assisted treatment to help manage the painful symptoms of heroin withdrawal.

Combination medicines like Suboxone and Zubsolv help treat withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. Medications such as Clonidine help reduce withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, nausea, and muscle aches. These medications also work to prevent dependence and abuse.

What Is A Co-Occurring Disorder?

More than 8 million people in the U.S. suffer from co-occurring disorders. These happen when a person has both a substance use disorder and a mental health condition. For millions of people, heroin abuse and anxiety symptoms go hand in hand.

Co-occurring disorders, also called dual diagnosis, require specialized treatment, in order to address root causes and manage symptoms. In dual diagnosis rehab programs, treatment teams work to create a personalized plan to reduce a person’s chance of relapse.

Treatment For Heroin Abuse And Co-Occurring Anxiety Disorders

Dual diagnosis rehab programs are offered throughout the country, and may be provided in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Dual diagnosis addiction treatment may include individual and group counseling, medication-assisted treatment, and recovery therapies.

Relaxation techniques including yoga, meditation, and acupuncture may also be provided for those who suffer from anxiety disorders.

For more information on heroin abuse and anxiety disorder, or to find a dual diagnosis treatment program near you, reach out to one of our specialists today.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America - Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Signs of Heroin Use

U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus - Opiate and opioid withdrawal

U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health - Depression and anxiety in heroin addicts: a placebo-controlled study of doxepin in combination with methadone

U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health - Rates of mood and anxiety disorders and contributors to continued heroin use in methadone maintenance patients: A comparison by HIV status

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