Heroin Addiction Treatment and Drug Rehab
Heroin is one of the most addictive substances in the world. It belongs to the same class of drugs (opioids) as prescription pain relievers like OxyContin and Vicodin. Many people begin taking prescription painkillers for chronic pain, become addicted to them, and switch to heroin. The rate of heroin initiation is 19 times higher in people with prior non-medical use of pain relievers. Nearly 80 percent of heroin users say they used prescription pain pills before heroin. In the United States alone, heroin overdose claims nearly 15,000 lives every year. Heroin addiction rehab centers help heroin addicts overcome their dependency on this dangerous drug. Heroin addiction treatment improves physical and psychological health, reduces criminal behavior related to drug use, and helps people return to productive and happy lives.
What is heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive illicit drug derived from morphine. Morphine is extracted from the seeds of Papaver somniferum (opium poppy plant). The morphine base is processed into heroin in clandestine laboratories. There are three main sources of illegal opium in the world – Afghanistan, Burma, and Colombia. Afghanistan is the world’s top poppy cultivator. More than 90% of the world’s illicit opium is produced in Afghanistan.
Heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration in the United States. Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.
On the street, heroin is available as a white or brown powder. It is also sold as black tar heroin which is a sticky, black powder. Street names for heroin include smack, hell dust, big H, and horse. People abuse heroin by injecting, snorting, sniffing, or smoking it. The practice of mixing heroin with crack cocaine is called speedballing.
Effects of heroin
Endogenous (naturally present) opioids in the human body are responsible for feelings of pleasure and pain control. Heroin mimics these effects but in a stronger, uncontrolled way. When a person uses heroin, the drug rapidly enters the brain and binds to opioid receptors present there, and in other parts of the body. This produces a rush or high, which is described as intense pleasure or euphoria. But heroin also produces side effects such as dry mouth, flushed skin, heaviness in the limbs, severe itching, nausea, vomiting, and clouded thinking. People who use heroin often alternate between a conscious and semiconscious state, described as going “on the nod.”
Long-term use of heroin can lead to numerous health complications, including collapsed veins in injection drug users, abscesses, heart infections, insomnia, stomach cramps, liver and kidney disease, pneumonia and other lung complications, depression and antisocial behavior, irregular menstruation in women, and sexual dysfunction in men.
Besides the health effects of heroin, people with any type of drug use disorder are at risk of contracting infections like hepatitis and HIV from shared injection equipment. Impaired judgment from heroin use can put addicts at risk of harm from injuries, accidents, and risky sexual behavior.
Last but not least, drug dealers often add substances to heroin to increase profit margins. Additives like starch, powdered milk, and sugar can cause complications in the blood vessels, brain, liver, and kidneys, leading to permanent organ damage.
Signs of heroin addiction
Various factors increase the risk of recreational drug use and heroin abuse. These include a genetic predisposition (family members with substance use disorders), environmental (peer pressure, home environment), psychological (co-occurring mental health conditions), and brain chemistry. Friends and family should be vigilant for signs of heroin use among loved ones. The earlier a drug use disorder is caught and treated, the better are the chances of long-term recovery.
The warning signs of heroin addiction vary among users based on the severity of drug use and the individual’s unique response to the drug. The most common symptoms of heroin addiction are:
- Anxiety and depression
- Mood swings
- Irritability, agitation, hostility
- Delusions, hallucinations, paranoia
- Antisocial behavior
- Dishonesty and financial irregularities (unexplained missing money)
- A decline in academic or work performance
Heroin abusers may also show certain physical signs such as extreme itching, flushed skin, constricted pupils, scabs or bruises on the skin, poor personal hygiene, alternating between hyperactivity and exhaustion, dry mouth, slurred speech, and increased sleepiness.
If you suspect someone you love may be abusing heroin, look for stashes of drugs around the home, workplace, or car. Heroin users often wear long sleeves even in hot weather to hide injection track marks. Another worrisome sign is if a person goes “on the nod” during conversations.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms
Heroin is a powerful, extremely addictive drug. Those who use heroin become physically dependent on it and experience intense cravings. Also, people who use heroin are afraid to stop using because they experience uncomfortable symptoms without the drug. The withdrawal symptoms of heroin can put a person at risk of serious medical complications. Some effects of heroin withdrawal include:
- Severe cravings
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Extreme sweating
- Cold sweats and goosebumps (“cold turkey”)
- Severe muscle aches, cramping, heaviness of limbs
- Uncontrolled leg movements (“kicking the habit”)
- Uncontrolled crying
An overdose of heroin can lead to life-threatening medical complications and even death. Heroin causes breathing to slow down or stop, leading to decreased oxygen in the brain (hypoxia). This can cause permanent brain damage, coma, and death.
A medication called naloxone is used to treat opioid overdose. It must be given as soon as possible if a heroin overdose is suspected. Naloxone binds to the opioid receptors in the brain and blocks the effects of heroin. Family and friends of heroin addicts should familiarize themselves with the use of the naloxone auto-injector (EVZIO) or nasal spray (Narcan) as this can help save a life if the person is overdosing. It may take more than one dose of naloxone to get the person breathing again. Call 9-1-1 for additional support if needed.
Heroin addiction treatment
Heroin addiction is a chronic medical condition that leads to changes in the structure and functioning of the brain. Heroin users experience feelings of pleasure and decreased pain perception. Over the long-term, however, heroin use eventually leads to tolerance, physical dependence, and uncontrolled drug-seeking behavior. Heroin addicts continue using despite the negative impact on their health, relationships, and professional life, and despite financial and legal trouble.
There are several effective addiction treatments and behavioral therapies to help people stop using heroin. However, the best drug rehab centers in America do not take a one-size-fits-all approach. A heroin addiction treatment plan should be personalized to meet the specific needs of a patient.
The first step in heroin rehab is usually medication-assisted detox. This is conducted in a medically supervised setting to help recovering heroin addicts go through the withdrawal process safely and as comfortably as possible. Medications like buprenorphine and methadone help people stop abusing heroin by reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Naltrexone helps by preventing the effect of opioid drugs.
Besides medications, behavioral therapies for heroin addiction, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management, are very effective in managing triggers and modifying drug use behaviors.
If you or someone you love is battling heroin abuse, do not delay getting treatment for this substance use disorder. Help is available at top drug rehab centers and heroin addiction treatment facilities.