Heroin Addiction and Treatment
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2018, 15,000 people died from a drug overdose involving heroin. While this is a slight decline from previous years, it is still alarming. Heroin addiction is happening in small, rural towns as well as large cities.
Heroin can impact anyone at any time. It does not discriminate, and it only takes a few uses to start developing an addiction. Understanding this addiction is the first step in defeating it.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is an opioid made from morphine, which is extracted from the opium poppy plant. It is considered a narcotic, and the Drug Enforcement Agency classifies heroin as a Schedule I drug. This means it has no medical uses and has a high potential for misuse and addiction.
Heroin is sold in either white powder form or a dark-colored tar-like substance. It can be smoked, snorted, or injected. When heroin is injected, it takes only a few seconds to reach the brain. When snorted or smoked, it can take a few minutes to reach the brain. Once heroin reaches the brain, it signals dopamine neurotransmitters (the feel-good chemicals) to release and flood the body’s reward center.
This flooding produces euphoria. Breathing and heart rate slow, pain fades, and a false sense of comfort and safety takes over.
Immediate Effects of Heroin
When someone uses heroin, they may experience the following:
- Dry mouth
- Nodding in and out of consciousness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Flushed skin
- Loss of self-control
- Memory loss
- Disorientation or confusion
The effects of heroin don’t last long, however. When the brain notices the levels of dopamine dropping, it starts sending signals to the rest of the body that encourage using the drug again.
Signs like intense cravings, anxiety, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and flu-like symptoms can be so severe that obtaining another dose of heroin becomes a top priority.
A cycle of addiction may involve seeking heroin, even in risky and illegal ways, using heroin and seeking it again. This is not the only sign of heroin addiction, however.
Heroin Addiction Signs and Symptoms
Someone addicted to heroin, and any other opioid will exhibit signs and symptoms, including
- Isolating from family and friends to use heroin in private
- Change from old sober friends to new drug-using friends
- Stealing money or items to support their addiction
- Lying to or manipulating others to support their addiction (e.g., getting rides to meet their dealer, money for gas that is used to purchase drugs)
- Extreme mood swings and becoming defensive or aggressive when questioned about their drug use
- Trying to quit using heroin but without success
- Continued use despite severe consequences, like loss of job, broken relationships, and money problems
Within a few hours, withdrawal symptoms can begin, and over time get more extreme. Often, someone who is addicted to heroin continues to use the drug simply to avoid the withdrawal symptoms that occur. While heroin overdoses cause many deaths, heroin withdrawal is not linked to fatalities. However, withdrawal can make someone feel extremely uncomfortable, anxious, or even panic-stricken.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
The first three to four days during withdrawal can be severe. Symptoms can last weeks and may include
- Nausea, vomiting, and digestive problems
- Muscle spasms, cramps, and pains
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Intense cravings
For many addicted to heroin, the one way to eliminate these withdrawal symptoms is to use heroin again.
The longer someone uses heroin, the higher chance they have of overdosing and dying. Not all overdoses lead to death, but getting someone help as soon as possible is crucial to their long-term health and quality of life.
Signs of Heroin Overdose
Overdose means taking more of a substance than the body can process. Heroin overdose signs include losing consciousness, stopped breathing, changes in skin color, changes in body temperature, and no longer having a pulse.
If it appears someone is experiencing an overdose, call for emergency help immediately. If Narcan is available, use it. Narcan reverses the effects of heroin and can restore vital signs.
Never leave a person who has overdosed until emergency medical professionals arrive. Once they are stabilized, encourage them to transition into treatment. No one should wait for an overdose to get treatment, and there are a number of effective solutions for support and sobriety.
Get Treatment at Any Stage of Addiction
Whether they have only used heroin a few times or have overdosed after years of use, help is available. But they shouldn’t choose the first treatment facility with an open bed. These features will help someone overcome an addiction to heroin:
1. Medically Supervised Detoxification
The cravings and physical discomfort that happens when detoxing from heroin make it impossible to focus on learning sober skills and be present in counseling. A medically supervised detox program is a hospital environment with round-the-clock care of psychiatrists, physicians, nurses, and counselors. Their first goal will be to prescribe anti-withdrawal medication like Suboxone or Methadone.
These medicines take away cravings, digestive issues, flu-like symptoms, and other withdrawal effects to make it easier to participate in a recovery program.
2. Residential Recovery Program
While residential programs are different than being in a hospital, 24/7 access to doctors and nurses is still available. Medication assistance is continued while in this program, and early recovery and relapse prevention skills counseling. Working individually and in groups, education is provided to identify and overcome issues like
- Past trauma
- Mental health disorders
- Triggers for relapse
- Relationship problems
- Lack of a support system
Counselors use various techniques to promote healing and growth while in residential treatment. Examples include cognitive-behavioral therapy, trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, dialectical-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and much more.
3. Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
PHP is a bridge between the structured inpatient program to a less structured outpatient program. Returning to a home environment directly after inpatient can become overwhelming. It’s easy to stay sober while in inpatient treatment. There is no access to heroin or any other opioid.
Transitioning home through a partial hospitalization program eases the individual back into life while providing the much-needed support to overcome triggers and struggles that encourage relapse. Medication assistance with anti-withdrawal drugs can continue during this time.
4. Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
Being back in the home environment full-time doesn’t mean treatment should end. Intensive outpatient programs offer various opportunities for support every week. Treatments include individual, group, and family therapy. It also includes 12-Step and social support groups and recovery activities. The individual can also continue medication-assistance therapy if needed.
5. Individual Counseling and Support
In the final stages of treatment, individual treatment provides a way to stay accountable and work through any new issues. It’s also a great idea to continue attending local support groups that allow receiving and offering help when needed.
At Haven New England, we have a comprehensive program that eases withdrawal symptoms and teaches you the skills necessary to live the rest of your life free of addiction. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with an addiction to heroin, help is available. No matter what stage of addiction you are in, you can receive treatment.
Call us today. Our treatment specialists are available 24/7 to answer questions and get you started in our premiere recovery programs.
If you take the first step and call us at (844) 933-4145, we will be by your side the rest of the way.
Let’s get you or a loved one help with a few simple steps.