Heroin Addiction Treatment
What is Heroin?
Heroin is an opioid drug that is obtained from the seeds of a poppy plant, typically found across Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. The seeds are transformed into morphine before being synthesized into a fine white or brown powder to create heroin.
Heroin binds to opioid receptors throughout the body. These are involved in pain relief, hormone regulation, and feelings of well-being. For this reason, the drug is sometimes prescribed by doctors to treat very severe and chronic pain. The intense feelings of pleasure the substance brings about and its highly addictive nature mean it is also commonly abused when taken for recreational purposes.
When the substance is sold on the street it is often mixed or cut with other powders, such as other drugs or even corn starch, to increase the profit of the seller. Heroin can also be found in a sticky substance that is generally lower quality than the powdered form, referred to as “black tar”. Drugs with lower purity are more likely to be more dangerous because people don’t know what’s in them and this leads to an increased likelihood of an opioid overdose or an adverse reaction.
There are a number of street names for heroin, many referencing the different forms that it is sold in. These names include:
How is Heroin Used?
Heroin can be used in numerous ways, including:
- Injecting intravenously
All of these methods pose a risk to health, though intravenous injection is the most dangerous of all the possible ways to use heroin. This technique means putting the substance straight into the bloodstream, hugely increasing the risk of a heroin overdose.
Short-Term Effects of Heroin Use
Heroin is a fast-acting and powerful opioid that has almost immediate effects on the user. Some of the effects of using heroin include:
- A rush of euphoria
- Elevated energy
- Flushed skin
- Increased temperature
- Increased sweating
- Shivering or cold flashes
- Dry mouth due to lack of saliva production
- Severe itching which may eventually lead to complications with lesions or infection
- Reduced mental awareness
- A sharp decrease in motor skills
- Decreased heart rate
- Slowed breathing
Heroin slows down its users’ breathing and heart rate. This can be extremely dangerous. It occurs because heroin is a central nervous system depressant that decreases the interaction between the body and brain.
There are a number of factors that influence how quickly these short-term effects are experienced and for how long, such as:
- The method of ingestion
- Quantity of heroin taken
- Purity of heroin
Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use
Long-term heroin use can be extremely damaging to the body and leads to some serious health consequences, such as:
- Pregnancy issues and miscarriage
- Kidney disease
- Heart problems: e.g. arrhythmia and heart disease
- Brain damage and damage to cognitive function
- Lung issues such as pneumonia
- Increased risk of infectious disease e.g. HIV or hepatitis C for intravenous users
- Increased risk of an overdose
Heroin Addiction and Withdrawal
Due to the euphoric highs that the substance produces, especially the first time it is taken, heroin is highly addictive. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are over 900,000 heroin users in the USA. Users commonly pick up the drug-taking behavior by trying to reproduce the initial high they experienced their first time taking the substance, a phenomenon termed “chasing the dragon.”
Substance use disorders are defined by the uncontrollable, repeated use of a substance despite the negative impacts on a person’s life. Many people have the misconception that addicted people keep on taking drugs due to being weak-willed or selfish. This is far from the truth, addiction is a powerful mental illness that holds a tight grip over the mind and body.
Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Agitation and irritability
- Anxiety and depression
- High blood pressure and heart rate
- Impaired breathing and muscle spasms
- Difficulty feeling pleasure
- Extreme cravings
How Does Drug Abuse Affect the Brain?
Repeated drug use creates physical and chemical changes in important areas of the brain, which leads to compulsive and damaging substance abuse. These regions include:
- The basal ganglia, the brain’s “reward circuit”, is involved in motivation, pleasure, routine, and habits.
- The extended amygdala is involved in controlling feelings of stress, anxiety, irritability, and unease.
- The prefrontal cortex is involved in impulse control, decision-making, and problem-solving.
The feelings of intense euphoria produced by heroin result in these areas of the brain craving this pleasure again. The mind favors these surges of dopamine at the expense of anything else (health, relationships, food, socializing, safety) resulting in a cycle of drug abuse and addiction.
Over time the body adapts to repeated substance use and the person becomes dependent. They then experience withdrawal symptoms when they do not take the drug regularly. Withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable and this is another factor in pushing people to repeatedly take drugs.
Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
There are a number of common psychological, behavioral, and physical symptoms of heroin addiction, these include:
- Intense cravings
- The emergence of withdrawal symptoms if the drug is not regularly taken
- Not being able to uphold responsibilities at home, work, or in relationships
- Sudden, inexplicable need for money
- Engaging in secretive behaviors
- Deterioration of personal hygiene and appearance
- Legal issues: driving under the influence or stealing
- Sudden changes in friendships circles, hangouts, and hobbies
- Wearing long sleeves and pants during warm weather to hide track marks
- Suddenly falling asleep
- Flushed skin
- Increased sleeping
- Changes in eating patterns and weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Impaired coordination
- Drug paraphernalia around the house: glass pipes, used syringes, rubber tubing
- Decreased problem-solving and decision-making abilities
- Decrease in self-control
- Decreased attention capabilities
- Memory impairment
- Unexplained personality or attitude changes
- Sudden mood swings
- Mental conditions: anxiety, depression
- Angry outbursts
- Lack of motivation
- Increase in paranoia
How to Treat Heroin Addiction
Substance use disorder is a difficult disease to battle, impacting not only the addicted individual but also everyone around them. Thankfully, many have overcome it with evidence-based, medically-assisted treatment plans tailored to the needs of the person.
Due to the intense nature of heroin withdrawal, medically supervised detoxification is always recommended. This means around-the-clock care during this difficult first step to overcoming heroin dependence.
This is where expert staff can step in with support and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to make the withdrawal process as successful, comfortable, and safe as possible. Effective opioid medications, such as buprenorphine, have been backed up by clinical evidence to minimize the painful effects of opiate withdrawal, while not producing any side effects of euphoria or sedation.
After this first step in heroin addiction treatment, cravings for the drug may still be present. This is why further intervention always needs to be carried out to ensure the greatest success possible for the future.
Rehabilitation programs aimed at tackling heroin addiction are designed to allow for the most effective long-term recovery from addiction and dependence. On these programs, people receive individualized plans full of effective treatments crafted by expert staff.
Entering a treatment center can be daunting, but it provides a calm, fresh space to overcome addiction away from where the drug-taking behavior took place. A center is a place where people build new healthier habits (eating, exercising, sleeping) and gain a sense of routine.
Both individual and group therapy are commonly undertaken during treatment for heroin addiction. Therapy is extremely important when tackling a substance use disorder, hugely increasing the chance of long-term sobriety.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used in drug addiction treatment programs and has been shown to be successful in treating the disorder. Behavioral therapies aim to:
- Identify triggers for drug-taking behavior
- Build coping mechanisms
- Deal with the root cause of addiction
- Identify any other mental health issues
Family Therapy and Education
Addiction is referred to as a family disease, hugely impacting every member. Many triggers for drug taking lie within the family unit, so going to family therapy can be helpful for relapse prevention. This can also help repair the trauma that family members may have developed due to the addiction.
Education about addiction is also vital for families as it gives them better insight into what their loved one is going through. The new knowledge gained allows family members to understand what is happening when the person with the addiction feels irritable or withdrawn.
Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)
In combination with therapy, MAT is an effective way to approach heroin addiction treatment. Even after the detox has been completed, a person’s bodily functions are still readjusting to pre-addiction levels and there could be some long-lasting withdrawal symptoms. Specialist treatment centers can make this process a little easier by prescribing medications such as:
These medications target the same opioid receptors as heroin, binding to them to reproduce the signals that heroin would have released, though without the euphoric highs. This levels out a person’s brain chemistry to reduce the negative effects of heroin withdrawal and decrease the chance of heroin relapse.
It is important treatment continues even after leaving an inpatient rehabilitation program. This care can look different to each individual and can include support groups, mental health forums, or long-term therapy. There are also a number of local resources available for people in this stage of overcoming addiction.
At Brookdale, we understand that approaching addiction treatment needs to be multi-faceted, extensive, and ongoing.
Some treatment options include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), 12-step integration, and even holistic techniques such as mindfulness and meditation.
Please contact us today to find out more information about our treatment center and programs to give yourself or your loved one the best chance of overcoming substance use disorder.