Heroin use is never acceptable or safe by any means, but this doesn’t stop thousands of people from using the drug and falling victim to the dangerous consequences of substance abuse. This dangerous narcotic produces euphoric effects when smoked, injected or snorted and is responsible for thousands of deaths per year.
For some, just a single dose of heroin is enough to set off the urge to continue the high. This results in repeat use of the drug which is responsible for a rapid progression towards physical and psychological dependence on the drug. While heroin addiction is a potentially deadly disease, there is help available. Treatment and support methods exist to help those who abuse heroin to get their lives back on track.
Over the years, various treatment philosophies have emerged making heroin abuse no longer a life-long devastation that cannot be overcome. Those suffer from an addiction to this drug have an array of opportunities available to assist them in getting sober including:
What is Heroin Abuse?
Heroin is derived from the poppy plant and, much like other derivatives of this plant, is highly addictive. The drug is available in a powder or sticky substance that can be smoked, injected or snorted. Each method of use produces near immediate euphoric effects but injecting the drug is the most powerful and immediate means of getting high. Unfortunately, the rush that heroin provides to the body is quickly overcompensated for by an array of physical symptoms otherwise known as withdrawal.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a single use of heroin will lead to a mild tolerance to the drug. Repeat use will cause physical changes in the body that result in an increased desire to abusing the drug regardless of the consequences or dangers involved. Heroin abuse is not only dangerous, it’s a potentially deadly activity that can and often does lead to fatal consequences.
Heroin Addiction Signs
Early signs of heroin addiction often include changes in behavior or physical appearance, a lack of desire or motivation to be actively involved with friends and family members, and distinct changes in sleep patterns. You may notice the following signs of heroin addiction in someone who is regularly abusing the drug:
- Increased desire to use heroin
- Increased cravings for heroin
- Runny nose or watery eyes
- Constricted pupils that are unresponsive
- Strong pulling sensation on the limbs
- Nodding or dosing off to sleep
- Drowsiness or inability to stay awake
- Shallow breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Distancing one’s self from friends or family members
- Inability to effectively communicate
- A loss of interest in hobbies or other activities
- Poor personal hygiene
According to the University of Wisconsin Health Services, people who abuse heroin will often lack color in their skin, they may look sticky or pale in color. They often look sick or otherwise like they are flushed. The cheeks no longer have a rosy color and there is clamminess to the overall texture of the skin.
Effects of Heroin Abuse
Heroin use has a number of immediate effects on the user including:
- An instant sense of euphoria
- Dehydration and dry mouth
- Heavy limbs
- Immediate pain reduction
- Drowsiness or sleepiness
- Slowed reactions
- Labored breathing
As the drug is continuously abused it can have the following effects on the user:
- Increased tolerance
- Physical dependence
- Psychological cravings
- Disease from shared needles
- Collapsed veins from repeat injections
- Infections in the heart and liver
Repeat use of heroin is responsible for physical dependence that causes the body to react in various negative ways when the drug is abruptly reduced or removed from the user’s daily regime. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, heroin withdrawal directly refers to the array of symptoms that a user will have when he or she stops taking the drug after physical dependence has already set in. This is often referred to as, “dopesick” by the user because he or she will continue to feel sick until the drug is used or the detoxification process has had time to run its course.
Symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:
- Aches and pains
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Bone pain
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Insomnia or changes in sleep patterns
- Flu-like symptoms
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils that are unresponsive
- Stomach cramping and gastrointestinal upset
Heroin withdrawal symptoms are usually referred to by user’s as, “the worst thing I’ve ever felt,” but they are not usually life-threatening. Most people will only experience the major discomforts of heroin withdrawal for a period of 3-7 days as long as they don’t relapse and resort back to their previous patterns of drug use.
Heroin abuse often takes over the user’s life simply because he or she doesn’t want to cope with symptoms of withdrawal. Sometimes fear prevents the user from quitting, other times it’s the already well known discomfort that the user is attempting to avoid at all cost. Detoxification is the first step of getting help for heroin addiction, but it certainly is not the only step that a user should take.
According to Harvard Health, there is no single method of detox that has been proven to work for each user. Some respond well to synthetic opiates such as Methadone that can be used to reduce cravings and minimize withdrawal symptoms, others respond better to supportive care and drugs such as clonidine which help to shorten the withdrawal period.
Regardless of the method of treatment used in heroin detox, the overall goal is to reduce symptoms of withdrawal and stabilize the patient in preparation for treatment. Fortunately, symptoms are likely to subside on their own within a few days so many users are able to get through the withdrawal process with mere medical support and care.
Treatment for Heroin Addiction
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to heroin, there’s no need to lose hope or feel helpless. Fortunately, many different types of treatment have evolved to help people who are addicted to heroin. Methadone maintenance programs, buprenorphine, naloxone, and other medications are widely used and accepted in the treatment field as a means of assisting patients with the process of heroin withdrawal and in overcoming the addiction.
The most common methods of treatment for heroin addiction today are:
- Methadone Maintenance Treatment – MMT, or methadone maintenance, involves taking a regularly scheduled dose of methadone which works to prevent heroin cravings and to keep withdrawal symptoms away. There are risks associated with taking this medication much like there are risks involved with taking any medication.
- Buprenorphine – this medication is an opioid agonist which is taken three times weekly to displace the effects of heroin and to prevent strong cravings from occurring.
- Naloxone – this medication is a short-acting opiate antagonist that stops the effects of heroin rendering the drug use no longer euphoric or effective.
- Behavioral Therapy – this method of treatment is often used in conjunction with medication to help the individual learn changed methods of coping with the addiction and how to prevent relapse.
- Counseling – various forms of counseling are offered including individual and group services to assist those in need.
- Support Groups – NA and other twelve step support groups create a common bond between users in recovery. These groups make up the foundation of many different treatment programs.
- Aftercare – following time spent in a residential or outpatient treatment program, the user may be provided with follow-up care including job placement assistance, housing assistance, continued counseling and therapy and other forms of aftercare.
Recovering from Heroin Abuse
While the road to recovery from heroin addiction will likely be a long and challenging journey, it will be equally rewarding. With each day of sobriety that you achieve, you’ll feel like that “old life” the life of being a heroin user, will gradually be slipping away. Unfortunately, like other diseases, heroin addiction is a disease marked by chronic relapse and a continued need for support and care.
If you do relapse, it’s important to pick up the pieces and try to get back on track to recovery where you left off. It can be difficult at times, and you may feel like you want to give up hope, but you have family, friends, counselors, therapists and peers who support your decision to get sober and who will help you along the way. Never let relapse get in the way of your recovery from this terrible disease.