Heroin is killing thousands of people across the United States each year. What was once seen as something that low-income, inner city people take and die from is increasingly seen in white, suburban communities along with all other neighborhoods and demographics. Heroin addiction can affect anyone, and it’s important for all people to understand the facts.
Heroin is a dangerous narcotic that is highly addictive and is typically injected, snorted or smoked to produce a euphoric state. The method of heroin use has little bearing on the potential that this illicit drug has for causing physical dependence. Repeat use of heroin can lead to extreme physical and psychological dependence that is difficult to treat. Fortunately, although the road to recovery may be a long and difficult journey, there is help for heroin addiction.
What is Heroin Addiction?
Heroin addiction is one of the worst drug addictions in the whole world! Addictive use of heroin leads to chaos in life, physical and psychological dangers and a world of consequences. Physical dependence is said to begin after just a single use of heroin in some people which is why heroin addiction is such a dangerous possibility. Faster acting than morphine and highly addictive, lack of heroin use will lead the user to feel a range of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that are typically the cause for subsequent use.
After a single use of heroin, the individual may feel nauseous or sleepy. Subsequent uses result in less nausea and increase the level of withdrawal symptoms that are felt when the heroin wears off. These withdrawal symptoms cause the user turn to heroin in an effort to stop the withdrawals—from this point on the individual is officially addicted to heroin.
A paper published in the US National Library of Medicine discusses how drug addiction affects the neurotransmitters in the brains of drug abusing individuals. In the case of heroin, long-term use modifies the brain’s dopamine systems which eventually leads the brain to become dependent on heroin, which often leads to addiction.
Effects of Heroin Use
The effects of heroin take place very shortly after use and tend to persist for a period of a few hours.
Heroin has the following effects on the user:
- Labored breathing
- lowered ability to cough
- dry mouth
- reduced anxiety
- heaviness in the limbs
- constricted pupils
After these initial effects, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that users will feel drowsy and have decreased mental function for several hours following heroin use.
Complications Associated with Prolonged Use of Heroin
Individuals who use heroin for a prolonged period of time are at risk of many long term effects on their physical appearance and health. Heroin abusers are at risk of contracting diseases associated with intravenous drug use and STDs from having unprotected sex. According to the US National Library of Medicine, long-term heroin use changes how genes are activated in the brain and changes brain function.
The following long term effects of heroin addiction can cause adverse complications for the user:
- Hepatitis C
- increased risk of miscarriage
- track marks
- infection that leads to loss of a limb
- increased tolerance which can lead to increased misuse of heroin
- heroin overdose
Side Effects of Using Heroin
Many adverse side effects may be present when an individual uses heroin. Once the initial rush of heroin passes, the individual will feel the effects of “coming down.” This side effect can lead to adverse withdrawal symptoms that cause the individual to desire additional use of heroin. Because of the side effects that come when the individual stops using heroin, many users will use heroin multiple times per day in order to prevent from feeling sick from the withdrawal symptoms.
Of note as well is that a lot of the heroin found on the streets has additives in it. These substances may not dissolve readily and can lead to death in parts of or full vital organs due to clogging blood vessels, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Users may feel the following symptoms of heroin withdrawal hours or days after their last use:
- muscle aches and pain
- bone pain
- tearing of the eyes
- runny nose
- abdominal cramps
- dilated pupils
- goose bumps
Dangers of Heroin Use
There are many hazards that can come from heroin use and these dangers could even lead to death if left untreated. Heroin abuse can result in labored breathing, vomiting and return drug use which results in physical dependence and subsequent addiction.
The following complications are possible with heroin use:
- breathing stomach contents into the lungs which can cause infection, choking or death
- vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration and imbalanced chemical makeup
- depression which can lead to suicidal thoughts
- overdose which can lead to death
Signs of Heroin Addiction
If you suspect that a friend or family member may be using heroin, there are a number of signs that you can be on the look out for to make your final assumption regarding his or her drug abuse. When an individual is addicted to heroin, their brain is negatively affects in many ways. Some of these effects are quite noticeable while other signs of heroin addiction may be less easy to spot. Regardless, people who are addicted to heroin are likely to show some or even all of the following signs:
- fatigue followed by patterns of alertness
- shallow or labored breathing
- injection wounds, track marks, needle marks
- infections on the skin from injections, boils
- small, constricted pupils
- appearance of “distant” gazing eyes (some say heroin steals the soul)
- lack of motivation
- placing distance from friends and family members or hanging out with a new group of people
- disorientation or poor motor function
- communication flaws, difficulty speaking, slurring speech
- lack of memory, forgetting things or not remembering important events or matters
- long, droopy, heavy extremities
- lack of interest in the future or what comes next
- unkempt self-image, lack of hygiene or taking care of one’s self
In addition to the many signs of heroin addiction listed above, there are also a number of issues related to heroin addiction that can lead to behavioral changes or problems that will often be easy to recognize in the individual who is abusing heroin. If you think that someone you know is showing the above signs of heroin addiction and may need help, you should follow up on your thoughts, talk with them about your concerns and seek further help.
Heroin Addiction Help
Heroin addiction is a destructive disease that takes over the lives of those addicted as well as all of those who are involved with the addict. Families are destroyed, careers are destroyed and left untreated, heroin addiction can lead to deadly overdose. Fortunately, there are options for treatment and heroin addiction help is available for those who are suffering from this potentially deadly disease.
Heroin addiction help consists of a number of different treatment programs and support groups as well as medical care options. Most addicts will require a combination of medical care, therapy and support in order to effectively achieve recovery from their addiction. Together, a combination of therapy and counseling paired with social support and medical care as needed can lead to a full, lasting recovery from heroin addiction.
Treatment of heroin addiction begins with detoxification, and is often followed by a medication maintenance therapy and counseling, according to Harvard Health Publications.
Heroin Addiction Treatment Options
If you or someone you love is addicted to heroin, treatment options are available to provide you with the best possible care and the greatest chance of recovery. You should be educated on the subject of chronic drug addiction before you make a final decision on the type of treatment that is going to be most suitable for you, but by gaining the knowledge and skills needed to recognize chronic drug abuse, heroin addiction and the causes, you can make an informed decision regarding the treatment for yourself or someone you love.
Heroin addiction treatment consists of detox, counseling, therapy, support groups and medical intervention. Each of these methods comes together to provide the recovering addict with a foundation for staying sober, saying no to heroin and other drugs, and taking back control of his or her life.
The first step to any heroin addiction treatment plan is to detox. This is one of the most important and the most dangerous parts of the entire treatment process. During heroin detox, the patient will stop using heroin and begin to overcome physical dependence on the drug. This is the time when withdrawal symptoms will begin and will peak to a point that is most often the cause for patients to turn back to drug use in an effort to stop the pain or negative effects that they are feeling from not using the drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, detox alone is not a treatment for addiction, but is useful when it leads into inpatient or outpatient treatment.
Heroin detox includes the following withdrawal symptoms:
- abdominal pain or cramping
- sniffling or runny nose
- sneezing or allergy-like symptoms
- weakness or fatigued muscles
- bone pain
- muscle pain
- irritability or mood swings
Counseling & Therapy for Heroin Addiction
Generally, counseling is provided by a therapist or licensed counselor who makes every attempt to help the struggling heroin addict to benefit from therapeutic sessions which involve learning about triggers, causes of addiction and how to stay sober.
The purpose of counseling is to:
- help the patient to heal from any previous trauma or pain that may have led to their drug addiction
- help the patient to recognize the triggers that cause them to use heroin and then avoid such situations whenever possible
- help the patient to understand why they started using heroin in the first place and then learn how to prevent a relapse
Medical Intervention and Care
Sometimes, heroin addiction will require invasive medical intervention in order to procure a successful recovery for the patient. Medical care during heroin addiction treatment will consist of around-the-clock monitoring to ensure the safety of the patient while they undergo detox to alleviate the physical dependence on heroin. In some cases, medications can be provided to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms.
Medication replacement therapy often consists of the use of one of the following medications:
Facts about Replacement Therapy
- Replacement therapy is not a short-term solution for heroin addiction. In some cases, the patient will require years of being on a medication in order for the therapy to be most effective
- During replacement therapy, patients will typically require daily monitoring in the beginning and in time this monitoring may taper off to weekly or even monthly interaction with a doctor
- Replacement therapy does not work to stop other addictions most of the time but can be effective at stopping the use of heroin or other opiates
- The side effects of methadone, a common drug used in replacement therapy, typically go away or become less prevalent as the patient becomes more tolerant to the medication
- Replacement therapy is combined with counseling and support groups in order to provide the greatest chance for a successful recovery
Support Groups for Heroin Addiction
Many different support groups are provided to help those who suffer from heroin addiction. Narcotics Anonymous is one method of twelve step recovery that includes social support. These groups can be found in most communities and are also offered in many inpatient or outpatient recovery programs. For families of those who are addicted to heroin, support may come from counselors, therapists, other family members or friends or community programs.
Heroin Addiction Recovery
Thousands of people who become addicted to heroin will die as a result of their addiction but there is hope. Many people who do receive treatment for their heroin addiction will recover and live a fulfilling life. Heroin addiction recovery is a long and difficult journey that is often plagued by many instances of relapse.
Relapse is something that many recovering heroin addicts will face many times and may be something that they have to think about for the rest of their lives. While relapse is not a good scenario, if you are prepared to accept the fact that relapse will likely happen and that if it does, you just need to be prepared to pick up where you left off. In time, the instances of relapse will be fewer and farther between and you chance of one day staying sober for ever will increase.
Heroin addiction recovery could take years but the end result is your ability to take back control of your life. The destruction and the deadly path of heroin addiction will eventually be a thing of the past in your life. As you move forward with your heroin addiction treatment and recovery, you will find that you gain the strength and support necessary to keep moving forward and to stay sober.