Heroin addiction can feel hopeless, but studies show that treatment for heroin abuse is effective and can help people live long, healthy lives in recovery. Treatment for heroin use should address an individual’s unique physical and psychological needs through a range of therapies, while creating an aftercare plan that will set them up for success in recovery.
The short-term and long-term effects of heroin on users make it incredibly difficult for them to stop using. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can be a highly effective approach to help people manage the painful withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings, allowing them to focus on recovery. There are several medications available that can fully or partially block the effects of heroin in the brain, reduce cravings, and prevent or alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
Once the physical elements of detoxing from heroin are managed, the counseling to heal the person psychologically can be more effective. Evidence-based clinical interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy along with mind-body based therapies like meditation, yoga, and exercise can help people to heal physically and mentally. A heroin addiction treatment program should address the underlying causes that led an individual to start using in the first place and set them up with healthier coping mechanisms to deal with stress and triggers in recovery.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive illegal substance derived from the potent painkiller morphine. It is sold as a white or brownish powder that can be snorted, smoked, or injected directly into the blood stream using a needle and syringe for a faster, more intense high.
Heroin affects receptors in the brain called mu-opioid receptors whose function is to manage pain, hormones, and neurotransmitters like dopamine, which is involved in the reward system. Immediately after use, there is a sudden rush of euphoria with dry mouth, flushed skin, and physical warmth, followed by the sensation of heavy limbs and drowsiness. The user may “nod” for hours, going in and out of consciousness, and their breathing may be slowed. People may also experience nausea, vomiting, or itchy skin.
Heroin changes the brain chemistry of users, impacting the balance of neuronal and hormonal functions that can take a long time to return to normal after a person stops using. As a result, people become addicted to heroin easily because their body soon depends on it to feel normal. Tolerance begins quickly with heroin so that users need to increase the amount of heroin they take to feel the same high and physical dependence leads to painful withdrawal symptoms that often keep users hooked on the drug to avoid the severe discomfort that begins just hours after they stop using.
Signs of Heroin Use
If you suspect someone you care about may be abusing heroin, but aren’t sure, there are certain signs of heroin use that may help you confirm. It can be hard to broach the topic of addiction with anyone, and if they are struggling with heroin use, it can be even more difficult to sit down and discuss your concerns with them.
It’s helpful to know what some signs of heroin use to look for if you are worried such as:
- Increased need for privacy
- Money disappearing or being used for secret reasons
- Finding drug paraphernalia
- Seeing bruises on arms or legs where needles may be used
- Nosebleeds [how often?]
- Skin sores
- Digestive issues – long bathroom trips
- Trouble with speech or coordination
- Lying or stealing
- Lung conditions develop
- Mood swings
- Withdrawal or flu-like symptoms
These are just some signs of heroin use. If you are concerned about a loved one or someone you know and notice these signs, it could be time to consult a professional. You can always call to speak with a professional to determine if there is a need to intervene and find a treatment program. The sooner they get help, the safer they and their loved ones will be.
Seeking Help for Heroin Addiction
Often, a person suffering from heroin addiction will have a hard time seeking help for their drug abuse. Loved one’s may have to help a person abusing heroin to recognize the need to get treatment. Finding a treatment program for heroin addiction is the first step to ensure there is a concrete step for the person addicted to take.
Once you find a program that offers detox and treatment, you may have to speak with the person struggling with the addiction to help them understand why they need treatment and that you are ready to support them in their recovery. You should express that you care for them and want to see them succeed—and survive. Heroin overdose rates are high, and there is the risk of hepatitis and HIV/AIDS from sharing needles. Then there is the issue of crime and violence involved in drug dealing, and the physical effects of heroin use like collapsed veins, kidney and liver failure, heart infections, and lung conditions. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions are also common effects.
Expressing your concern and love for a person dealing with heroin addiction can be a critical factor in encouraging them to get help. The person may have low self-esteem and could feel they are not worth saving. Rather than making them feel guilty for their drug use, you will need to show them that they are sick and can heal with help—and that they deserve a better life than the one they are living. Explain how detox and treatment work and that you will support them each step of the way!
If you are feeling overwhelmed—by your own heroin use habits or by trying to help a loved one seek help, you can always contact professionals to come up with a plan for heroin detox and treatment.
Heroin Withdrawal and Overdose: The Dangers of Detoxing Alone
Heroin withdrawal symptoms can begin just hours after the last use. Many people become addicted because they are simply trying to avoid painful withdrawal symptoms. Muscle soreness, bone aches, diarrhea and vomiting, chills, insomnia, restless legs, and irritability are just some of the withdrawal symptoms users may experience. These painful symptoms are accompanied by intense cravings for heroin because people may become desperate to end the discomfort and to feel the pleasure of being high again.
These symptoms can last up to a week or longer. Detoxing alone is possible, but it can be dangerous because the risk of overdosing while trying to detox is high. The cravings to use during withdrawal can become overwhelming, but once the person has stopped using, their tolerance is lower. If the person takes the same dose of heroin they had been using before trying to detox, it will be easy for them to overdose. Heroin overdose can be deadly if the person stops breathing and has hypoxia, when the brain is starved of oxygen. Even temporary hypoxia can cause permanent brain damage.
It is safer to seek professional help with detox. A detox facility can monitor the person to ensure they are comfortable and safe. Medications can help reduce cravings and the pain of withdrawal, setting them up for an easier transition to begin treatment and start recovering. DreamLife Recovery in Donegal, PA has a detox center and inpatient treatment that is personalized to each individual with a team of addiction professionals on staff to guide them to recovery from heroin addiction.