It is tough watching a loved one suffer from heroin addiction. In 2018, there were 67,367 fatal drug overdoses in the United States. From that total, 46,802 involved opiates, which include prescription opioids, synthetic opioids, and heroin. While heroin usage is now decreasing among the American population, it’s still a deadly narcotic that affects thousands of people.
Most opioid addicts actually prefer the synthetic painkillers of OxyContin and Fentanyl. However, these can be quite expensive and difficult to obtain. Therefore, many users eventually turn to a cheaper alternative — heroin. This was the main reason behind the surge in heroin overdoses throughout the first half of the 2010s. The death rate from the substance rose nearly 400% between 2010 and 2017.
Heroin is a powerful opiate that has been illegal in the U.S since 1924. Classified as highly addictive by many government institutions, heroin hooks roughly one out of four people who try it. Once injected, sorted, or smoked, heroin attaches itself to the endorphins and dopamine chemicals inside the brain that act as the reward system for the body. Instead of a user experiencing the natural highs that come from working and playing, heroin overtakes this process. It becomes your stress-reliever and reward system.
The brain usually releases endorphins and dopamine in the body to help you understand pain, eating, drinking, and the drive for survival. Heroin bypasses the natural system and becomes the means whereby the brain releases chemicals to activate the brain’s reward system.
Afterward, the person becomes highly addicted to heroin and cannot proceed with regular daily activities. As such, this makes it extremely difficult for a person to quit using heroin alone. These are some of the signs of heroin addiction:
- Strong cravings
- Persistent tolerance to heroin
- Cannot cut down on heroin use
- Sickness between uses
- Having heroin-related issues and problems
For many addicts, heroin is the cheaper, stronger alternative to obtaining prescription painkillers. However, others start using as an experiment or form of social interaction. These individuals quickly slip into needing the substance daily just to function. Finally, the user builds a tolerance for the drug. To keep from experiencing the horrendous withdrawal symptoms, the user must maintain the daily drug habit, which could cost around $150 per day just to feel normal.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin comes from the poppy plant, which is widely produced in Asian countries like Afghanistan. This plant produces opium, and therefore, all drugs that come from the poppy plant are considered an “opiate.” Such drugs include morphine, heroin, and fentanyl.
Almost four million people in the United States of America have used heroin, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The substance is a strong painkiller that’s a synthesis of morphine. During street distribution, heroin is mixed with dangerous substances like fentanyl and morphine to increase its addictiveness and potency. On the street, heroin is called junk or smack.
A person who uses heroin for extended periods may experience itchiness, collapsed veins, and severe depression. With medical intervention, a user can overcome the symptoms of substance use disorder.
The Different Forms of Heroin
On the street, an individual may encounter heroin in several forms. A user can snort heroin, inject it with a needle, or smoke it freely with drug paraphernalia. Here’s a breakdown of the different forms:
- Black Tar Heroin: A black, sticky, and gooey gel.
- White Powder: The unadulterated purest form of heroin.
- Brown Powder: Heroin has additives, which are the street version.
The Heroin Ecstasy
For a person who injects heroin with a needle, the initial high can last up to two minutes. The effects of that initial high will remain in the body for four to five hours. The user will experience a quick rush as the substance quickly overwhelms the brain. The pleasurable side effects of heroin usage are listed below:
- Released tension
- Lack of concern
- Reduced anxiety
Unlike alcohol, the user will generally not experience any downtime or hangovers from the heroin high. This makes heroin an incredibly attractive substance for a young person. However, a new user will quickly build a tolerance as the drug overtakes the brain’s dopamine reward system.
After extended use, the brain will be unable to produce dopamine by itself. A user will no longer feel normal without heroin in the bloodstream. This type of systematic behavior can lead to a drug overdose. Some of the signs of a drug overdose include:
- Blue lips
- Tiny pupils
- Discolored tongue
- Weak breathing
- Dry mouth and tongue
The Signs of Heroin Use
You may want to know if your loved one is abusing heroin. Be on the lookout for these signs:
- No motivation for daily chores
- Secretive activities
- Constant drowsiness
- Borrowing money and financial problems
- Drastic weight loss
- Bloody eyes
- Constricted pupils
- Depressed speech
- Track marks from needle use
Adding to the danger, people who use intravenous heroin are at risk for Hepatitis C or HIV. Moreover, those with underlying mental health challenges like bipolar disorder and depression may feel drawn to the powers of the drug. Unfortunately, the spell of addiction ultimately enhances feelings of unhappiness and suicidal thoughts.
Over time, the heroin side effects will get worse. The immune system will get destroyed with repeated use of heroin. A user can damage his organs and risk getting other communicable and noncommunicable diseases. Heroin use disorder can lead to heart, lung, and liver damage. Nonfatal heroin overdose can lead to comas and brain damage.
Treatment Starts With Detox
The first step in the recovery process is detoxification, which is the process of eliminating the drug from your system. The withdrawal experience from heroin usage can be quite painful. Additionally, the withdrawal process can last up to several weeks. A medical professional can help by providing supervision and making the user as comfortable as possible. Some of the drugs a medical professional may give a heroin user are:
- Buprenorphine: A health professional must administer this medication. Buprenorphine reduces cravings from heroin by attaching to the same opioid receptors in the brain, thus easing the pain of withdrawal. The drug is also useful for individuals who suffer from chronic pain. Since it’s highly addictive, however, an individual would only use Buprenorphine when he or she is ready to stay clean from heroin.
- Methadone: It is an opioid that decreases cravings for heroin. Known for the brand name Dolophine, Methadone is useful as a longer-term medication assisted therapy to minimize heroin withdrawal triggers. Methadone is stronger than Buprenorphine, and like Buprenorphine, a medical professional must monitor the usage of Methadone so that the user will not develop a tolerance to the medication.
- Naltrexone: This drug inhibits withdrawal pains and prohibits a user from feeling the euphoric high from heroin usage. Heroin opioid receptors are blocked from entering the brain. This drug is also used to suppress alcoholic cravings.
- Suboxone: This stops the user from experiencing the heroin euphoria by combing Naltrexone and Buprenorphine. The opiate receptors are also blocked from attaching to the neurons in the brain. Suboxone can be quite dangerous when taken with heroin. Therefore, a physician will monitor the patient’s dosage while on this medication to prevent overdoses.
The rehabilitation process after a successful detox can be very intense. For many, the best option is to stay at an inpatient rehab center for a period of 30 to 90 days. Once a user has entered a facility, he or she will have daily or weekly group meetings, daily individual counseling therapy sessions, and possibly weekly family meetings. Most of this will occur at a residential treatment facility. This is the best facility for a full recovery for the patient.
The counselors may use the 12-step process from AA or dialectical and cognitive-behavioral therapies. Furthermore, a residential treatment center will have medical staff on hand to oversee the full detox process and make sure the patient is safe.
The patient may also enter intensive counseling sessions with master-level and therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. The assigned therapists will seek to help the user modify his or her behavior while assisting the user in developing coping mechanisms to handle stressful situations that occur in daily life.
During this process, physicians and psychiatrists will still administer medication to make the user feel comfortable with the continued withdrawal process. Once appropriate progress has been made, the patient will be released to continue treatment with weekly outpatient counseling.
Partial Hospitalization Program
Some patients may not require full care 24/7. In that case, the partial hospitalization program is an excellent choice for continued post-detox treatment. A patient may attend a weekly daytime program during the regular business hours of Monday through Friday.
The patient will encounter friendly medical staff that will help him or her get back to the normalcy of work and school life. In most cases, the program will include drug treatments, counseling sessions, and group therapy. Sessions will be long, ranging from 4 to 8 hours per day. PHP can be short-term, with some programs lasting anywhere from 30 to 200 days.
Intensive Outpatient Program
The intensive outpatient program is like the partial hospitalization program. Patients will meet with therapists and psychiatrists for intense counseling sessions. However, unlike PHP, the patient may have limited access to detoxification.
Medical professionals recommend IOP for patients who have mild addictions to heroin usage and do not require round-the-clock care from the medical staff. Therapy sessions are fewer and less intense than PHP. Patients may have more group therapy sessions than private individual counseling. Some types of insurance coverage may pay for either a PHP or IOP treatment facility program.
After attending a detoxification program and a partial residential treatment center, a user can commute to an outpatient rehabilitation program while living at home. The standard program includes weekly counseling therapy sessions. As a necessity, psychiatrists recommend limited outpatient programs for patients who had short-term heroin use.
Of course, a detoxification program is not enough for a user to experience long-term success and sobriety. Patients need a full continuum of care to maintain sobriety. So, after attending the desired residential treatment program, patients want to continue recovery by participating in a Narcotics Anonymous or Heroin Anonymous groups.
After treatment, a previous user may not feel comfortable living alone with the challenges of substance use recovery. The person can choose to live in a halfway house as a means of recovery. A halfway house offers structure so that a person can stay on the path to sobriety.
In some cases, residents must pay rent, perform chores, and be subject to mandatory meetings and curfews. While staying at a halfway house, individuals may continue participating in private groups, like Smart Recovery.
Green Mountain Treatment Center
For many people suffering from heroin addiction, their home environments have too many temptations to avoid relapse. This is when the secluded environment of the Green Mountain Recovery Center may be necessary. The Granite Recovery Centers’ flagship location is situated in New Hampshire with vast views of lakes and forested land. There are stunning mountain ranges, rolling hills, and apple orchards. Adults age 18 and over can embark on the journey toward sobriety with the private therapeutic backdrop of a lush landscape while in the care of compassionate medical professionals.
Our program consists of gender-separated facilities that focus on the wholeness of the entire individual — body, mind, and soul. Upon entering the program, our staff will pair you with a peer mentor, so you will not face difficulties and challenges alone.
The medical staff at Green Mountain Treatment Center will monitor your recovery 24/7 so that your opiate withdrawal will be painless as possible. We have degreed therapists and case managers who are not only trained in the 12-step recovery process but are also skilled in cognitive-behavioral therapies.
We’ll facilitate your physical well-being with mediation, yoga, chef-designed nutritious meals, group play activity, and outside relaxation sessions. When you recover at Green Mountain Treatment Center, you’ll experience the love and care you need to face a hopeful future.
Our phone counselors are ready to answer your questions and explain your options at the Granite Recovery Centers. Call our professionals today and take the first step toward sobriety.