Heroin Addiction and Treatment

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If you or a loved one is suffering from heroin addiction, you know exactly how dangerous and terrifying the drug is. Heroin is one of the strongest and most addictive illicit drugs available, and due to low cost and high demand, the United States is seeing a heroin epidemic of epic proportions.

As a potent opiate, heroin has intense effects on the brain’s reward system, producing feelings of euphoria, pleasure, warmth, and relaxation. People who use heroin may become addicted after just one or two uses of the drug. Once addicted, it is terribly hard for people to stop due to the psychological and physical symptoms associated with heroin addiction and withdrawal.

Addiction isn’t the only danger associated with heroin abuse. In fact, the CDC reports that more than 15,000 people died from a heroin-related overdose in the U.S. in 2018. Moreover, nearly 4 million Americans have used heroin at least once during their lives. The drug severely depresses the central nervous system and decreases the user’s inhibitions to affect their decision making, cognitive abilities, and overall health.

Since heroin is such an addictive drug and the withdrawals are so difficult to overcome alone, people suffering from heroin addiction should seek help from a drug rehab near them.

Recognizing Heroin Addiction

Learning how to recognize heroin abuse early on is essential as it can help individuals intervene to prevent full-blown addiction, overdose, or other severe consequences. When people use heroin, whether they inject, snort, or smoke it, they may display any or all of the following physical symptoms:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Flushed skin
  • Nodding out or falling asleep
  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Reduced sense of pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Constipation

While under the influence of heroin, people might seem confused or disoriented, have difficulty with decision making, or experience memory loss. As a person’s addiction progresses, you may begin noticing these symptoms more frequently. In addition, you might see track marks on their arms, notice that they are losing weight, or neglecting their overall appearance and personal hygiene. When it comes to heroin addiction, the drug comes first and everything else comes second.

If someone is addicted to heroin, you may also notice behavioral and emotional symptoms as well, including:

  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Lying to loved ones about substance abuse
  • Neglecting responsibilities or activities that one used to enjoy
  • Experiencing problems at home, school, or work
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, or irritable when not under the influence
  • Engaging in risky or illegal behaviors
  • Having strong cravings or urges for the drug
  • Spending excess time and money on the drug

Since addiction is a progressive illness, these troublesome symptoms tend to get worse until people seek professional help.

Dangers of Heroin Abuse

Both short and long-term heroin abuse is extremely dangerous as the drug is prone to causing overdoses and damaging many vital organs. Being an illicit drug, it’s difficult to know how potent each dose is. As a result, it is easy to mistakenly take too much and experience a life-threatening overdose. Although heroin overdose can be reversed with Naloxone (Narcan), people still die from overdoses each and every day.

In addition to overdose, people who suffer from drug addiction often engage in risky behaviors, ranging from unprotected sex, driving under the influence, or sharing needles used for drug injection. As a result, people may suffer from accidental injury, legal issues, miscarriages, or contact bloodborne diseases like HIV or hepatitis.

The dangers of heroin abuse don’t end there. Long term heroin abuse may damage several internal organs, inducing the heart, liver, and kidney. As a result, people may develop liver disease, heart problems, and even a weakened immune system making it more difficult to fight off bacteria and viral diseases.

Heroin Withdrawal

Despite the many dangers of heroin abuse, people who are addicted to this drug often continue using to avoid the painful withdrawal symptoms that occur if they stop. Although heroin withdrawal is generally not life-threatening, the combination of mental anguish and flu-like symptoms makes it difficult to detox cold-turkey. Symptoms that occur during heroin withdrawal include:

  • Yawning
  • Overactive tear ducts
  • Muscle aches
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Drug cravings

These withdrawal symptoms may last for a week or more and the cravings may become so strong that people struggle to complete detox on their own. As a result, the most effective way to treat heroin withdrawal is with medication-assisted detox and treatment.

Heroin Detox and Rehab

The first step in treating heroin addiction is to ensure that the patient detoxes safely. However, detox is only the beginning. As with any chronic illness, opioid use disorder usually requires a full continuum of care consisting of the following:

  • Detox
  • Inpatient rehab
  • Outpatient rehab
  • Aftercare

Throughout the phases of treatment, patients will receive support for their mental and physical health.

Medical Detox

Inpatient rehab centers that offer detox are equipped with trained medical and clinical staff to ensure all patient’s safety and comfort during detox. Fortunately, heroin withdrawals are easily managed using FDA-approved medications like Suboxone. Suboxone, containing buprenorphine and naltrexone, helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, making for a pain-free detox experience. Depending on a patient’s symptoms, heroin detox may last anywhere from three days to a week or more. Throughout the entire time, physicians and staff will provide 24/7 care and supervision.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

One integral aspect of opioid addiction treatment is medication-assisted treatment. When used in combination with behavioral therapies, medications like Suboxone, Sublocade, and Vivitrol are all highly effective in treating heroin addiction. These medications all work differently to help reduce cravings as well as the risk of relapse. Before starting one of these medications, it’s important to speak with your prescribing physician about your health and the possible risks and side effects.

Behavioral Therapy

Detox and medication-assisted treatment focus on the physical symptoms of drug addiction, but behavioral therapy addresses the underlying causes of substance abuse. Using both group and individual therapy, behavioral counseling techniques are used to help patients identify negative behaviors and replace them with healthier coping mechanisms. This helps address any underlying disorders or trauma that may be contributing to a person’s substance abuse.

Get Help for Heroin Addiction Today

Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs and it is hard to overcome without professional help. The first step is to pick up the phone, call an addiction specialist, and discuss your specific needs. If you or a loved one is battling heroin addiction, contact us today to find the right treatment resources for you.

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