Heroin Abuse and Addiction

Derived from Morpheme, Heroin is a natural substance found in poppy plant seeds. The “downer” effect is produced by Heroin, rapidly induces a state of euphoria (related to chemical changes in the pleasure centers of the brain). Similar to other opiates, heroin works by blocking the brain’s ability to perceive pain.

Heroin can come in various forms, in its pure form Heroin is a white powder substance that leaves a bitter taste. Street Heroin that is typically “cut” by dealers with either other drugs and or substances such as starch, powdered milk or sugar to name a few. Street Heroin leaves the user a greater risk of overdose or death due to the inability to know the exact dose one is consuming since the drug being taken is not at it’s purest form.

  1. What Is Heroin?
  2. Heroin Use & Statistics
  3. Signs and Symptoms Of Heroin Addiction

 

Known as dope, smack, horse and junk, heroin has a few physical characterizations. It can either be in a white or brown powder form, or a sticky substance called black tar heroin. Heroin is an opiate, or natural derivative of the opium poppy plant seed pod. Heroin elicits feelings of elation and pleasure, called a “high,” that people get addicted to. However, the adverse effects of heroin use and abuse are too serious and harmful to ignore.Although heroin is a relative of morphine, it changes back into morphine after it enters the brain. After binding to opioid receptors, the areas of the brain responsible for pleasure and mood are triggered. Such areas include the brainstem, which is responsible for controlling important autonomic bodily functions such as blood pressure, breathing and arousal. There are different ways to administer heroin based on how quickly users want to get high, or feel the effects of the drug. Injection, snorting and smoking are the most common ways of consuming heroin. There are three ways to inject heroin:

  • Subdermally, or under the skin
  • Intramuscularly, or into the muscle
  • Directly into the veins

Heroin is such a potent drug that users feel the high relatively quickly. Abusers also mix the drug with crack cocaine to create a powerful concoction called a speedball. Overdosing on heroin in any form is a very real possibility, but especially when mixed with other drugs. Heroin overdose is a medical emergency. Unlike in the past when a very distinct, small group of people typically from a lower socioeconomic status used heroin, today a wide variety of people use heroin. Because of the increase of supply and ease in obtaining it, people across many backgrounds use heroin. Because prescription painkillers have become the gateway drug to heroin, anyone that has been prescribed narcotic medications can be susceptible to heroin use and addiction.

Though prescription painkiller addiction and abuse is currently a lot higher than heroin addiction, the numbers can shift easily due to the chemical similarity among the opiates. The opioid epidemic has taken the United States by storm, and many people are dying from overdose everyday, with a high number related to heroin abuse. Due to the addictive nature of prescription opiates, users who are unable to finance their addiction resort to using heroin because it produces a more distinct high for less money and is readily available.

 

Heroin use is increasing at an alarming rate across the country, especially among teenagers and young adults.  With availability and supply at an all time high, many teenagers are succumbing to heroin use. Interesting statistics regarding heroin addiction include:

  • The number of people using heroin for the first time is extremely and alarmingly high, with a reported 156,000 people starting heroin use in 2012 — nearly double the number of people in 2006, with a reported 90,000 first time users.
  • Heroin use has been declining among teenagers aged 12 – 17 years old. Recent data shows heroin use among 8th, 10th and 12th graders is at its lowest rate ever.
  • More people are experiencing negative health effects from repeated heroin use. The number of users meeting heroin dependence and abuse of heroin criteria doubled from 214,000 in 2002 to 467,000 in 2012. These numbers consider to swell.
  • The impact of heroin use is felt all across the country, however, heroin use is most significant in smaller communities. Recent research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse Community Epidemiology Work Group showed the rising harm associated with heroin use on the community level. Although heroin use no longer predominates in urban regions, officials are reporting increased seizures of heroin in many suburban and rural communities. Furthermore, more deaths are being reported in small towns attributed to heroin overdose.

Heroin abuse and addiction spares no one, regardless of race, gender, age or economic status. There have been many notable celebrity deaths due to heroin overdose. Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour died from a combination of opioid substances in his body, including heroin. Glee actor Cory Monteith died at only 31 years of age due to a mix of alcohol and heroin in his system. Comedian and actor John Belushi died at only 33 years of age after taking a speedball, or a combination of heroin and cocaine injected with the same syringe.Drug overdose, especially heroin overdose, is common among celebrities; however, overdoses are becoming prevalent all across the country. With 467,000 people self-reporting as regular users, heroin dependency has doubled in the last 10 years. More than half of heroin users are women and most of them are in their late twenties. While heroin used to be considered a street drug commonly used in urban areas, the trend has shifted dramatically. Many suburban and rural communities have reported overdose deaths due to heroin use. Many people from middle-class and upper-class neighborhoods are now susceptible to the drug that used to once be an issue among those in a lower socioeconomic status. This shift in demographics has shown that heroin use is becoming widespread and prevalent.

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There are many symptoms of abusing heroin. These symptoms include both physical and psychological symptoms. Physical symptoms of heroin use include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Skin and face flushing
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Nodding back and forth between consciousness and semi-consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain suppression
  • Constipation
  • Sweating
  • Constricted pupils
  • Feeling light headed and euphoric
  • Lack of coordination
  • Sleeping too much or sleeping too little

As a person continues to use heroin, they may begin to experience a second level of more severe symptoms. More severe symptoms of heroin abuse include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Difficulty breathing or inability to breathe
  • Slowed or shallow breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing or inability to swallow
  • Swollen face, tongue, hands, feet or throat
  • Vomiting that cannot be stopped with medication
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures

Heroin abusers are also at an increased risk for certain health concerns, including HIV due to intravenous use of heroin and risks associated with needle sharing. Additionally, intravenous opiate use can also lead to an increased risk of hepatitis. All heroin users also regularly risk experiencing an overdose, which is a medical emergency and can easily turn lethal if not treated immediately.

While undergoing detox and withdrawal can be the toughest stages in beating heroin addiction disease, it is possible and you can live a clean and sober life. The Recovery Village completely understands the challenges associated with detox and withdrawal, and mitigates these undesirable effects by making the process as comfortable as possible while keeping patients safe. When an individual completely ceases or decreases the amount of heroin, certain physical and psychological signs may start to arise. These symptoms are called withdrawal. This is especially true when an addiction regularly consumes high doses of heroin.Initial symptoms of withdrawal can begin within the first day of detoxification. Physical and psychological symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Runny nose
  • Lacrimation, or tearing
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Uncontrollable yawning
  • Excessive sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches and spasms
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to concentrate

After the initial symptoms subside, more intense and longer lasting symptoms start to appear:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Paranoia
  • Hyperactivity

While this is the most difficult phase of withdrawal, such symptoms subside over time as the body adjusts back to life without heroin. These more intense and physical symptoms start to improve over the course of three or four days, and within approximately a week, you will start to feel normal.

Although withdrawal is one of the toughest phases in beating heroin addiction, it can be done. It is important to understand what to expect during withdrawal to best prepare for the process. A withdrawal timeline can vary from individual to individual, depending on many factors, including severity of abuse. Most withdrawal symptoms, however, steer along a similar trajectory. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as four hours after you take your last dose of the narcotic. For those who have been taking heroin for a long period of time, these symptoms may take longer to manifest because heroin is built up in your system. For most people, heroin withdrawal will last at least one week. Chronic users may experience withdrawal for up to three or four weeks. When your symptoms begin to lessen, it’s time to begin creating a plan for entering drug rehab to continue your recovery from heroin addiction.

Phase 1: Days 1 – 3: Most withdrawal symptoms start within the first 24 hours after a person stops using heroin. Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, or even painful. It’s important to remember, however, that the discomfort is only temporary. As a result, relapse is very likely to occur during the first two or three days of withdrawal. Symptoms of the initial phase of withdrawal include:

  • Aggression
  • Headaches
  • Irritation
  • Muscle pain
  • Sweating
  • Stomach problems
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Panic attacks

Phase 2: Days 3 – 5: After the first phase of withdrawal, most of the intense symptoms have subsided. At this point, withdrawing heroin addicts are likely to feel:

  • Stomach cramping
  • Minor muscle aches
  • Shivers
  • Fatigue

Each person experiences detox and withdrawal differently. For some, withdrawal symptoms may extend past five days. For others, the symptoms will subside after one week. It’s not unusual for some mild symptoms to linger. However, focusing on the goal of recovery and using tools like exercise and healthy eating can tremendously help during this challenging time. At The Recovery Village, our doctors will help you feel as comfortable as possible during withdrawal. Often, we help patients taper off of their drug so withdrawal symptoms are not as severe as quitting cold turkey.

While withdrawal symptoms can seem extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous, choosing the right facility can put all signs of uneasiness to rest. Although it is very rare, withdrawal can lead to death on occasions. If the symptoms and signs of withdrawal are not monitored by medical professionals at an accredited facility, detox will be incredibly difficult and even harmful to the user.

There are several different ways to detox from heroin. Many people who try to quit heroin on their own stop cold turkey, or all at once. While withdrawal is one of the milestones to heroin addiction recovery, cold turkey withdrawal is not advised. Suddenly quitting heroin can create more dangers and harm than good. The main dangers of cold turkey withdrawal include dehydration and risk of relapse, which can easily lead to overdose if users take the amount that they were used to taking before detox. Cold turkey withdrawal is one of the most dangerous and least effective ways to beat the disease. Sudden removal of heroin can also shock the system and result in dangerous symptoms like convulsions, hallucinations and seizures.The costs of do-it-yourself withdrawal methods are not worth it and can lead to far more damaging effects on the body in the long run. Undergoing detox at an accredited facility is a great and effective way to maintain your health and safety. When you detox from heroin at The Recovery Village, our doctors will help you feel as comfortable as possible during withdrawal. We help patients taper off of their drug so withdrawal symptoms are not as severe as quitting cold turkey.

Withdrawal can be very taxing and tiresome on the body. For this reason, staying at a facility is a great idea. Detoxification and withdrawal can be a very painful process, in which your body cleanses itself of heroin that can last for a long time. Medical professionals can provide constant monitoring in case of any emergencies that may arise during the process. It is highly advised to avoid facilities that offer so-called “rapid detox” as a standalone treatment — if it’s not integrated with mental health supports and other therapies, it is rarely a long-term solution by itself. The good news is that our treatment options to fight addiction are increasingly sophisticated and effective. Medically-assisted detoxification makes the process less painful by helping to cleanse the body while the person is sedated. Also, medications are provided to ease the discomfort that comes with withdrawing from heroin. There are three major drugs that are approved for the treatment of heroin addiction. These medications can include:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine — Also referred to as Suboxone and Subutex, these medications are ideal in treating withdrawal and future maintenance treatments, too. Moreover, methadone and buprenorphine are made in a way that discourages misuse and abuse.
  • Naltrexone and Naloxone — Naltrexone is the third FDA-approved medication that is ideal in treating heroin addiction because it is not habit-forming. Naltrexone helps people avoid relapse by decreasing their cravings and preventing them from getting high if they were to take more heroin. After a user has undergone detoxification, naltrexone is the next recommended step. Naltrexone can only be used after a person has been detoxified, so people must either successfully stop using heroin for several weeks or opt for medically-assisted detoxification if they want to use it in their recovery. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is not a treatment for heroin addiction, but it can temporarily stop the effects of heroin use. Naloxone has recently been used by first responders and law enforcement officials to someone at the first sign of heroin and opiate abuse. If someone has been given naloxone for overdose, it is very important to get them to an emergency room as soon as possible before the drug wears off.

Detox is only the first step toward recovery. While heroin use disorder has no cure, it can be treated successfully in a drug addiction treatment program. The Recovery Village offers several recovery treatment options to best suit your unique needs. In our experience, most heroin addicts highly benefit from inpatient rehab, where they participate in individual therapy, group therapy, receive nutritionally-balanced meals and benefit from living in a temptation-free, sober environment. Once rehab is complete, many recovering heroin addicts also like to attend 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery. For this reason, medically-supervised detox is preferential. You can undergo detox in many settings, including:

  • Inpatient detox, which may occur at a hospital, detox center or rehab facility. Drug rehab centers will provide 24-hour supervision, pharmacotherapy, and intensive monitoring during this time.
  • Outpatient detox, which may occur at a rehab facility, doctor’s office, medical center or free clinic. Patients who choose outpatient detox will only receive medical monitoring during business hours, leaving them vulnerable to relapse during the evenings and on weekends.
  • Holistic detox programs, which may occur at naturopathic doctor’s offices. These programs rely on herbal medicines and alternative therapies to detoxify the mind and body. Such programs include spiritual counseling, yoga, and acupuncture.

Professionals in the addiction space will always recommend addicts detox in a medically-supervised setting because it can be a dangerous process. Complications can include aspirating vomit or breathing it into the lungs, leading to lung infection or asphyxiation. Excessive vomiting, sweating and diarrhea can also cause dehydration, leading to chemical and mineral imbalances and possibly causing seizures. Undergoing detox at an accredited facility that Recovery Resources Treatment can place you in mitigates all of these risks, however, as a team will monitor you 24/7. Once detox is complete, patients can transition to further treatment.

 

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