If you or someone you love is a heroin user, then you know just how much power that addictive substance can have over lives. What you may not know is that the drug – and its consequences – has seen a rapid increase. Each day, between 300 and 520 people start using heroin in the United States. In 2017 alone, overdose deaths hit a record high of over 70,000 people. Many factors have contributed to this, including the growing opioid crisis. For the first time in history, opioid overdose has overtaken the odds of dying in a motor vehicle crash. But support and treatment are available. It’s all about taking that first step toward recovery. Let’s examine the physical dependence as well as how to overcome heroin addiction.
What is heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive substance in the opioid family synthesized from the poppy plant. Substances in this family act on the opioid receptors of the brain. These receptors play an essential role in regulating a wide variety of functions from mood, appetite, sleep and more. Doctors frequently prescribe opioids because of their analgesic or pain relieving effects.
Heroin was commonly prescribed until the middle of the 20th century. That’s when governments around the world took notice of its highly addictive and dangerous properties. Since then, heroin production has shifted underground. Nowadays, people buy it in the street. It typically comes in the form of a white or brown powder. It may also be black tar heroin—a less expensive variety that is high in impurities.
The effects of heroin generally include:
- pain relief
- reduced anxiety
- general relaxation
However, heroin tolerance builds extremely quickly. Users quickly have to increase their doses of heroin to experience the same sensations. For this reason, many individuals begin injecting heroin for its more potent effects which also increases the likelihood overdose.
Who is at risk for heroin addiction?
Unlike some substances, the highly addictive qualities of heroin and others in the opioid family make anyone at risk for addiction. There are also many additional general risk factors that include:
- history of depression or other mood disorders
- family history of addiction to heroin or other drugs
- heavy smoker
- exposure to high-risk environments
Signs of heroin addiction
Early stage drug addiction to this powerful substance can be hard to spot. If you have a loved one who is using, he or she may not exhibit any of the symptoms of heroin addiction. This is particularly true if he or she is trying to mask the usage.
However, as the physical dependence intensifies, these symptoms become harder to hide. Some of the signs of addiction include:
- memory loss
- speech problems
- runny nose or nasal problems (from snorting)
- needle marks (injecting heroin)
Other signs can be more difficult to quantify, but keep an eye out for:
- problems at work or school
- negative changes in appearance such as reduced hygiene
- money difficulty (e.g. needing additional money for no clear reason)
- risky behaviors
- trying to stop using heroin and being unable to stop
Finally, heroin addiction also closely relates to a number of other health problems. Many of the additives to heroin create numerous short term and long term health problems. These include damaging blood vessels involved in your respiratory and circulatory system.
In addition, sharing needles has led to the spread of blood-borne illnesses like Hepatitis B and C, HIV and other diseases.
Diagnosing heroin addiction
As with many kinds of substance abuse disorder, mental health professionals or licensed substance abuse counselors can confirm a diagnosis. Typically, they conduct a variety of tests including taking blood or urine samples along with patient interviews.
If you are concerned that you or a loved one is suffering from heroin addiction, speak with a professional right away. This includes drug counselors, social workers or even your family physician who may recommend you to a specialist.
How to treat heroin addiction
Since heroin is such an addictive drug, doctors and licensed counselors typically follow a multidimensional approach. Many factors influence the treatment process. This includes how long term is the abuse, how much heroin is consumed daily and the underlying factors of the drug abuse.
When you or a loved one are physically addicted to heroin, it creates serious symptoms of withdrawal including:
- difficulty sleeping
Detox can be challenging and painful, so many people relapse and use heroin to stop these withdrawal symptoms. For these reasons, many counselors prescribe medication to help ease these symptoms to reduce these risk.
Detox is the first step in overcoming heroin addiction. The addict needs to be able to endure that first step. Otherwise, he or she will be less likely to succeed in recovering. To increase the efficacy of detox and ensure patient safety, the best results occur when trained healthcare professionals supervise the detox.
Pharmacological treatment is combined with behavioral treatment conducted in either inpatient or outpatient treatment facilities. Behavioral therapy aims to:
- identify drug use triggers
- cope with cravings
- create relapse management strategies
- identify emotional issues that lead to drug abuse
How to overcome heroin addiction
The National Institute on Drug Abuse classifies heroin as one the most addictive and dangerous drugs. Even compared to others in the opioid family, it is known for its potency. It also has a high potential for overdose and combined with its relative ease of accessibility makes it very dangerous.
Heroin abuse directly contributes to a high risk of fatal overdose. It is also associated with other serious health problems. These include:
- increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS
- heart failure
- respiratory failure
- liver infection
If you or someone you love are using heroin, reach out for professional help immediately. The sooner you do, the greater the chance you have to overcome this deadly addiction. Recovery is possible.
We can help you
At The Blackberry Center, you will have the opportunity to begin the journey to lifelong recovery from heroin in our state-of-the-art facilities.
If you or one of your loved ones is struggling with addiction, we can help. We use a personalized approach to addiction treatment. Our focus is on treating the disease, not the symptoms. We put our patients first every step of the way.
Our substance abuse-only treatment programs include detox, residential and partial hospitalization program. Our on-site rehab programs focus on a comprehensive recovery approach. They address your physical, mental and spiritual needs for optimal wellness. Your needs are unique. We treat you as such.
Reach out for help today
You may be struggling with long-term heroin addiction. Or you may be fighting strong temptations. We can meet you where you are in your fight for sobriety.
We welcome you to our treatment center. From support groups to individual therapy treatment options, we are here to fight the battle with you.
Patrick Compton is the Associate Director of Face of Indawgyi and is working to promote sustainable development in northern Myanmar. He has an M.A. in International Studies from Korea University and extensive experience in global business trends, digital marketing and education. In his free time, he enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics and actively promotes healthy lifestyle choices in his local community.