Heroin is one of the most highly addictive and lethal drugs available. By sedating the central nervous system, heroin has a direct impact on your body’s most critical functions, including your heartbeat and your breathing. An overdose of heroin can quickly lead to unconsciousness, coma and death. The fear of addiction and the risk of overdose haven’t stopped millions of people from abusing heroin. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an important measure of drug abuse in the U.S., showed that the number of Americans over the age of 11 who had used heroin in the past 12 months increased by almost 300,000 between 2011 and 2012. Fortunately, a comprehensive opiate rehab program can help patients recover from addiction and lead fulfilling, drug-free lives. The sooner you seek treatment for yourself or a loved one, the greater your chances of avoiding the physical and emotional devastation of heroin abuse.
What Makes Heroin So Dangerous?
Heroin exerts its effects by activating receptor cells in the brain that respond to opiates, substances that regulate our experiences of pain and pleasure. Heroin acts quickly. Within minutes after you take the drug, it is broken down by the body into morphine – a substance that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier. Once it enters the bloodstream, morphine binds to the opiate receptor cells, triggering a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that creates feelings of pleasure and happiness. The intensity and immediacy of these reactions makes heroin the most addictive drug in the opiate family, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Chemical dependence occurs very rapidly as the brain develops a tolerance to the drug. The more you use heroin, the stronger your physical and psychological need for this narcotic becomes. Withdrawal from heroin can be extremely uncomfortable, which makes addiction even harder to overcome.
Health Consequences of Heroin
Soon after the drug enters the body, it has a host of destructive short-term effects:
- Respiratory depression
- Slow heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Mental confusion
- Risk of miscarriage and premature delivery
- Nausea and vomiting
Overdose is the most serious short-term side effect of heroin misuse. An overdose is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.
Over time, the continued use of heroin can cause a number of chronic, life-threatening health problems:
- Blood-borne diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C
- Damage to the heart and blood vessels
- Systemic bacterial infections
- Arthritis and other complications with the musculoskeletal system
- Complications with pregnancy
- Birth defects in the children of heroin users
- An increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Chemical dependence and addiction are two of the most dangerous long-term effects of heroin misuse. Heroin withdrawal is not fatal, in most cases, but it can be so painful that it feels life-threatening. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:
- Muscle aches
- Bone pain
- Intense, overwhelming cravings for the drug
Although it’s possible to get through the withdrawal phase and detoxify from heroin on your own, you’re much more likely to move successfully from detox to recovery if you seek support from addiction treatment specialists.
When Someone You Love Needs Help
It’s impossible to know which is more painful: living through the consequences of heroin abuse as a user or as the loved one of a user. Watching someone you care about give his or her life to drug abuse can be one of the hardest trials you’ll face, especially if that person absolutely refuses to acknowledge the dangers. But if you’re concerned that a friend or family member might be using, early intervention is the best way to help them avoid the tragic consequences of heroin abuse.
- A change in sleeping habits
- Giving up favorite activities
- Abandoning close friends for a “new crowd”
- Missing work or school
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Wearing clothes that conceal the arms or legs
- A persistent cough or hoarseness
- Frequent requests for financial help
- Bruises, lesions or track marks on the arms
- Constant, unexplained fatigue
- Mood swings
Getting Treatment for Heroin Abuse
Recovering from heroin dependence can be extremely difficult, but with a range of treatment services at your disposal, it’s possible to regain your hope and health.
A successful treatment plan for heroin abuse involves:
- A period of detoxification, in which the drug is cleared from your system under medical supervision for maximum safety and effectiveness
- An opiate replacement program using a drug like methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone to help you manage your cravings
- Intensive, personalized psychotherapy to help you learn new coping strategies and change destructive thought patterns
- Peer group therapy to help you build a support network of recovering addicts
- Counseling and education for spouses, partners and children
- Long-term recovery support to help you stay clean and sober after you graduate from rehab
The integrated treatment programs at Futures are founded on therapeutic strategies that get to the heart of substance misuse. We address every aspect of the rehabilitation process, from the medical demands of detox to the need for behavioral modification and stress management skills. Our approach to treatment emphasizes motivation, inner strength, and personal empowerment. Call our admissions team to find out how we can help you start the recovery process today.