Heroin is one of the most widely used substances in the United States. It has powerful effects and can maintain a strong grip on anyone who uses it, making it incredibly dangerous. Heroin is used to relieve pain and to achieve a state of euphoria. Heroin turns into morphine once it enters the blood-brain barrier and influences areas which process pain and pleasure by activating the opioid receptors. Once activated, these opioid receptors quickly generate an intense sensation of pleasure which functions as an incentive for repeated use.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is an opiate class drug made from morphine. Heroin can be in the form of white or brown powder, or in a black sticky substance referred to as black tar heroin. Heroin is either snorted, injected, or smoked.
Heroin comes with a host of dangerous side effects. Some of the more immediate effects of heroin may include:
- Dry mouth
- Flushing of the skin
- Feelings of heaviness in the hands and feet
- Clouded cognitive functioning
- Oscillation between consciousness and semi-consciousness
Some of the more long-term health effects of heroin use include:
- Collapsed veins
- Infection of the heart lining and valves
- Constipation and stomach cramping
- Liver or kidney disease
- Lung complications, including various types of pneumonia
In addition to the drug’s hazardous effects, street heroin is likely to contain dangerous chemicals which can clog blood vessels and cause permanent damage to the body. Needle sharing, a common activity in heroin use, can also increase the probability of contracting infectious diseases.
Why is Heroin so Addictive?
One of the most prescient dangers of heroin lies in its addictive qualities. The body builds a tolerance to heroin after continued use, making it more difficult to achieve the euphoric high desired from heroin use. Higher and/or more frequent doses of heroin are required in order to repeatedly experience its desired effects. This repeated escalation of heroin use quickly leads to addiction. The body grows accustomed to heroin as its tolerance grows, and as a result, someone addicted to heroin not only uses it to achieve a high, but also because their body has adapted to the constant heroin use and requires the drug in order to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms.
Heroin addiction is a growing epidemic in the United States. Heroin use has increased in the US among both men and women in most age categories, and at every income level. Heroin use has even increased among certain demographics, such as the privately insured and people with relatively higher incomes, which have historically shown low heroin use rates.
The rate of heroin overdoses and deaths caused by these overdoses have also risen. From 2002 to 2013, deaths from heroin overdose nearly quadrupled in the United States. The dramatic increase of heroin use demonstrates the need for effective heroin addiction treatment and recovery programs.
Heroin Addiction Treatment & Detox
Detoxification is usually the first step in the recovery process. Detox gradually purges heroin and other toxic chemicals from the body, which allows the individual the ability to adapt to a heroin-free lifestyle in a way that mitigates withdrawal symptoms. Once the presence of heroin is completely eliminated, the client can receive continued treatment and begin the development of healthy habits in order to abstain from heroin use in the future.
It’s important for heroin detoxification to be medically supervised since it is a delicate process. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and dangerous, causing unhealthy reactions in the body and increasing the chances of relapse. However, in an inpatient program, medical professionals can monitor detoxification, and with the teamwork of clinical professionals, can help ensure that treatment is a healthy and empowering experience that equips the client for a life of recovery.
Medication in Heroin Addiction Treatment
One treatment option for heroin addiction involves the use of medication to help the body become free from heroin while avoiding the withdrawal symptoms. The medications used for the treatment of heroin addiction activate the same opioid receptors as heroin, but are far less likely to produce the harmful effects which lead to addiction.
These medications generally fall into three categories: agonists, partial agonists, and antagonists. Agonists activate opioid receptors, partial agonists activate opioid receptors, but produce a smaller response than agonists, and antagonists block the opioid receptor and interfere with the rewarding effects of opioids.
The top medications used for heroin addiction treatment include:
- Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist which inhibits people from experiencing a “high” from heroin and prevents the withdrawal symptoms and cravings that can be prevalent in the recovery process. Buprenorphine does not have strong side effects, does not cause people to experience a “high”, and is unlikely to cause sickness or lead to overdose.
- Methadone: Methadone is a slow-acting opioid agonist that is taken orally in order to suppress the “high” experienced through other forms of substance administration, such as injection. Methadone prevents the withdrawal symptoms often experienced during heroin detoxification.
- Naltrexone: Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that blocks opioid activity. Naltrexone does not cause sedation, is not addictive and does not lead to dependence.
- Suboxone: Suboxone is a form of buprenorphine that is taken orally and contains naloxone, which prevents attempts at getting “high” through injection. If Suboxone is injected, the naloxone induces withdrawal symptoms, creating an unpleasant experience which deters drug injection.
Therapeutic Treatment Options
There are different forms of therapy available to help overcome heroin addiction. Some of the most common therapies include:
- Behavioral: Behavioral therapy helps a person cultivate healthy expectations and behaviors in relation to drug use. Behavioral therapy equips clients with the ability to handle life’s complications without resorting to drug use. There are many types of behavioral therapy, including:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the relationship between a person’s cognitive life and actions. It analyzes how someone’s thoughts, beliefs and emotions influence their behavior. Cognitive behavioral therapy primarily addresses how to overcome current obstacles in recovery and how to develop healthy patterns of thought and behavior.
- System Desensitization: System desensitization utilizes the practice of classical conditioning in order to condition particular responses to stimuli. Clients who undergo this behavioral therapy will learn how to manage their bodily and psychological response to threatening objects and difficult situations.
- Aversion therapy: Aversion therapy is a popular form of behavioral therapy when dealing with substance use disorder. In the case of heroin, aversion therapy teaches the client to associate heroin with an unpleasant memory, sensation, experience or emotion. By developing a negative response to heroin, the client is better equipped to abstain from heroin and avoid relapse.
- Contingency Management: Contingency management therapy is a rewards-based approach to encouraging heroin abstinence. Utilizing contingency management principles, this therapy provides tangible rewards to clients in response to healthy, heroin-free choices. The rewards can take on many forms, including vouchers and cash. Contingency management therapy has proven to be effective in encouraging effective, drug-free behavior.
Residential vs. Outpatient Treatment
Since every person is different, it is important to understand all of the options available for heroin addiction treatment.
Residential Inpatient: Residential inpatient treatment incorporates medical supervision, a healthy environment, activities for both groups and individuals, and other forms of therapy. Clients temporarily live in a facility that is designed to help people recover from heroin addiction. Private inpatient treatment takes place in a controlled, 24-hour setting so that it can best address the plethora of factors that are involved in heroin use, such as medical, emotional, relational, physical and mental.
Outpatient/Extended Care: Outpatient/extended care often takes place after inpatient therapy and helps the client adapt to the everyday struggles of recovery after completing a treatment program. Outpatient services help clients recovering from heroin addiction through programs that develop skills, build a supportive network, help clients identify and achieve goals, evaluate progress with a designated case manager, and address the daily struggles involved in relapse prevention.
Preventing A Heroin Relapse
Relapse prevention is vital to recovery, but it is not easy. Research has shown that the heroin relapse rate can be as high as 91%. Needless to say, avoiding relapse requires the utmost dedication and perseverance. Clients receiving treatment for heroin addiction need to proactively develop habits and engage in activities which can help prevent relapse.
Here are some helpful tips for cultivating effective relapse prevention:
- Stay in treatment for as long as necessary
- Never stop taking prescribed medication
- Continue to attend counseling and group meetings
- Look for new hobbies and friend groups
- Assess and seek treatment for any underlying mental health issues
- Avoid harmful relationships and tempting situations
- Exercise regularly
- Engage your mind through reading and/or writing
- Set attainable goals
- Continually reward yourself for your progress
Getting Help for Heroin Addiction
Struggling with heroin addiction can lead to feelings of hopelessness and isolation, but there are many resources available for support. Comprehensive inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs are available to people struggling with substance use disorder.
If you are struggling with heroin addiction, contact us at Futures of Palm Beach to learn about our inpatient addiction treatment plans, the innovative tools we use and the ongoing support that we provide for a healthy life of recovery from heroin addiction.