Heroin is an illegal and highly-addictive drug processed from opium, a substance found organically in pod seeds of certain poppy plants native to specific regions of the world.
When heroin is snorted, smoked or injected, it binds to and stimulates certain receptors in the brain, which in turn produce dopamine. Dopamine is the ‘feel good’ chemical in the brain responsible for feelings of well-being and pain control. Once addiction develops, stopping is hard, as heroin withdrawal can be difficult to get through.
How Heroin Affects the Mind and Body
Once heroin binds to brain receptors, a ‘rush’ is experienced. This ‘rush’ is described as intense feelings of pleasure. This is usually accompanied by a warm, flushed feeling, dry mouth, itchy skin and sometimes nausea. After this initial ‘rush’, mental functions are slowed, drowsiness occurs, and heart rate and breathing are slowed. This slowed heart rate and respiration rate can lead to brain damage, coma, and death. Despite what comes after the ‘rush’, it is craved again and again, eventually leading to addiction.
The use of heroin and death from overdose in the United States has skyrocketed over the last decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin related overdose deaths increased five-fold from 2010 to 2016, and in 2016, there were roughly 15,500 drug overdoses that involved heroin. In just one year’s time, from 2015 to 2016, the heroin overdose death rate increased by almost 20%.
Long-term use of heroin changes the physical makeup and physiology (normal functions) of the brain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA,) recent research suggests that important white matter in the brain is damaged by heroin use, resulting in impaired decision making abilities, compromised stress responses, and even behavior management issues. Chronic, long-term use can lead to damage of the lungs, liver, kidneys, and brain, as well as risks for Hepatitis B and C and HIV infections.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe, based upon usage factors and time from last use.
Mild Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal from heroin is often referred to as being ‘dope sick’ with symptoms mimicking the flu. As the length of time from the last use increases, so does the severity of the withdrawal symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes and dilated pupils
- Body aches
These withdrawal symptoms usually occur in the beginning stages of withdrawal, sometimes just hours after the last dose was taken.
Moderate Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
As time from the last dose of heroin increases, symptoms become more difficult to manage:
- Extreme fatigue
- Irritation and agitation
- Inability to focus
Severe Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Severe heroin withdrawal symptoms are the most challenging to manage, especially without proper supervision and treatment. This is the period when many turn back to heroin, as without help, the symptoms become intolerable. Severe heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Severe cravings for heroin
- Abdominal Cramping
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle cramps and bone pain
Heroin Withdrawal Treatment
Withdrawal from heroin can be extremely difficult to manage, and even life threatening. This is why finding an addiction treatment center with highly trained medical professionals and addiction counselors is crucial.
Certain medications are used to help treat the symptoms of heroin withdrawal. These medications can aid tremendously in safely getting through withdrawal, when administered by a healthcare professional. One of the most commonly used medications is buprenorphine. This medication, also called Subutex, is often effective for recovery from heroin and other opioid addictions when used in conjunction with counseling and behavioral therapies.
Buprenorphine has been combined with other medications to increase its effectiveness in diminishing heroin withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings. One medication it’s often combined with is naloxone. Commonly prescribed medications that contain both buprenorphine and naloxone are Bunavail, Suboxone, and Zubsolv.
Methadone is another common medication used to help with recovery from a heroin addiction. Generally used for more severe cases of withdrawal, it is taken once a day in pill, liquid, or wafer form, and works by changing the brain and nervous symptoms’ response to pain while decreasing painful withdrawal symptoms. Methadone also blocks the euphoric effect of heroin on the body.
Which Heroin Treatment Option is Best?
Heroin addiction treatment depends on each individual. As the reasons for addiction vary, as well as usage factors, the best treatment also differs person to person. It’s vital to discover the best treatment option. Take into consideration different factors, including how progressed the addiction to heroin is and the level of motivation for recovery. Here are some other important questions to consider when choosing a heroin addiction treatment:
- How long has the addiction been occurring?
- Is supervision, both medical and other, required?
- Are medications needed to get through withdrawal?
- Does inpatient (or residential treatment) or outpatient best suit needs at hand?
- Is it best to be near home and family or further away?
- Is time off from work or school required?
- What is the cost of each treatment option?
- Is financial assistance needed and/or available?
Recovery from heroin addiction can be difficult, and without the right treatment program, relapse often occurs. It’s essential to find the best treatment option for each case of addiction and take the first step to long-lasting recovery and a life free from addiction.
Getting The Help That’s Needed
At Futures of Palm Beach, we provide reliable, safe and effective heroin addiction treatment services. Our treatment program involves a comprehensive, integrated, multi-disciplinary approach that helps those struggling with heroin addiction uncover and address the underlying issues driving the addiction. Co-occurring disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are also treated in conjunction with addiction treatment. Call us today for a confidential assessment.