Heroin addiction is one of the toughest drug addictions out there and highly prevalent in drug-related treatment facilities. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Survey on Drug Use and Health, heroin (and other opiates) made up 20% of all admissions within drug treatment facilities, with marijuana following closely behind at 17%. Whites make up the highest percentage of admissions into drug treatment facilities for heroin addiction (59%), followed by African-Americans at 20%.
The use of heroin within the United States and worldwide is not slowing. In fact, just the opposite is occurring – use is skyrocketing. In a study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the number of deadly overdoses from heroin use increased 5.9 fold from 2002 to 2015.
International statistics on heroin use are even more alarming. It is estimated that 9.2 million people worldwide use heroin. Ninety-three percent of the world’s supply of opium (to make heroin) comes from Afghanistan. Mexico, Colombia, and Southwest and Southeast Asia are also major growers of opium. Some recovering addicts who are undergoing treatment for heroin addiction or who have recovered from being a heroin addict state that death is welcome compared to the life of a junkie, illustrating just how terrible heroin addiction can be. Without treatment into a heroin rehabilitation facility, death is most likely imminent for those suffering from heroin addiction.
What Happens When You Use Heroin?
Known on the street as Smack, Horse, Junk, H, and Brown Sugar, heroin is a fine white powder that can be injected, snorted, or smoked. Heroin is an opioid and is manufactured from morphine, a natural substance within opium poppy plants. What heroin users are looking for when they use this drug is the intense high they get from it shortly after taking it. Though, the high is very short-lived.
After the initial rush, users typically feel drowsy and once the effects of the heroin have worn off, the body craves more. It’s a highly addictive drug and the abuse of this drug is strong because of its highly addictive nature. With continued use, heroin addicts need larger amounts of the drug to achieve the high they are seeking. Heroin addicts are risking their lives each and every time they buy the drug off the streets, as they never truly know the strength of the heroin they are buying and also whether it has been laced with additives such as strychnine (rat poison) or other poisons.
Symptoms of Heroin Use
What are the effects of heroin on the body? The initial rush of heroin gives users a heightened sense of feeling and can result in a warm, tingly feeling on the body. In addition, users typically experience a dry mouth. After the initial high, the body’s heart rate and breathing slow and the body immediately seeks more to get that “rush” again. If the body doesn’t get another fix, withdrawal sets in. Withdrawal from heroin is painful and incredibly unpleasant. To avoid feeling like this, heroin users seek another high to ward off withdrawal. And the vicious cycle happens again and again.
Some of the more immediate, short-term effects of heroin after ingestion include:
- Rush – including a warming sensation over the entire body
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed breathing
- Mental fogginess
- Coma or death (from a heroin overdose)
As stated above, the addiction to heroin is vicious and cyclical. Most heroin addicts become addicts quickly and have almost zero chance of breaking their habits without treatment. Therefore, the long-term effects of heroin on the body include a number of unpleasant symptoms. These include:
- Bad teeth
- Collapsed veins
- Heart infections
- AIDS (from dirty needles)
- Gum inflammation
- Cold sweats
- Muscular weakness
- Memory loss
- Facial pustules
- Appetite loss
How can you spot a heroin addict? Some of the most common signs of heroin abuse are usually from the heroin user trying to cover up their addiction. Because most heroin addicts have no conception of the effects the drug is having on their bodies, it’s usually up to the addict’s loved ones to seek treatment for them. If not, death is usually imminent.
According to the Narcanon organization, the following are some of the more obvious tell-tale signs of a heroin addict.
- Burnt spoons
- Baggies with residue (powdery white residue)
- Glass pipes
- Rubber tubing
Heroin Addicts’ Appearance:
- Small pupils
- Flushed skin
- Slow breathing
- Runny nose
Heroin Addicts’ Behaviors:
- Not eating
- Slurred speech
- Neglected appearance
- Wearing long sleeves (to cover track marks)
- Constipation complaints
Heroin Treatment Facilities
Heroin abusers are terrified of withdrawal symptoms because they are particularly painful and unpleasant. It doesn’t take long to get addicted to heroin since it is such a controlling substance. Most heroin abusers walk around with a one-track mind – to get the next high, which is why they are neglectful of their health in general (e.g., eating, grooming). As such, it’s imperative that friends and family of heroin addicts intervene to seek treatment for their loved ones. And the places with the best hope of recovery from heroin addiction are rehab facilities and treatment centers.
The most common treatments for heroin addiction include behavioral treatments and pharmacological treatments. Both can be administered within heroin rehab facilities. In some cases, either one or the other treatment is administered, though, the most effective form of successful treatment options combines both behavioral and pharmacological methods.
Pharmacological (Medication) Treatment
During heroin detox, patients of rehab centers will experience pretty severe withdrawal symptoms. These include intense body pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Patients of treatment and recovery centers will typically receive medication to ease the withdrawal symptoms during detox. Detox is the first-step in a treatment and drug recovery center.
Beyond detox, medications are prescribed for opioid abuse. These medications have been developed to counter the effects of heroin on the body. They work by producing the same opioid receptors as heroin itself, but without the harmful effects on the body. There are three main types of heroin treatment medications:
- Agonists – opioid receptor activators
- Partial Agonists – opioid receptor activators with a lessened response
- Antogonists – receptor blockers which diminish/dissolve the “high” that heroin users seek
- CBD Oil – new evidence points to significant relief from withdrawal
The most common agonist used for heroin addiction is methodone. Methodone came into production in the 1960s and continues to be considered one of the most effective drug treatments for heroin addiction. Methodone is a slow acting medication, taken orally, that blocks the high that heroin users are after and diminishes the craving for additional heroin. Methodone is only provided at treatment and rehab facilities (i.e., methodone clinics) for drug addictions.
Buprenorphine (Subutex) is a partial agonist and is the first medication available through a doctor’s prescription in the treatment of heroin addiction under the Drug Addiction Treatment Act. A prescription of buprenorphine means recovering addicts do not have to physically visit methodone clinics to receive medication for treatment and recovery. Buprenorphine is taken orally and is manufactured to remove the high associated with heroin. That is, if heroin addicts are taking buprenorphine and then take heroin, they won’t receive the intended effects of the “high.”
The most common opioid antogonist is Naltrexone (Depade or Revia). Taken daily, Naltrexone works by blocking the actions of opioids – taking away the euphoric high achieved when ingesting heroin. The effectiveness rate of this drug is not as high as its agonist cousins because patients typically don’t take it as prescribed. As such, drug manufacturers have developed an injectable version of Naltrexone that will allow users in treatment and recovery to inject the drug once a month instead of taking a pill daily .
Behavioral treatments for heroin recovery are usually administered within both inpatient and outpatient rehab facilities. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management are the two most often employed methods of behavioral treatment for opioid addiction. When coupled with medication treatment, heroin recovery is most effective. CBT is focused on changing one’s thoughts and behaviors when it comes to addiction. A large portion of CBT is also focused on what to do if the rehab patients encounter the drug, how to redirect their focus away from triggers, and how to handle life stressors that might lead them to abuse heroin. Contingency management programs are incentive programs, such that when the rehab patients test negative for heroin, they are given vouchers or incentives for the drug-free test.
Finding a Heroin Treatment Center
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 40-60% of recovering addicts experience relapses. Though, this is not necessarily a failure, rather than an indication that a more optimized recovery and treatment plan might need to be introduced. With heroin, the relapse rate is slightly higher – with some reports as high as 80%. The reason being is the intense addiction of this particular drug. The important thing to remember is that heroin treatment is not a one size fits all solution.
Some individuals do better in inpatient rehab facilities, some can handle outpatient facilities. Some individuals may respond better to medications than others. It’s important to realize that heroin recovery is a lifelong process. Once the habit is kicked, it’s absolutely crucial that rehab facility patients can recognize life stressors, triggers, and situations they should avoid to lessen the risk of getting addicted to heroin again. Heroin treatment is not an easy process. It’s a multidimensional process that focuses on getting patients to detox off the drug and then finding a drug-free lifestyle that works for the individual.