Heroin Addiction

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Springboard Recovery provides effective treatment for substance use & mental health disorders.

Evan Leonard MS, MMS, PA-C

Dr. Leonard is a Doctor of Medical Science and a clinical anatomist. He has practiced in both internal and emergency medicine and has published several, peer-reviewed articles and a medical book chapter.

Heroin addiction has grown into an extremely serious problem all over the United States. It is a major part of the opioid epidemic that continues to rage on in our country. Every year, thousands of people die because of heroin overdoses, and yet, people continue to abuse this drug and get addicted to it.
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Heroin is a dangerous drug for a number of reasons. People often do not realize how easy it is to get addicted to it. They may start abusing it purely out of curiosity, due to peer pressure, or for any number of reasons. But before they know it, they have an addiction that is very hard to break; especially without professional help.

Fortunately, that help is available for those who want to stop using heroin and begin recovering. The right drug treatment can mean the difference between an eventual relapse and freedom from the heavy chains of addiction. But before we talk about rehab options, we want to discuss heroin in more detail, including the risks and dangers of abuse and addiction.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is classified as an opiate or opioid drug. It is made from morphine, which is a natural substance that comes from opium poppy plant seeds. These plants are grown in various places all over the world, including Colombia, Mexico and both Southeast and Southwest Asia.

This drug often presents in the form of a white or brown powder, but it can also be found as a black, tarry substance, which is known as black tar heroin.

When abusing heroin, people can use several different methods. This is a drug that can be smoked, sniffed, snorted and injected. There are some people who will mix it with other drugs, such as crack cocaine, and this particular combination is called speedballing.

Because it is illegal, heroin is sold on the streets by dealers, primarily. It can also be ordered online through the dark web. Dealers and addicts often refer to it by one of its street names, which include:

  • H
  • Big H
  • Black Tar
  • Horse
  • Smack
  • Thunder
  • Hell Dust
  • Chiva
  • Negra

Heroin was not invented until the year 1874. But the drugs opium and morphine – both from the opium poppy plant – date back more than 5,000 years prior to that. Opium poppy plants were grown as early as 3400 BC in Mesopotamia and Samaria. Eventually, the plants made it to other countries, such as Greece, Egypt and India.

In 1805, a French pharmacist named Friedrich Sertürner discovered how to isolate morphine. This drug was widely used to treat pain and even treat opium addiction. This was long before it was discovered that morphine is also addictive. It was frequently used during the Civil War to treat battle wound pain in the soldiers.

It was not until 1874 that the English chemist Charles Romney Alder Wright began experimenting with morphine and discovered heroin. He mixed the drug with various acids and invented a new chemical called diacetylmorphine, which is also known as heroin. It was found to be two to three times stronger than morphine.

In the United States, heroin was welcomed as a solution for many ailments, including:

  • Treating moderate to severe pain.
  • Treating coughs and colds as a form of cough medicine.
  • Relieving pain after childbirth.
  • Treating morphine addiction.
  • Anesthesia for surgical patients.

The pharmaceutical company, Bayer, branded diacetylmorphine as heroin in 1898. It was marketed as a non-addictive pain medication. In the 1920s, it was frequently prescribed to both children and adults for various ailments.

Heroin became illegal in the United States in 1924 after the federal government realized how addictive it was. It remains an illegal, Schedule I substance to this day.

What are the Side Effects of Heroin?

The side effects of heroin are quite pleasurable, which is why people continue to abuse this drug. When using it, people typically experience:

  • Sensations of euphoria or a high feeling.
  • A decrease in their pain levels.
  • Feelings of happiness and relaxation.
  • Excessive fatigue.
  • Changes in mental perceptions.

These effects are the direct result of how heroin works in the body. It binds to and activates mu-opioid receptors in the brain. Typically, our own natural neurotransmitters bind to these receptors to help control pain, regulate hormones and keep us feeling good. When the mu-opioid receptors are activated, dopamine is released.

The introduction of heroin to the body causes the drug to bind to these receptors and the result is a flood of dopamine in the brain. This is what causes the euphoria or high feeling people experience.

What is the Difference Between Heroin Abuse and Addiction?

The terms “abuse” and “addiction” are often used to mean the same thing. But abuse actually comes first, and it always begins before a person actually gets addicted to the drug they are using.

A person who has just tried heroin for the first time is abusing the drug. Even one use of it is abuse simply because this is an illegal drug and it has no medical value today. That abuse will continue as long as the person continues to use until it becomes an addiction.

Once a person has gotten addicted to heroin, they feel as though they need it all the time. They may begin to go through withdrawal unless they get their regular fix. This is because their brains have become incapable of making enough dopamine to help them feel happy or even normal. At that point, the individual has gotten addicted.

How Does a Person Know They are Addicted to Heroin? Look for the Signs

There are several signs that indicate that a person has been using heroin. They are easy to spot when people know what to look for, and they include:

  • Feeling very itchy.
  • Feeling nervous or anxious.
  • Having trouble sleeping.
  • Vomiting.
  • Getting the chills.
  • The return of pain in the body.

But addiction is different than abuse, as we discussed previously. A person who is addicted to heroin may:

  • Have track marks on their arms or elsewhere on their bodies from using needles.
  • Have smaller pupils than normal.
  • Have trouble speaking clearly.
  • Feel as though their arms and legs are too heavy to move.
  • Have infections at their injection sites.
  • Breathe shallowly.

Other signs of addiction include:

  • Feeling as though they cannot stop using.
  • Continuing to use heroin even though doing so is causing significant health problems.
  • Using the drug as a way to cope with one’s problems.
  • Becoming obsessed with the drug.
  • Taking serious risks in order to obtain more heroin or use it.
  • Becoming isolated from one’s friends and family.
  • Leaving once-enjoyable hobbies and activities behind.
  • Spending time with others who also use heroin.
  • Struggling because of legal problems and/or financial issues.
  • Having a hard time sleeping.
  • Not caring about one’s appearance.
  • Going through withdrawal when the drug is out of their system.
  • Finding that they need to use more of the drug in order to experience the same type of high.

The Effects of Heroin in the Short and Long-Term

The longer a person uses heroin, the more difficult it is to stop using it. This addiction is very unpredictable, and there is no way of knowing how long it might take someone to get addicted to this drug. Regardless, it carries both short and long-term effects.

People use heroin because they enjoy the high the drug produces when they do. Some of the other short-term effects of this drug include:

  • Warm flushing of the skin.
  • A dry mouth.
  • A heavy feeling in the arms and legs.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Severe itching all over the body.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Clouded mental functioning.
  • Slower heart function than normal.
  • Slower breathing rate than normal.

Slowed breathing is especially concerning. Sometimes this can lead to the person falling into a coma, or even suffering irreparable brain damage.

Many people use heroin for an extended period of time. When they do, they put themselves at risk for some of the more common long-term effects, which include:

  • Changes in the physical structure and function of the brain.
  • Hormone imbalances.
  • Problems making decisions.
  • Problems regulating behavior.
  • Withdrawal symptoms that appear within a few hours after the last use of the drug.

The Opioid Epidemic in the United States

The opioid epidemic actually dates back to the late 1990s. This is when pharmaceutical companies informed doctors that prescribing opioid pain relievers was completely safe. They assured them that their patients would not become addicted to these drugs. As a result, the medical community began prescribing them at insanely high rates.

Of course, prescription painkillers are highly addictive, and it was not long before that was apparent. People began abusing these drugs, which resulted in regulations for prescribing them. Suddenly, they were not as easy to get as they once were. As a result, many people turned to heroin for pain relief and for the purpose of getting high.

Opioid overdose deaths began to skyrocket, which resulted in the situation being declared a public health emergency. A plan was put into place to fight the opioid epidemic, which continues to be a serious problem today.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • In 1999, the number of heroin overdoses was extremely low in the United States.
  • They slowly started to increase, and by about 2013, there were 10,000 people who had died from overdosing on this drug.
  • That number continued to rise, and it reached its highest point in 2016, when about 15,000 people died.
  • A significant number of those deaths included heroin combined with another synthetic opioid, not including methadone.
  • Fortunately, the number has decreased, and in 2019, there were just over 14,000 people who died from heroin overdoses.

Recovering from Heroin Addiction

We highly recommend for anyone who is addicted to heroin to seek professional help to recover. This is not a drug that should be stopped on one’s own because of the risk of relapsing and potentially overdosing.

There are a few different options for treatment that can help people recover from heroin addiction. The goal is to treat both the physical and psychological addiction, and this is done through detox and rehab.

Detoxing Off Heroin

Going through a period of drug detox is often a critical step for people who are addicted to heroin. Withdrawal symptoms can be extremely difficult, and they are typically bad enough to cause people to relapse when they try to quit on their own.

Because heroin is an opiate drug, stopping its use results in the same types of withdrawal symptoms that are common with most in this classification. Some of the most common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Feeling anxious.
  • Getting agitated easily.
  • Intense cravings for heroin.
  • Muscle aches and pains.
  • Increased eye tearing.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Yawning.
  • A runny nose.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • The onset of diarrhea.
  • Goosebumps.
  • Dilated pupils.

In many cases, symptoms usually begin within 12 hours of the individual’s last dose of the drug. They can last as long as several weeks, and some people even experience them for months; especially those who choose to quit on their own without getting treatment.

People who are addicted to heroin are usually recommended for medication assisted treatment, or MAT. This is a form of detox that involves the use of specific medications that have been FDA approved to treat opioid addiction. Some of the medications that may be recommended include:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Suboxone
  • Naltrexone
  • Subutex

Many treatment programs also utilize holistic detox treatments. This is a more natural way of detoxing the body through exercise, an improved diet and other methods.

Heroin Rehab

The detoxification process may take as long as two weeks, but many people are finished within 7-10 days with the right treatment. Afterward, it is important to address the psychological aspect of the addiction, and this is done through counseling during heroin rehab.

Various types of counseling take place during drug rehab. It is important to treat the underlying cause of the person’s heroin addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 50% of people who enter into substance abuse treatment have a co-occurring disorder. This means that they have a mental health issue that is driving their addictive behaviors.

Co-occurring disorders must be treated in order for people to recover long-term. If they are not, there is a good chance the person will relapse and have to begin treatment all over again. Dual diagnosis treatment is highly recommended for anyone with a mental health issue and an addiction.

There are several types of drug rehab centers for people to choose from, and they include:

SpringBoard Recovery Offers Treatment for Heroin Addiction

At SpringBoard Recovery, we have worked with many people who struggled because of their heroin addictions. We understand how serious this problem truly is, and our program is designed to speak to the unique needs of each client we work with. Personalized treatment is always our goal because we know that everyone has different needs during recovery.

Clients who come to us with heroin addictions are typically referred to a detox program we know and trust. There, they will receive MAT and therapy as they start the recovery process. Once detox is over, they can return to our facility for the remainder of their treatment.

SpringBoard Recovery offers an excellent addiction treatment program on an outpatient basis. They will receive various types of therapy, including group and individual sessions. Our staff will tailor their treatment according to what they need most in order to be successful.

In addition, sober living services are available through our program. This often works well for people who are traveling to Arizona from out of state for rehab. But it can also be helpful for people who live locally, but who might not have a strong support system at home.

Learn More About Heroin Addiction and Recovery – Get Help Today

Recovering from a heroin addiction may be the biggest challenge a person ever takes on. It can be difficult, but it is much easier when they are surrounded by people who are all cheering them on to success.

Heroin is highly dangerous, and so many people spend the rest of their lives trying to “chase the dragon.” This means that they try to experience the same type of high they had with their first use. Of course, that is a goal they can never accomplish, and it only serves to drive them deeper into substance abuse.

Do you have questions about heroin addiction or getting the right treatment? If so, we are here to help. We can also begin taking steps to get your addiction recovery started right away. Please contact us today.

Sources:

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  3. United States Drug Enforcement Administration: https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/heroin
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