What is heroin?
Heroin is an odorless, white crystallized compound, derived from morphine. It functions as a central nervous system depressant, causing the user to enter a dream-like state. Because of its chemical composition, it is estimated to be three times as potent as morphine.
What effect does heroin have on the user?
Initially developed as an analgesic (pain reliever), it was thought to have less addictive potential than morphine. It soon proved to be equally addictive, and its (legitimate) used was limited only to pain relief for the terminally ill.In the brain, heroin mimics endorphins, triggering euphoric sensations. These “pseudo-endorphins” also trigger physical dependence. This creates a twin dilemma for the user: psychological and physical addiction. One of the major problems with heroin is that users quickly develop tolerance to the drug, meaning that more is needed to produce the same result.
What are the symptoms of someone under the influence of heroin?
Heroin restricts the user’s respiration, impairs mental functioning, causes drowsiness and constricts the pupils. In keeping with the dream-like state the drug induces, users are generally lethargic, and may also become nauseous (overdoses are frequently fatal because the user chokes on his or her own vomit).
What are the potential dangers of using heroin?
Because production of the drug is not controlled (and sellers frequently “cut” the powder with non-narcotic ingredients), each use could cause a fatal overdose. Even non-fatal overdosing can lead to brain damage, leaving the user in a coma. “Shooting” heroin (injecting it into the bloodstream) is a major source of hepatitis and HIV transmission, because users often share needles.
Heroin Addiction Treatment And Recovery Help
From Receptor Activation to Dopamine Surge
Facts about Heroin
- An illegal depressant drug derived from morphine that binds to opioid receptors in the brain and creates a number of different side effects.
- The most abused, fast-acting and popular of all opiate drugs.
- A powder of either white or brown color or a black, tar-like substance that can be injected, snorted or smoked.
- Also known by street names such as Dope, Junk, Horse, Smac, Big H, Blacktar, Brown Sugar, Muc or Skag.
- Often combined with additional substances such as powdered milk, sugar, starch, quinine or certain poisons to enhance effects
Heroin Side Effects
Almost immediately upon using heroin, users can experience euphoria, warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, heaviness in the arms and legs, and poor cognition. These effects can continue for many hours, and users can go from hyper-alertness drowsiness.
Many issues can result from heroin abuse that can jeopardize a user’s health, including:
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Bacterial infections
- Collapsed veins
- Organ damage (typically caused by additives in street heroin)
- Infectious (Hepatitis, HIV, etc.)
Overdoses, both fatal and non-fatal, are of particular concern for users of street heroin because it is impossible to determine the contents of the heroin, as it may have been cut with other dangerous substances.
Patterns of use
Heroin seems to get popular on the streets every few decades. It was very common in the late 1970s, and then took a backseat to the crack epidemic in the 1980’s.
However, in recent years, it has made a comeback – particularly because of notoriety received in films such as Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting, as well as being connected to the deaths of celebrities such Jonathan Melvoin and Kurt Cobain. In addition, it grew in popularity in the fashion industry, under the promotion “heroin chic”.
Many people mistakenly believe that it is safe to use heroin as long as they do not inject it and/or share needles. However, a purer form of heroin is now available, making it possible for people to get high by snorting or smoking the drug as opposed to injecting it.
For the most part, heroin is smuggled into the United States from places such as Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand.
One of the greatest dangers associated with heroin is its ability to cause individuals to become both physically and psychologically dependent. Heroin addiction interferes and essentially halts normal living, and comes with the risk of being arrested and jailed for use or actions related to use.
In many studies involving lab animals, scientists have found that animals will choose heroin over food or beverages. Even as they die from starvation and exhaustion, the animals will continue to gun it for the heroin to get their next fix.
Very rarely, people can use heroin without developing addictions, however most people get hooked after their first time using. There may be a genetic component to the development of addiction (known as the so-called “addictive personality”), but so far, scientists do not fully understand how it works. Some risk factors for addiction development can include psychological issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, anxiety and panic disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Also, a family history of substance abuse can also increase an individual’s risk of becoming addicted.
Heroin users who use on a regular basis quickly develop a tolerance to the drug and begin having to consume larger doses of the drug to feel high. Since the body gets used to the presence of heroin over time, if a heroin addict stops using, he or she can experience severe withdrawal symptoms that include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Muscle and bone pain
- Insomnia or restlessness
- Cold flashes
- Kicking movements
Heroin withdrawal symptoms can begin within hours of the last dose and typically continue for about one week, if not longer. In some cases, heroin addicts report withdrawal symptoms that last for months. Also, recovered heroin users also site being triggered by people, places or things, even if they have been clean for years.
Withdrawal symptoms and extreme cravings are often the number one cause of relapse for those looking to end their heroin abuse. To minimize heroin cravings and the accompanying withdrawal symptoms, heroin detox programs utilize medications such as methadone and Suboxone.
Medically supervised heroin detox programs are designed to help heroin addicts gradually wean off heroin and prepare to participate in a therapeutic recovery program. Attempting to be successful in detox without any follow-up care will only set recovering users up for relapse. Therefore, heroin detox should be looked at as the first step of many that with help introduce new coping skills and address the issues of addiction.
Heroin is highly addictive to a point where nearly one-quarter of people who use heroin develop a dependency to it. Once addiction has developed, users will stop at nothing to get more of the drug even it means risking their job, damaging relationships with loved ones and more.
What you experience during heroin addiction treatment is going to solely depend on specific factors including how long you have been using and how much you have been using. Your recovery will depend on your ability to understand and cope with other challenges, such as underlying psychological problems that may have caused or been caused by your heroin use.
There are two kinds of treatment centers: residential or outpatient.
- Residential treatment centers can come in variety, such as wilderness programs and therapeutic boarding schools for preteens and teenagers, Christian rehabilitation, or gender-specific programs. Many residential programs offer services for a wide range of addictions and psychological problems, while others specialize in one particular addiction and/or disorder.
- With outpatient treatment, you get the opportunity to live at home and meet with your counselors and doctors on a regular basis.
Step One: Withdrawal
The first step in the treatment process involves chemical withdrawal from heroin – otherwise known as detoxification. Heroin detox has developed a bad reputation that has spanned over a century, however modern methods made heroin detox less intense and more comfortable than in used to be in the past.
- During detox, you will likely remain at a medical treatment center for at least a coupled of days. Within hours of ending your heroin use, all traces of heroin leave your body and withdrawal symptoms start. Withdrawal can feel like a terrible case of the flu, and depending on your level of drug usage, you might experience chills and goose bumps (hence the term “cold turkey”), runny nose, sweats, fevers, insomnia, muscle and joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and twitching legs (“kicking the habit”).
- Your doctor may prescribe methadone or another drug to ease your symptoms, and then gradually taper it off. However, not all heroin users experience these severe symptoms, so this treatment varies case by case.
- The flu-like withdrawal symptoms can last up to a week, but the worst of it typically ends after the first two days. One former addict said the main problem with withdrawal is knowing that if you took some heroin, the symptoms would be gone immediately. This is a common reason why most heroin users require additional support to get through withdrawals.
Step Two: Therapy
Once you have completed detox, you will attend classes and therapy sessions with counselors, as well as support meetings with others in treatment. You learn how to deal with triggers (such as situations and people) that make you want to use heroin again.
Residential centers often provide outdoor activities such as horseback riding, hiking, swimming, etc. to help you learn to use physical exercise as a safe and effective way to relieve stress. In addition, you may also learn other coping techniques, including deep breathing, yoga and meditation that aid in your recovery. The majority of residential centers offer sports, journaling, art, music, and drama as forms of therapy.
Step Three: Maintenance
As soon as you return home and/or complete the most intensive period of outpatient treatment, you will still require follow-up care. Follow-up care typically involves attending 12-Step meetings such as Narcotics Anonymous or other support groups, as well as keeping up with individual therapy.
The families of former heroin addicts often enter into counseling themselves to help deal with the changes in family dynamics that develop in response to a loved one’s heroin use.
The length of treatment depends on your individual case. Government studies show that people who remain in treatment and stay connected to support groups for at least one year, even on an outpatient basis, are more likely to stay sober after rehab.
In most cases, outpatient or residential heroin addiction rehab is necessary to end abuse. Some of the most common types of treatments for heroin addiction can include the following:
- Medically Assisted Heroin Detox
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
- 12-Step Programs
- 12-Step Programs
- Individual and Group Counseling
- Family Therapy