Derived from the opioid family, heroin is an illicit and highly addictive class A drug. Though it provides the user with feelings of intense euphoria and pleasure, heroin is often used for the purposes of self-medication rather than recreation. Those who use and become addicted to heroin often do so as a result of an underlying condition.
Tolerance of heroin builds quickly, meaning that a person will need to take higher doses at more frequent intervals to achieve the same effects.
Following use, be that intravenously, smoked, or snorted, the effects of heroin are felt immediately. The high begins with a wave of euphoria, followed by a feeling of calmness of tranquility. A first time user will likely experience feelings of nausea followed by vomiting.
It’s appeal comes from its ability to reduce feelings of physical and psychological pain. However, as frequent use leads to dependence, physical and psychological pain occur as a result of not using, leading a person to keep using to numb that pain, and so on.
Signs of Heroin Addiction
Discovering that a loved one is addicted to heroin can be a devastating experience. Often the user is unaware of the effects of their behavior on themselves and their loved ones, or the addiction has developed to the point where intake of the drug feels more important than anything else. Early treatment is important in successful recovery, as addiction is a progressive condition and can be fatal. It is important to be educated on the signs of heroin use and addiction so you can recognize addiction in those you care about.
The most evident sign that someone is using is the possession of paraphernalia. Intravenous intake is a common method of using heroin, but it can also be smoked, snorted, and inhaled. Needles and syringes are for intravenous intake, as well as burnt metal spoons and makeshift tourniquets like shoelaces or drawstring from clothing.
Aside from paraphernalia, there are certain behavioral changes that are characteristic of heroin addiction. Secrecy concerning money, the neglect of personal hygiene, money theft, covering of the arms to hide injection points, and a withdrawn or apathetic behavior are all behavioral characteristics of heroin addiction. If you notice these signs in a loved one, don’t hesitate to seek help. Professional help is required to intervene and treat heroin addiction. It’s best not to to attempt to fully intervene on your own as this can result in aggressive and unreasonable behavior from the user.
What causes heroin addiction?
Though the exact causes of heroin addiction vary between individuals, there are a variety of common factors that lead to addiction. Those with a history of addiction in their immediate family are particularly more likely to develop a dependence or addiction than those with no history of heroin use in their family. Similarly, living with a person who uses or witnessing someone using from a young age increases one’s likelihood of use as the behavior becomes normalised. Use of heroin can also occur as a means of coping with an underlying mental health condition, like depression or anxiety, in particular when the condition hasn’t been identified.
Two individuals using heroin may be experiencing different outcomes in terms of developing a dependence. This is due to the individual’s propensity to become psychologically addicted to a substance or behavior, based on genetic and environmental factors. Nonetheless, physical dependence affects everyone, as heroin is a potent drug and causes dependence after only a few doses.
Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal
As tolerance to heroin builds quickly, dependence, or a physical reliance, is highly likely. Once a dependence has been developed, cessation of use results in a myriad of undesirable side effects, motivating the user to continue use as a means of avoiding the symptoms of withdrawal. A user will generally experience high levels or irritability and agitation, musculoskeletal pain, insomnia, cold sweats, diarrhea, and extreme urges to use. A strong aversion to these effects greatly influences a person to use, which makes the risk of overdose and death dangerously high.
Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Treatment for heroin addiction depends on an individual’s personal relationship with the substance. An assessment will aim to identify how long a person has been using, how frequently they use, and any other substances that are being used in conjunction with heroin. In developing an effective treatment program, the above factors must be considered, along with any accompanying mental, physical, and behavioral disorders or conditions.
The first step in recovering from heroin addiction is recognising that treatment is needed in the first place. Effective treatment and successful recovery can only really happen when there is a collaborative approach to therapy. An individual should want to stop using before any real recovery progress can be seen.
Treatment will typically begin with detoxification, the process by which the substance is removed from the body. In cases of severe heroin addiction, detox is medically assisted. Sudden cessation of use is potentially fatal, so detox must be carried out by a healthcare professional.
Some medications used in the detoxification process include methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine, all of which serve to reduce the severity of the difficult withdrawal process. Methadone is an opioid agonist, and works by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors, which stimulates neurotransmitters in the brain to simulate the heroin high. Naltrexone is known as an opioid antagonist, as it blocks the brain’s opioid receptors, reducing one’s ability to achieve a high from the drug. An alternative to methadone is buprenorphine, which is generally considered to be a safer choice, as the potential for abuse is significantly lower.
Following detox, patients attend either an inpatient residential or outpatient treatment programme, where the focus is on improving one’s psychological and physical state and developing the skills and awareness necessary to overcome the addiction. Aside from detox and withdrawal management, patients participate in psychoeducation and group and one-to-one therapy, which aim to address the mental health conditions that tend to co-exist with substance use disorders, like depression and anxiety. These treatment services also serve to prevent the risk of relapse in the future, as the patient is equipped with the psychological tools necessary to support their own recovery. 12 step recovery programmes used in treatment are widely praised and serve to provide the patient with not only tools for recovery, but with a supportive network, a key element in maintaining motivation to continue with recovery.
Why Choose Brazos Recovery Services
At Brazos Recovery Services we offer medically supervised detoxification, residential recovery, intensive outpatient treatment, transitional living services, and sober living services for men affected by substance addiction. Our treatment is gender specific as such an approach serves to reduce the possibility of distraction from recovery. In early recovery, people have a tendency to fall into a relationship, which can be counterintuitive to recovery as one’s focus becomes less centred on the recovery process.
If you or a loved one are affected by heroin addiction, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Recovery from addiction is difficult and requires a strong support network and professional guidance. We provide our patients with evidence based methods of treatment including medically supervised detox, withdrawal management, psychoeducation and effective therapies for craving management and resolving underlying health conditions that influence addictive tendencies.