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Heroin Addiction Treatment Information

Heroin addiction is one of the biggest plagues in urban communities across the US. The drug is highly addictive and often deadly. When mixed with stimulants or downers, the dangers multiply.

So why is heroin use so widespread and what are the treatment options for recovering users?

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Heroin Use

Heroin is an opioid downer drug that people use for its euphoric effects. Its generic name is diacetylmorphine, derived from the opium poppy. The drug is distributed in power form (white or brown). It’s usually taken intravenously but can also be snorted or smoked.

Heroin was first discovered in 1874 by English chemist Charles Romley Alder Wright. One dose of heroin is twice as potent as a comparable quantity of morphine sulfate. Heroin is a Schedule I substance in the US, where it is not administered or accepted as a medicine.

In 2020, roughly 0.2% of Americans 12 and 0ver engaged in heroin abuse.

Today’s street corner heroin is often mixed with sugar, starch, caffeine or fentanyl.

Why Do People Take Heroin?

People use and abuse heroin as a recreational drug. It’s often found at clubs, concerts and parties. Heroin is popular for its effects on the mind and body, which include feelings of:

  • Euphoria – Heroin causes a blissful state. It slows activity in the brain and depresses breathing and heart rates, causing users to feel mellow and sedated.
  • Relief – Heroin can mitigate physical pain by blocking the transmitters between the brain and body.

Heroin also reinforces drug cravings by altering the brain’s limbic system. The drug is most potent when injected into the veins, though some users inhale heroin. Some people get addicted after one use.

The body soon grows tolerant of heroin through repeated use. To get the same effects, people abuse the drug, which can have dangerous effects on the body. Heroin is especially potent when mixed with other depressants (alcohol, fentanyl) or uppers (cocaine, speed).

Heroin Drug Abuse Side Effects

Heroin use has numerous side effects, some mild and others that could be more dangerous depending on the user’s pre-existing health condition. The short-term side effects of heroin use include:

  • Respiratory depression – Heroin use slows breathing and heart rates. This can rob the brain of vital oxygen if the person continues with his/her heroin use.
  • Muscular weakness – As a depressant, heroin renders the body slower, lazier and weaker. After heroin use, a person can’t perform physical tasks at a normal level.
  • Drowsiness – People who engage in regular heroin use are bound to be fatigued on a constant basis. As heroin dependence takes hold, the person is liable to sleep through work and daily responsibilities.
  • Impaired mental function – Heroin use slows brain activity and renders people less resourceful. On heroin, a person won’t have optimal memory function or critical thinking abilities.

Other side effects of heroin use include dry mouth, constipation, and warm flushing. The drug can also have more serious effects when recreational use spirals into heroin addiction. Dangerous long-term side effects include:

  • Liver damage – The liver performs more than 500 vital roles in the human body. It removes toxins from foods and beverages people consume before they enter the bloodstream. Heroin can overwhelm the liver and cause it to erode.
  • Heart infection – As a depressant drug that slows the heart, heroin can cause cardiovascular problems, including heart disease, infected valves and blood infections.

Other side effects of heroin addiction include abscesses and pneumonia.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Once a user gets hooked on heroin, withdrawal symptoms can start within hours of the last hit. Common symptoms include:

  • Involuntary spasms – When cut off from an addictive drug like heroin, the user may twitch at random and have involuntary movements.
  • Chills – Heroin withdrawal can cause a person to feel cold and vulnerable. Sneezing, discomfort and depression are common symptoms of heroin detox.
  • Fever – Heroin withdrawal can also cause the body temperature to spike. A recovering addict might suffer headaches and perspire, even in cold surroundings.

Other withdrawal symptoms from heroin use include diarrhea vomiting, nausea and cramps.

Can Heroin Addiction Be Cured?

Drug addiction of any kind cannot be cured, but it can be reformed. At treatment centers, heroin addiction is usually treated with a combination of behavioral therapy and medication, such as buprenorphine (a partial opioid agonist) and naltrexone. Buprenorphine relieves drug cravings without producing the highs of other opioids. 

Doctors may treat a heroin overdose with naloxone. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Across the US, addiction treatment centers offer heroin rehab programs, which start with detox and follow with the patient’s choice of residential or outpatient treatment.

  • Detox – The first step in addiction treatment is medically supervised detox, where the patient ceases all drug use and enters a treatment center for 24/7 supervision and care. During opioid detoxification, withdrawal symptoms peak during the second and third days. Staff clinicians may offer medication-assisted treatment.
  • Residential inpatient treatment – To effectively treat heroin addiction, detox should always be followed by a 30-90-day stay at a residential treatment center. While there, patients receive 24/7 care and get individual counseling. Drug treatment centers offer rooms, meals and amenities. Treatment consists of group meetings, drug education and wellness activities.
  • Outpatient treatment programs – As an alternative to residential heroin treatment, patients can choose outpatient treatment, which falls into two categories: partial hospitalization (20-40 weekly hours) and intensive outpatient (9-19 hours). Outpatients live at home and come in during the morning, afternoon or evening hours for treatment.
  • Aftercare – At some treatment centers, they offer ongoing care for patients who complete the inpatient or outpatient programs. When patients need encouragement, support or advice, the center is just a phone call away. For patients who need help starting over, some treatment centers are linked with nearby sober-living housing programs and job-placement agencies.

To avoid heroin relapse, it’s best to engage in a long substance abuse treatment program, preferably 90 days. Outpatient options are best for patients with supportive home environments with no nearby vice triggers.

Get Help for Heroin Addiction and Opioid Dependence

Get Help Today

Don't go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you're facing. Get in touch with one today.

Make a Call

American addiction centers treat drug abuse as a combination of physical dependence and mental health problems. Opioid drugs are some of the most highly addictive substances on the black market. Ironically, medications used to treat opioid use disorders work by triggering the same opioid receptors without causing the same effects.

Treatment for heroin addiction is serious; few people can quit without help. If someone you know struggles with heroin, visit specialized treatment clinics and see if their programs are right for your loved one.

Today’s clinics offer behavioral and pharmacologic treatments that help people holistically on the mental, physical and spiritual levels. Approved outpatient treatment programs function in accordance with the Mental Health Services Administration.

Call the nearby treatment centers in your local directory and ask about their options. One call could save someone’s life.



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