Heroin has a reputation as one of the most sinister drugs available on the street and not without reason. As one of the most often abused hard drugs, it can be addictive after just one use in some cases. With a chemical makeup that is comparable to morphine, it is available in powder form and “black tar” form. Called “H,” “dope,” “junk” and “smack,” according to Medline Plus, the drug is smoked, snorted or injected directly into the bloodstream using a needle.[i] No matter what it is called or how it is ingested, heroin is a highly addictive drug that can be deadly. There is hope, however, if the patient undergoes treatment at a heroin rehab equipped to provide the medical and psychotherapeutic care necessary to walk away from drug use forever.
Effects of Heroin
The long-term and short-term effects of heroin will depend upon the following:
- How it is ingested
- The purity of the dose
- The amount of the dose
- The frequency of dosage
- The tolerance of the patient
When the user injects heroin into a vein, the effect—or high—is almost instant, but if he or she injects into a muscle, it may take a few more minutes for the user to feel the effects of the drug. Snorting heroin in powder form causes an effect almost instantly but not to the extreme of an injected dose. Smoking the drug also takes a little bit longer to take an effect and won’t provide the intensity of the other two methods.
The short-term effects of heroin abuse are psychological and physical in nature. Users experience a euphoric or blissful high and generally become uncommunicative, feel tired and/or nod out while under the influence. The respiratory system is depressed and mental functioning is clouded while heroin is in effect. Though physical pains and discomfort are usually obliterated by the drug, some users feel nauseous and vomit while under the influence. Female heroin abusers who are pregnant may experience a spontaneous abortion.
Risks of Use and Abuse
The consistency of purity in heroin sold on the street is non-existent. A single dose of heroin that is extremely pure, too large or mixed with other toxic chemicals can mean an overdose. Characterized by seizures, cardiac arrest, coma and death, a heroin overdose is serious. Other health issues that have been documented include blood and heart infections, abscesses and flesh-eating viruses.
In addition to these health risks and acute problems are the risks that accompany continued abuse of any drug of addiction. Addiction risks can be sociological in nature, including the following ways:
- Difficulties with family members – Getting along with others—whether or not they also abuse heroin—is difficult when the mental functions are cloudy and communication is blocked. Trust becomes an issue if stealing and lying are problems, and in many cases, patients will lose contact with family members through the course of their addiction.
- Difficulties with a significant other – Significant others are often the first to point out the problems associated with heroin abuse and addiction—and the first response may be an argument. Unfortunately, many patients end up losing their relationship when heroin addiction becomes a problem.
- A hard time managing responsibility – Budgeting, paying bills on time and showing up to work are all difficult to do with a heroin dependence. Keeping promises and being involved in community events or attending family functions can be hard to do as well.
- Loss of identity – As physical dependence becomes the sole focus, patients often lose their sense of self, their dreams and their goals. More than just their physical and emotional health is lost—their identities and often their entire lives are lost to addiction.
Treating Withdrawal Symptoms
Most patients are primarily concerned with the treatment of their physical withdrawal symptoms when they first consider the possibility of heroin rehab—and for good reason. Physical withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable—painful, in some cases—and can be a huge obstacle to staying on course in treatment. With effective treatment, however, patients can limit the extent of their physical illness through medication and even shorten the length of detox. Depending upon the type of heroin rehabilitation chosen, some patients can move swiftly from active heroin abuse to abstinence and turn their focus to the process of healing from emotional and psychological withdrawal symptoms, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).[ii]
- Physical Withdrawal Symptoms – Physical withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin addiction are extreme and almost impossible to conquer alone. Patients will begin to feel withdrawal symptoms within a few hours of taking their last dose, experiencing things like irritability, a runny nose, sweating, muscle aches and more. Soon after, more extreme symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and insomnia may begin. These physical issues peak around 72 hours after the last dose before they plateau and slowly pass.
- Emotional Withdrawal Symptoms – Most patients will also experience psychological and emotional issues during the detox period as they begin the process of flushing the heroin from their system. Craving the drug is perhaps the most common and significant issue—one of the reasons that a medical, supervised detox and addiction treatment program are advised. Emotional triggers—stress, anger, sadness, fear and pain—can all increase the severity of this issue.
- Co-occurring mental health disorder symptoms – Those who are diagnosed with mental health issues like bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression or psychosis related to the abuse of heroin will experience symptoms related to those issues or an increased intensity of heroin withdrawal symptoms. These are both emotional and physical and will need to be monitored closely by professional staff.
Heroin rehab works on multiple levels. Physical withdrawal symptoms are immediately addressed, but the emotional issues as well as the symptoms related to co-occurring mental health issues are also taken care of at a good facility. Beginning during detox and continuing through ongoing addiction treatment and aftercare services, patients may spend years practicing the tools they learn during rehab and figuring out how to live a balanced and healthy life without heroin.
Healing the Family
The patient addicted to heroin is not the only person who suffers. Those close to him or her suffer as well, and family members often take longer to heal because they don’t get the help they need to process through the trauma they experienced during the course of their loved one’s addiction.
For family members who are ready to move forward in their own lives and, in so doing, help their addicted loved one to make better choices in the future, here are a few tips:
- Enroll in family therapy – Many rehabs offer family therapy as part of their services program. Addicted patients can invite whomever they like to take part in sessions and work through past issues while also developing better communication skills.
- Join a support group for family members of addicts – There are a number of support groups dedicated to helping the family and friends of addicts to understand the nature of disease, find support and help their loved one. Al-Anon, Families Anonymous(FA), Alateen (a 12-step group dedicated to teenagers living with an alcoholic family member) and Adult Children of Alcoholics are all effective options.
- Take part in personal therapy – Private sessions dedicated to the family member and how they specifically are dealing with the addiction of a loved one within the context of their own life can help to keep things in perspective.
- Prioritize physical health – Making sure to get regular dental and medical checkups, exercise and eating well will help to make sure that the family member stays well and is better able to deal with whatever comes their way.
- Find personal time – Taking a little time that is personal—with friends, working out, with other family members or for a date night—will help family members to re-energize and keep their spirits high.
Addiction Treatment Specific to Heroin
There are a number of different treatment methods that are all effective in helping patients fight off heroin addiction. Detox is the first order of business, but addiction treatment is perhaps the most important part of a heroin rehab program because it provides everything necessary for the patient to build a new life in recovery. Some of the most effective treatment options and services, according to the State of New York Department of Health include the following:
- Detoxification – The focus of detox is the cleansing of all toxins, including heroin, from the patient’s body. This can be an arduous process characterized by physical illness, and complications are a possibility. Because of the high rate of relapse and the possible medical issues that can arise during this period, it is recommended that patients be supervised around the clock until they are physically and mentally stabilized.
- Methadone – Methadone, a synthetic opioid, is a drug used to help patients who are going through heroin addiction treatment and is extremely effective in heroin addiction treatment, according to the National Institutes of Health.[iii] By binding to the opiate receptors in the brain, it blocks the patient’s experience of withdrawal symptoms and helps them to move forward in treatment with minimal discomfort.
- Buprenorphine – Buprenorphine, one of the latest medications approved for the treatment of heroin detox, has shown remarkable promise in helping people who are undergoing heroin and opiate addiction treatment according to NIDA. It is similar in mechanism and effect to methadone but if taken differently, has a low potential for abuse, and is protected by different federal regulations and requirements.[iv]
- Behavioral Therapies – According to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, a combination of medication and psychotherapeutic treatment are the most effective choice for heroin addiction treatment.[v] Together, the two types of treatment can help patients to heal on multiple levels and amass the tools they need to avoid relapse after returning home. These may include personal therapy, group therapy sessions, family therapy, 12-step meetings and holistic therapies like yoga, acupressure, acupuncture and meditation.
- Aftercare Services – Treatment doesn’t end when the patient leaves the rehabilitation program. Instead, aftercare services that range from a residential sober living home to a number of outpatient therapeutic options all provide regular support and guidance to the patient as he or she navigates the ups and downs of recovery. The type of program chosen will depend upon the patient’s readiness and ability to safely transition into a clean and sober life at home without relapse.
- Sober Living – Sober living is the most comprehensive choice in aftercare for patients who have completed drug rehab but either do not have a supportive home to return to or do not feel ready to avoid relapse on their own. A structured schedule and certain expectations help patients to stay on track but an element of freedom allows them to begin the process of transitioning back home and practice the new skills they learned during recovery.
Heroin Addiction Treatment at The Canyon
According to 2015 study on heroin use in America, about 1.8 percent of 18 to 25 year olds report abusing heroin at least one time in their lives.[vi] It is estimated that about 60 percent of those who abused the drug in the past year are living with a full-blown heroin addiction.
If you or someone you love is one of these people, an intensive detox and addiction treatment program at The Canyon can help. If you have questions about heroin abuse and addiction or would like to schedule an appointment or a personal tour, call us at The Canyon at our 24 hour, toll-free helpline today. We can check your insurance coverage for you, as well, to see what help you may be entitled to. Please call now.