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What is Heroin and How is it Treated?

Heroin or diacetylmorphine is a powerful opioid and it is a derivative of opium. Heroin is cultivated from the opium poppy plant which grows mostly in southeast Europe and western Asia. Once heroin gets to the United States, it is available in three forms;

  1. black tar heroin
  2. white powder
  3. brown powder

In powder form, various additive substances may be mixed into heroin affect the color of the final product, which can range from white to dark brown.

Black tar heroin is usually hard or gummy. The most common method of use for this form of heroin is dissolving it in water, heating the solution, and injecting it. Black tar heroin has been exclusive to the western regions of the United States but has spread in recent years to northeastern cities like Boston, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Philadelphia.

White powder heroin is considered to be the purest form of the drug. This form of heroin dissolves very well in water, making injection the preferred method of administration for most users. White heroin also frequently includes fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to fifty times more potent than heroin and has is in the majority of overdose deaths over the course of opioid epidemic plaguing the country.

Brown power heroin is a diamorphine base and has a higher burning temperature, making it ideal for users to smoke. When smoking brown heroin, many users heat the drug over a piece of aluminum foil and inhale the vapors through a straw; this is called “chasing the dragon.” Although smoking is the most common way of using brown heroin, injection is also a common form of administration.

Effects of Heroin Abuse

Injecting or smoking heroin provides the fastest effects for the user, therefore a higher risk for developing an addiction. It is important to know that snorting heroin is no safer and also does not prevent the development of addiction. The most common method of using heroin among addicts is injection as it provides the fastest route to the brain. The effects of heroin are relatively immediate with any route of administration and they include:

  • extreme sleepiness
  • clouded mental function
  • slowed heart rate
  • shallow breathing
  • intense euphoria
  • droopy eyelids
  • constricted (pinpoint) pupils
  • periods of sleep and awakeness, referred to as “nodding off” or “on the nod”
  • nausea
  • slurred speech
  • heavy limbs
  • significantly slowed movement

These immediate effects are clear in opioid-naive people as well as those who have been abusing heroin for years. However, there are other effects of heroin after years of abuse that can be very difficult to overcome, and potentially permanent in some who continue to use heroin over an extended period.

Some of the most common long-term effects of heroin addiction include:

  • Long-term or permanent brain imbalances, specifically relating to behavior regulation and decision-making abilities
  • Significant tolerance and dependence
  • Occurrence of withdrawal symptoms upon sudden cessation or reduction of heroin use
  • Collapsed veins which may no longer be used for legitimate medical purposes
  • Long term deficiency in stress management and coping abilities
  • Dysfunction of chemical levels in the brain, specifically dopamine
  • Compromised immune system leading to frequent and serious infections and viruses

Heroin abuse is dangerous and life-threatening, but that does not deter addicts from continuing to seek its euphoric effects. In most cases of heroin addiction, the most dangerous and impactful effects are the destructive behaviors associated with it. Behaviors associated with addiction are often devastatingly hurtful to those closest to the addict and can include things like:

  • stealing from friends or loved ones to obtain more heroin
  • lying and deceiving to excuse heroin use
  • loss or reduction in work and earnings
  • new or increasing legal trouble
  • financial strain, placing more pressure on other family members
  • relationship stress and hardships over heroin abuse
  • loss of trust among loved ones
  • endangering oneself and others around them
  • exclusion from family events and celebrations

The old saying that addiction is a family disease is very true, and with the current opioid crisis in America, virtually everyone in the country knows someone who has been affected by addiction. Until they get help to stay sober, addicts continue to use drugs at any cost, often at the peril of important relationships, income, freedom, trust, and personal safety.

Heroin Abuse to Addiction

It is uncommon for someone to abuse heroin more than once, and not become addicted, and the reality is that most heroin addicts started with opioid painkiller abuse and addiction. When someone abuses heroin, the first and most notable effect is a rush of euphoria that many addicts have described as being better than the best sex they’ve ever had. Seeking to feel the same intense high is what lures someone back to using heroin for a second, third, and fourth time. Depending on how rapidly repeated use occurs, addiction may develop within a couple of weeks. The more someone uses heroin, the more tolerance increases, which means that higher and more frequent doses of the drug are needed to achieve the same effect. Tolerance is a natural process with any substance that alters the functions of the brain. Such substances include nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and any other mind or mood altering drugs. Dependence is also a natural occurrence when someone uses a substance for an extended period as tolerance increases. Even substances like caffeine can cause mild withdrawal symptoms when someone stops using abruptly. The same is true for heroin dependence and addiction, even though the drug is illegal and has no legitimate medical use. Heroin addiction does not develop in the same way for every user, but the more someone abuses the drug, the easier it is to use again and again. Several factors contribute to why one person becomes an instant heroin addict, and another can use the drug recreationally for a period before addiction develops. Some of these factors include the following:

  • genetics
  • addictive personality
  • mental health issues
  • drugs and addiction in the home environment
  • depression or feeling of despair and desire to escape reality
  • underlying pain like childhood trauma

There are many known and unknown factors that may contribute to someone’s addiction, but heroin is extremely addictive for anyone who uses it.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms and Detox

Heroin withdrawal is known to be one of the most difficult for addicts to endure. It is painful and uncomfortable, and knowing that more heroin will make the pain stop is the most significant factor in relapse. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can last for five to fourteen days with symptoms peaking around 72 hours. Symptoms become more severe by the hour and include:

  • abdominal pains
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • muscle pains
  • clammy skin
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • intense cravings
  • diarrhea
  • insomnia
  • high blood pressure
  • increased heart rate
  • restlessness
  • depressive mood
  • sweating

The severity of these symptoms vary depending on the individual but tend to be most difficult and uncomfortable between the second and third day. Although there is a finite period for heroin to be expelled from the body, lingering symptoms can include anhedonia and intense cravings. These symptoms can linger for several weeks, months, or even years in cases of long-term and severe heroin abuse. When withdrawal symptoms are at their peak, the risk of relapse is highest and this is why a medically monitored detox is strongly recommended over trying to quit cold turkey.

Heroin Detox

When attempting to detox from heroin, a medical detox is the safest and most effective way of completing the process. Heroin detox is not life-threatening, but medical monitoring can provide safety and increased comfort during the process. Some of the ways a medical detox from heroin can help during and after the process include:

  1. trained staff that is familiar with heroin withdrawal and cravings, and able to spot signs of agitation and potential risk of leaving against medical advice. Often, these professionals know how to keep an addict calm and prevent him or her from leaving detox prematurely.
  2. medical management of severe withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and high blood pressure.
  3. an easier transition to treatment after detox is completed. The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes addiction as a mental health problem. Medical detox is designed to be the first step toward recovery with a seamless transition to residential or outpatient treatment immediately after detox.

Although detox is an important first step to recovery from heroin addiction, it is only the first step. Treatment, aftercare, and sober support are necessary aspects of sustained recovery.

Recovery From Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction is among the hardest to overcome, and many addicts struggle with multiple relapses, even after addiction treatment. In addition to persistent cravings, heroin addicts also have the added challenge of the drug being widely available throughout the country. The recent opioid crisis has led to ample heroin availability in neighborhoods from the inner city to the outermost rural communities. One of the most difficult challenges of heroin recovery is the anhedonia, especially in addicts who have abused heroin for a long period. Anhedonia is an inability to feel pleasure, and countless heroin addicts fall into a relapse trap in which they feel the only way to experience pleasure again is through heroin.

So, how does an addict stay sober and in recovery amidst all of the challenges?

In most cases of heroin addiction, healing and normal function in the brain is possible, but it takes time, therapy, and a personalized recovery plan. Personalized recovery is more than detox and even more than a stint at a drug rehab facility. Recovery is a life-long journey and involves significant changes to one’s lifestyle, diets, activities, and habits. An effective recovery plan is something that involves the unique challenges and needs of the individual, which involves understanding the person, the history of his or her addiction, personal traumas and challenges, home environment, and supportive resources. Many people have questioned the effectiveness and need for addiction treatment, but it is important to understand that treatment is not the same as recovery. Effective treatment lays the groundwork for lasting recovery by providing personalized resources and skills that recovering addicts need to stay sober.

What Does Addiction Rehab Do?

The most effective form of addiction rehab empowers addicts to take control of their addiction and utilize newly acquired skills and tools that are proven to help prevent relapses. These tools and skills include:

  • group and individual therapy
  • lifestyle changes, including people places and things associated with heroin use
  • coping skills to endure disappointments, stress, and grief without turning to heroin
  • communication skills that help preserve healthy relationships with productive and honest communication
  • career building tools to get and maintain an honest and healthy job that supports recovery
  • new habits and hobbies that are recovery-friendly and contribute to physical, mental, and emotional health
  • resources for sober support groups and individuals to help hold recovering addicts accountable for their choices and actions

The time someone spends in addiction treatment is intended to establish a foundation for addicts in recovery to continue with more ease and confidence. Every person is different and will require a personalized treatment and recovery plan that fits his or her life. Personalized addiction treatment addresses individual traumas, capabilities, and challenges to establish positive changes in a way that is understandable and achievable. At Vogue Recovery Centers, we offer just that kind of personalized treatment to help you or your addicted loved one to overcome heroin addiction. Vogue Recovery offers luxurious accommodations with chef-prepared meals, massage therapy, and proven therapies to break through addictive habits and mindsets. Clients at Vogue Recovery Centers have access to 24-hour medical staffing for the highest levels of comfort during and after detox, and aftercare planning that starts at the beginning of treatment rather than waiting until the end. Whether you or a loved one has been struggling with heroin addiction for a few weeks or several years, Vogue Recovery Centers can help with evidence-based and proven therapies, support, and planning that works for you and your loved ones. If you are ready to get life back on track and bring serenity back to loved ones, please call us now and speak with our trained and compassionate counselors who are available 24 hours and offer free and confidential assessments and referral services.