Everyone has heard that heroin comes from poppy plants. There’s a little more to it than that. Heroin is in a drug class known as “opioids.” It’s made from morphine. And morphine is a natural substance taken from the seed pod of the opium poppy plants that grow in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Once addicted to heroin, you need heroin addiction treatment.
Heroin was created by a chemist at The Bayer Company of Germany in 1895 and promoted for medical use in 1898 in an effort to create a less addictive substitute for morphine. The chemist that created heroin gave it that name for its expected heroic features.
As it turned out, heroin is actually two to three times more powerful than morphine and absorbs more rapidly into the brain. As a result, it’s extremely easy to develop a heroin addiction.
How Does it Work?
Heroin enters the brain quickly and it’s then changed into morphine. Because morphine is similar to endorphins (a chemical messenger in your brain), it attaches to the opioid receptors on brain cells which are located in many areas of the brain.
Opioid receptors are cells that are in the pain control network in your brain. Although morphine can imitate natural endorphins, they aren’t identical and can’t activate the brain cells in the same way. This can cause abnormal messages to be sent through the pain network.
These abnormal messages from using heroin and other opioids change the physical makeup and the normal operations of the brain. They cause unevenness in brain cells and hormone systems that are difficult to reverse.
How It’s Used
Heroin can be processed into a white or brown powder, or a black sticky material known as black tar heroin. Common names for heroin include:
- big H,
- hell dust, and
People who use heroin do so by injection, smoking, sniffing, and snorting. An injection is the most popular way to use heroin because it’s the quickest way to feel the “high.” Sadly, it’s also the most dangerous because of the higher risk of overdose and the risk of using a dirty heroin needle.
Some people mix it with crack cocaine and inject it. This is called “speedballing.” Due to the opposite effects of each drug separately, speedballing carries a high risk of overdose.
Are You Addicted?
When people begin using heroin, they may not show any symptoms of a substance use disorder (SUD). Particularly if those people are taking steps to hide the use. But as heroin use increases, it becomes harder to hide. Signs of use include:
- Agitation or drowsiness
- Slurred speech
- Smaller pupils
- Memory difficulties
- Needle marks (from injecting)
- Runny nose or nose sores (from snorting)
- Reduced feeling of pain
- Changes in appearance such as lack of personal hygiene
- Secrecy or aggression
- Money issues, missing money
- School or work difficulties
- Risky or dangerous behavior
Despite knowing the risks involved when using this deadly drug, most heroin users are still not able to quit using. That’s because heroin addiction is so overwhelming and powerful it usually requires professional heroin addiction treatment to get over.
The Heroin Needle and the Damage Done
If you’ve been using heroin, you look forward to the surge of euphoria called a “rush” that you feel. However, there are other short-and long-term effects including:
- Dry mouth
- A warm flush of the skin
- Arms and legs feel heavy
- Nausea and vomiting
- Foggy thinking
- Going “on the nod” (in and out of consciousness)
- Collapsed veins from injecting
- Damaged tissue in the nose from snorting or sniffing
- Infection in the heart lining and valves
- Abscesses (swollen, pus-filled tissue)
- Constipation and cramping
- Kidney and liver disease
- Lung issues including pneumonia
- Mental problems including depression and antisocial personality disorder
- Sexual dysfunction in men
- Irregular menstrual cycles for women
Further Possible Damage
Since heroin often contains sugar, starch, or powdered milk, the blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain can become permanently damaged when using it. Plus, sharing a heroin needle and having impaired judgment from heroin use heightens the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.
A heroin overdose occurs when a person takes enough of the drug to cause a life-threatening reaction or death. Between 2010 and 2012, overdose deaths doubled.
When individuals overdose, their breathing slows or stops. This decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. This, in turn, can cause short- and long-term mental issues in addition to nervous system problems, including permanent brain damage.
Sadly, heroin is sometimes laced with other drugs. The rise in overdose deaths is believed to be the result of heroin being laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic pain killer that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Is There Really Such a Thing as Heroin Addiction Treatment?
Yes, there is such a thing as heroin addiction treatment. However, there is no one perfect cure for heroin addiction. Or for any drug for that matter. There are many effective treatments to help a person get into and stay in recovery. The type of treatment needed depends on:
- The addicted individual
- The addictive substance
- Co-existing medical conditions
By using behavioral therapy and medical techniques, it’s possible to renew an amount of normalcy to behavior and brain function. Studies have shown that combining both types of treatment is the most effective method when under the supervision of medical professionals.
First Stop: Detox and Withdrawal
The first step in recovery is detox. Detox is the period when drug usage ends and the body begins to rid itself of the toxins in an attempt to return to normal. Likewise, the brain begins to adjust to the sudden drop in the chemical. Going through a medically supervised detox helps make the experience as safe and comfortable as possible.
The symptoms of heroin withdrawal can be quite severe. During heroin detoxification, medications are used to ease the cravings and the extreme symptoms that frequently cause people to relapse. Withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe muscle and bone pain
- Sleep disturbances
The medication used in heroin addiction treatment works through the same brain receptors as the drug but are safer and unlikely to bring on the same negative behaviors seen in substance use disorder. The medications are selected based on the specific patient’s needs and other factors. There are three types of medications that are used:
- Agonists—These drugs activate the opioid receptors in the brain. One slow-acting agonist is methadone. Methadone is dispensed daily and is only available through outpatient treatment programs.
- Partial agonists—Partial agonists also activate the opioid receptors but cause a limited, or partial, response. Buprenorphine is one that relieves the cravings without the possible side effects of an agonist.
- Antagonists—These medications block the receptor, preventing the reward effect of heroin. Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist.
There are a lot of behavioral therapies effective that are effective when it comes to heroin addiction treatment. Behavioral therapies are the hard work of recovery. Because of this, they are important components in residential (inpatient) or outpatient treatment. Common behavioral therapies include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)—This therapy is meant to help the patient adjust their expectations and behavior as it relates to their drug use. It aids in developing skills in coping with stress, a major cause of relapse.
- Contingency Management (CM)—CM uses a voucher or reward system in which patients can earn points based on attendance in groups, clean drug tests, and the like. Points earned can be used for things that encourage healthy living like dinner in a local restaurant or a gym membership.
- Individual and Group Therapy—During these sessions, individuals work with a counselor (and a group in the case of group therapy) to recognize their triggers. This might include discussing any issues that cause emotional pain.
A common complication of recovery is the possibility of relapse. Some heroin addiction treatment professionals consider relapse to be just a stop on the way to lifelong recovery and abstinence. In fact, rates of relapse are between 40-60%.
So, a relapse doesn’t mean the treatment failed or that you failed. It simply means that your treatment may need to be reevaluated and adjusted like any other chronic disease that relapses.
Lifelong Recovery Is Possible
Addiction to heroin is a serious condition but yes, recovery is possible. There is help if you want it.
In case you’re concerned about someone close to you, it’s possible to have a successful recovery even when the addicted person doesn’t really want to go for treatment. It isn’t necessary to “hit bottom.” The scientific evidence is in and it shows that the combination of medical and therapy-based treatments can give anyone a chance to recover a healthy drug-free life.
Where Can You Get Care in Florida?
Florida Center for Recovery (FCR) is a private addiction treatment center that provides all-inclusive heroin detox and inpatient heroin addiction treatment for male and female clients age 18 and older. Our heroin addiction treatment programs were founded on the belief of treating the body, mind, and spirit, utilizing a blend of evidence-based practices, traditional therapies, and holistic alternative therapies.
Heroin addiction treatment is delivered by experienced licensed addiction treatment professionals and all therapeutic interventions are completely individualized to address each client’s needs. In addition, our heroin addiction treatment program offers specialized treatment for individuals who are experiencing the emotional effects of trauma and being pregnant.
If you want to learn more about Florida Center for Recovery and the different addiction treatment services that we offer, contact us now. We’re looking forward to seeing you.