Many people have the idea that hard narcotics make you excitable and uncontrollable, giving you feelings of power and invincibility. That’s certainly true of stimulants like cocaine and ecstasy, but some controlled substances have exactly the opposite effects.

These drugs, called depressants, make you incredibly sleepy and lethargic. However, there’s nothing relaxing about depressants like heroin, which take a crippling toll on the mind and body and can plunge a user into a full-blown drug addiction – but recovery is possible with heroin addiction treatment.

About heroin

First, what is heroin? The Australian Drug Foundation explains that, as a depressant, heroin slows down the exchange of information between the body and the brain (hence, the lethargy). Heroin is derived from a class of drugs (known as opiates) that grow naturally, but heroin is specially processed to make it stronger and more addictive, making it the most abusive and fast-acting of all opiates.

Heroin typically looks like a white powder, but it also comes in the form of sticky, black tar. As a powder, heroin is snorted, smoked or consumed orally, but the powder can be heated and dissolved into a liquid form for intravenous injection. This latter form of delivery causes instant, more powerful highs than snorting or smoking it, making it much more addictive than the other forms. For this reason, injection is also the most common way addicts overdose on heroin, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Common materials used for this process include spoons, syringes and belt straps (to help locate a vein in which to inject the heroin).

The human body naturally produces chemicals like opiates (called endorphins) to settle the body in the event of a stressful, frightening, or painful situation. Heroin not only mimics these endorphins, says PBS in a Frontline report, it completely suppresses and replaces them. Thus, while people who enjoy a good scare or a good workout feel normal after the experience passes, someone who takes a hit of heroin feels the euphoric rush for long beyond a normal duration. The sensation of a heroin hit is also much more powerful than what the human body can create with its own opiates.That is what makes heroin so addictive; once it creates that positive association in the brain, it conditions users to leave behind their regular pursuits of excitement and seek out stronger, more intense sources. There are no immediate withdrawal symptoms and there is no immediate addiction, so users are beguiled into thinking that they can use heroin without developing any of the negative effects they hear about.But because a single snort of heroin produces deeper sensations than the thrills and rushes from legitimate activities, users are drawn back again and again. As one use turns into two, and one night of using heroin turns into using it for a few days, and then a few weeks, the user’s brain becomes so dependent on heroin that it becomes nearly impossible to stop without professional help. After a few weeks of what seemed to be harmless usage, the cramping, shivering nausea of withdrawal kicks in, and the only way to alleviate the symptoms is another snort of heroin.
In a story entitled “How Heroin Kills You,” CNN explains that heroin is one of the number one killers of people who abuse illegal drugs.

Despite the well-publicized dangers of heroin abuse (including a long list of entertainers who died after a heroin abuse), statistics of heroin use indicate that the drug remains as popular as ever. In 2011, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated that 4.2 million Americans over the age of 11 had tried heroin at least once; and of that 4.2 million, 23 percent of them would go on to develop an addiction. The NIDA also said that heroin abuse is one of the most significant drug issues facing the United States today. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that there were 669,000 heroin users in America in 2012.

In February 2014, TIME magazine ran a story warning that “a boom in supply and a decline in cost” is spreading heroin to more and more areas of the United States, including those that are not typically associated with heroin use, like suburban and rural locales.

In a story about the “sharp increase in deadly heroin overdose,” the New York Daily News quotes figures from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on the number of fatalities as a result of heroin overdoses: 45 percent from 2006 to 2010, with 3,308 such cases that year.

drug syringe and heroin

How exactly are heroin overdoses deadly to users? A study done for the American Journal of Medicine found that heroin overdoses accounted for pulmonary edemas in 48 percent of the study population, pneumonia in 30 percent, cardiac arrhythmias (where the electrical activity of the heart is faster than normal, slower than normal, or otherwise irregular) in 4 percent, and death in 8.7 percent.

As mentioned above, heroin works by slowing down communication between the brain and the rest of the body. While this induces a powerfully sleepy and relaxed state, too much heroin can actually cause the respiratory system to shut down. Effectively, heroin puts the user’s mind and body under such a spell that a function as basic and vital as breathing becomes difficult.

Similarly, a heroin overdose can lower the blood pressure so much that the heart fails (the cardiac arrhythmias mentioned above). Also in regard to the heart, a study in the Journal of Heart Valve Disease showed that addicts who take heroin intravenously are “300 times more likely to die suddenly” from infectious endocarditis, an inflammation of the inner tissue of the heart, than people who do not take heroin intravenously.

Spotting the signs of a heroin addiction

Given heroin’s potency, addicts display distinct symptoms of usage that can serve as warnings to loved ones. The most common of those signs are:

  • Initial sensations of euphoria, self-confidence, and general well-being
  • Crashing down with fatigue and drowsiness
  • Breathing trouble
  • Reddened skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dry mouth

When the primary effects of the heroin wear off, or the user goes without it for a while, the withdrawal effects kick in:

  • Erratic and increased heart rate
  • Cold sweats
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Abdominal and muscular cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures

If someone you know is exhibiting any combination of these signs, there’s a chance they may be using heroin.

How to get a loved one into rehab

Telling someone that they have made bad decisions, are in over their heads, are in danger of ostracizing or killing themselves, and that they need help before it’s too late, is not an easy conversation to have – but it is a necessary one to save their life and relationships.

For that reason, a proper intervention is an effective way of bringing the ugliness of a heroin addiction to light. When confronted by uncompromising but caring stories of how the addiction has ruined relationships, and when warned that continued heroin use will result in severed ties, an addict will often have no room for denial and no place to run. The Mayo Clinic suggests using a professional interventionist and laying out a careful treatment plan in advance in order to convince someone you know that they have a problem that needs help.

Heroin treatment and therapy options

Like any substance abuse problem, there are two components to treating a heroin addiction. The first involves weaning the user off the physical need for heroin, a process known as detoxification. After weeks of usage, their body gets so dependent on heroin that simply cutting off their supply would do more harm than good (in the form of withdrawal effects that, at their most severe, can cause seizures).doctor and patientFor that reason, treatment facilities use anti-anxiety drugs like methadone and buprenorphine to reduce the effects of not taking heroin, while acclimatizing users to being free of the opiate. The National Institute of Drug Abuse points out that, beyond reducing drug use in patients, carefully prescribed detoxification medicine decreases criminal activity by three times among patients who are released from prison and enroll in treatment program.

Once detox is complete and the addict no longer has a physical craving for heroin, the next phase of treatment can begin. The psychotherapeutic phase often deals with teaching patients a number of things about themselves: the psychological factors that drove them to their heroin habit; understanding how to control the thoughts or behaviors that may have once led to the craving for a hit; and how to maintain their sobriety outside of the treatment program, where they might experience the same stressors and triggers that once caused them to seek refuge in heroin.

Therapy involves dealing with mental causes behind the addiction. Through various therapeutic exercises and programs, the patient will learn what psychological factors drove him to heroin addiction and will understand how to control – and importantly, change – the thoughts or behaviors that may have once led to taking a hit. This form of treatment is known as cognitive behavioral therapy, and it is widely used for its effectiveness in reducing relapse rates and depression.

For example, a 2009 study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that 79 percent of patients who received cognitive behavioral therapy showed rates of “substance-use reduction” that were above the average rates of patients who received no such therapy.

Getting heroin addiction treatment

A heroin addiction doesn’t have to be the end of the line. Despite how deeply this addiction sinks its claws into a user, it is never too late to get proper care and treatment. At The Recovery Village, we know how crippling a heroin addiction can be, and that’s why we want to help you, or someone you know. We can give you the information you’re looking for, whether it’s on how to get treatment for yourself, or how to talk to a loved one who you fear may be using or in denial. We are standing by to take your call and talk with you about heroin addiction treatment. We offer drug rehab and detox services that can help. Call now.

Heroin Addiction Treatment was last modified: October 31st, 2016 by The Recovery Village