In the wake of a nationwide opiate crisis, people today have more awareness of the dangers of heroin. This is why learning that a loved one has developed a heroin habit can be so devastating. While dependence on heroin is difficult to overcome, with treatment, commitment, and continuing care efforts it is possible for your loved one to break free from its grip and regain their life.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a powerful and highly addictive substance that is ingested by smoking, injecting or inhaling the drug. Heroin is derived from morphine, a byproduct of opium, which is found in the seedpod of the poppy flower. This particular type of poppy plant is indigenous to Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, Mexico and Columbia. Heroin is an illegal narcotic, a Schedule I controlled substance, as classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The effects of heroin are instantaneous, with an immediate rush of euphoria, deep relaxation, and sense of pleasure. In addition to these pleasant effects, some adverse short-term effects may include:
- Warm flushing of the skin
- Severe itching
- Slurred speech
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Severe itching
- Heavy limbs
- Clouded thinking
- Slowed heart rate
- Being in a state between conscious and semiconscious
The risk of an overdose increases if the heroin has unknowingly been cut with the deadly synthetic opioid, fentanyl. Fentanyl-tainted heroin supplies in recent years have caused tens of thousands of overdose deaths.
How Heroin Impacts the Brain
The brain has natural receptor sites for opiates like morphine, opium, and heroin. When an opiate binds to these receptors it can modify the body’s pain perception while also increasing levels of dopamine by ten times the normal level. Heroin causes the brain to release a flood of dopamine into the bloodstream, resulting in intense feelings of euphoria. The brain registers this pleasurable experience in the reward center and cues the individual to repeat it.
With ongoing heroin use, the brain pathways become altered. The brain eventually stops producing dopamine, becoming dependent on the heroin to do the job. As dependency takes hold, the individual is no longer able to experience pleasure naturally.
Once dependent on heroin, harsh withdrawal symptoms will emerge if the drug is not provided. The desire to avoid the highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms is what keeps someone captive to the continued heroin use.
Heroin Addiction Symptoms
The telltale signs your loved one may have a heroin addiction include:
- Malaise and fatigue
- Pinpoint pupils
- Collapsed veins in those who inject heroin
- Damaged nasal tissue from inhaling heroin
- Weight loss
- Stomach cramping
- Impotence in men
- Irregular menstrual cycles in women
- Infection in the lining of the heart and the heart valves
- Liver and kidney disease
- Symptoms of mental illness
Getting Help for a Heroin Addiction
Once your loved one has agreed to enter treatment, they will begin an extended stay at a residential treatment center where they’ll be guided through the early phases of the recovery journey. Treatment elements include:
- Heroin Withdrawal Management. The individual will undergo detox and withdrawal under the supervision of a medically trained detox team that provides medical interventions to help ease withdrawal symptoms.
- Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is a core intervention and is provided in individual therapy sessions, group therapy sessions, and family-focused sessions. Therapies commonly used include cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy.
- Medication Recovery Support. In many instances, medications are used as a way to step down from the heroin in early recovery. The medication allows the individual to stabilize in recovery by reducing cravings, thus the risk of relapse.
- Education. Addiction education teaches how heroin affects the brain by altering brain chemistry and functioning. The classes also emphasize relapse prevention strategies while equipping your loved one with essential recovery skills.
- Holistic activities. Utilizing holistic activities that promote relaxation and reduce stress will help the individual stay on track. These include deep breathing exercises, yoga, massage therapy, and mindfulness meditation.
As anyone who has attempted to stop using heroin on their own can attest, accepting help is the only true route to hope. Hope for a future. Hope for a fulfilling life. A treatment program dedicated to helping individuals overcome this incapacitating disease is the ticket to renewed hope.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.