The number of people receiving heroin addiction treatment in America is rising at a rapid rate, exacerbated by over-availability of prescription opioids. Opioids are synthetic versions of heroin that are used in medications to legitimately treat chronic pain conditions but the risks of dependence and addiction are exceptionally high with these kinds of drugs. When physicians refuse to increase doses of prescription painkillers to counter their patient’s building tolerance to the drugs, people may turn to heroin as a cheaper and more available alternative.
Addiction is a relapsing illness which means people can return to substance abuse at any time even years after completing a course of heroin treatment medication. One of the main characteristics of the illness is that the person will continue to abuse substances despite the negative impact on all areas of their lives. The additional problem we currently face is that many people addicted to heroin are also trying to manage pain for serious health conditions. That said, there are numerous heroin addiction treatment routes available that offer help for people with heroin addiction issues.
Heroin Abuse by the Numbers
In 2016, the number of people dying from drug overdoses in the US jumped from 52,000 the previous year to a staggering 64,000 people, representing a 23% increase. Of this number around 50,000 peoples’ deaths were linked to opiate abuse.
It is a rather sinister fact that runaway prescription opioid abuse is behind the astonishing rise of drug-related overdose deaths. Nevertheless, around 30% of opiate overdose fatalities are linked to heroin which means a staggering 70% of drug-related deaths are as a consequence of prescription drug misuse and abuse.
According to stats from heroin addiction treatment centers in America, around 626,000 individuals aged 12 or over were suffering from a heroin use disorder in 2016. This figure is likely to have increased significantly over the past two years.
Methods of Heroin Use
People who use heroin generally take the drug by injection, snorting or smoking. Each method has its own risks.
Injection: Individuals seeking a quick burst of euphoria usually inject heroin intravenously. Heroin comes in different forms; a pure white powder version of the drug and an impure black tar form. Whereas the powder form of the drug can be used in a variety of ways, the sticky black tar version is usually injected after being diluted in liquid. Injection is the preferred method of taking heroin as it is the most direct way of getting the drug into the bloodstream so that it can start to work on altering brain chemistry to create euphoric effects.
Snorting: Because snorting white powder heroin takes slightly longer to get the effects than via injection, many people falsely believe it is somehow less addictive when used in this way. On the contrary, the way heroin is taking has no bearing on how addictive the substance is and no matter how it is consumed it has equal potency.
Smoking: Inhaling smoke that’s produced by heating heroin is very fast-acting although it puts users at risk of developing issues with their lungs. If someone has an existing respiratory problem such as asthma, using heroin can exacerbate the issue further. Because many of the impurities in heroin are often toxic, smoking the drug carries a significant and unknown risk which can sometimes prove fatal.
Speedballing: An increasing practice among heroin users is to combine the substance with cocaine which accelerates and heightens the euphoric sensations created. This is known as speedballing and is incredibly dangerous. If an individual is speedballing, they are without a doubt in need of heroin addiction treatment as a matter of urgency.
Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Abuse
The physical symptoms of heroin use and abuse include:
- Sluggishness and an overwhelming urge to sleep
- Slurred or slowed speech which can be difficult to understand
- Nausea and vomiting
- Reduced heart rate and lowered blood pressure
- A chronic cough (for those using the smoking method)
- Dilated pupils and sensitivity to light
- Sudden and often dramatic weight loss
- Track marks on the arms from injecting the substance
The most common mental and emotional symptoms of heroin abuse include the following:
- Confusion and short-term memory loss
- Poor decision-making and impulsive behavior
- An inability to think clearly and slowed reactions
- Paranoia, anxiety, and depression
- Extreme mood swings
- Hallucinations, disassociation, and delusions
Behavioral symptoms of heroin abuse also apply to other substances and include:
- Progressively increasing use as tolerance develops
- Becoming socially withdrawn and secretive
- Lying, denying and avoiding the truth
- Unusual sleeping habits and frequent unexplained disappearances
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that previously engaged them
- Declining performance at work or school and avoidance of responsibilities at home
- Becoming aggressive when confronted on their heroin use and blaming others for their behavior
- Getting involved in criminal activity such as stealing or driving under the influence of heroin
Although the future can seem to be very bleak for a person who is struggling to cope with heroin addiction, many thousands of people continue to turn their lives around as a result of inpatient or outpatient heroin addiction treatment. Choosing the right facility with a range of services appealing to the individual is really important as a vital next step once they have decided to seek help. Fortunately, there are around 15,000 rehab centers across America ready and waiting to help anyone struggling with substance abuse to find their own path to recovery.