Heroin is a powerful substance originating from morphine, which is derived from extracts from opium poppy plants. The drug is illegal and so it is generally manufactured in illicit labs and users inject, inhale snort or smoke it. Despite its somewhat sordid reputation, more people are becoming addicted to heroin than ever before, many progressing from prescription opiates after developing dependency.
The way heroin works is by forcing changes in the brain and prolonged use can lead to opioid use disorder, which requires treatment in a heroin rehab center. A person’s behavior is affected significantly by opioid abuse, whether in prescription form or as heroin bought illegally, which can be extremely distressing for those close to them. Heroin addiction treatment is a powerful tool in rebuilding families and finding healing for the sufferer for a more unified recovery for everybody involved.
What Causes Heroin and Opioid Addiction?
The pleasurable sensations created when someone takes heroin are extremely intense. This is mainly because opioids have been used as pain relief for centuries. The way opioids relieve pain is by flooding the body with dopamine which effectively “distracts” the brain’s pain receptors so that the person is no longer aware of their pain. This makes heroin and other opioid-based drugs extremely compelling for users, even if they have no pain to manage and because the effects of heroin are temporary, they often want to repeat the experience.
However, someone who uses heroin over time becomes tolerant to its effects. The body no longer produces dopamine at the same intense rate as the early days of use and so more is needed to achieve the same good feeling. If someone has been prescribed opioid-based painkillers and needs to manage their symptoms, developing a tolerance can lead to them seeking out heroin to counter the reduced effectiveness of their medications.
Who’s at Risk?
Not everyone who has been prescribed legal opioids will develop dependence or addiction. However, there is a growing demographic of people who are unable to stop using opioids or heroin. Addiction is an illness that can affect anyone from any walk of life although people taking opioids are at a higher risk than those who do not.
Although it is impossible to say exactly who is at risk from heroin use disorder, there are some factors that increase the likelihood, including:
- A family history of dependence and addiction to substances
- Heavy tobacco smoking
- Presence of a mental illness like depression or anxiety
- Exposure to high-risk environments and people
- A track record or risky behavior
What Are the Symptoms of Opioid Addiction?
People who are abusing opioids or heroin generally go to some lengths to conceal their problem. This can make it hard for others to see the signs of opioid use disorder. However, the longer someone uses the drug, the harder it becomes for them to hide substance abuse and the following signs and symptoms may emerge:
- Drowsiness and lethargy
- Agitation and irritability
- Slurred and at times incoherent speech
- Depression and anxiety
- “Track lines” or needle marks if injecting heroin
- A persistently runny nose and nosebleeds if inhaling or snorting
- Memory problems
- Reduced sense of pain
Other signs of heroin use can include:
- A noticeable decline in personal hygiene and changes in appearance
- Uncharacteristic behavior such as intense secrecy or aggression
- Financial problems or needing more money than usual without any apparent reason
- Poor attendance at school or work and unreliability
- Risk-taking and dangerous behavior such as sharing needles or casual sexual encounters
Ultimately, one of the main hallmarks of addiction is that the person is unable to stop using a particular substance. This is often in the face of extreme difficulties in their personal lives and despite several attempts to quit.
How Is Heroin or Opioid Addiction Diagnosed?
Thorough examination and evaluation of an individual by a psychologist, psychiatrist or licensed drug counselor is required to provide an accurate diagnosis of addiction. Patients will also undergo a variety of tests including blood or urine, together with a clinical interview to establish their specific medical requirements. Every individual is different and many people with addiction are also suffering from a mental health condition, known as dual-diagnosis. Establishing the exact nature of addiction illness is essential in devising the most appropriate and effective heroin addiction treatment program in a heroin rehab center for each patient.
How Is Addiction Treated?
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to opioid addiction treatment. However, there are highly effective treatments that can help people through detox and rehab and into a healthy drug-free life. The kind of treatment most appropriate for the individual depends on the following:
- The personality of the individual
- The substance involved
- Whether they are a dual-diagnosis patient with coexisting medical or mental health conditions
There are three main treatment approaches for opioid use disorder: medical, behavioral and holistic.
Detoxing from an opioid as powerful as heroin when a person has a physical addiction to the substance can cause distressing symptoms in detox which need to be managed with heroin treatment medication include:
- Persistent nausea
- Vomiting and dehydration
- Pain in the joints
Medical supervision is always recommended when an individual has taken the important decision to stop using. Supervised detox allows patients to have their symptoms managed proactively, as and when they emerge. Full supervision also ensures withdrawal symptoms don’t escalate into serious medical complications, which is a risk for people with opioid use disorder.
Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is one of the most commonly-used treatments for heroin addiction. This addresses the root causes of substance abuse and encourages the patient to explore the negative thought processes and behaviors driving their heroin use. This allows the CBT therapist and patient to work together to adapt the way the individual thinks and acts in order to make way for more positive and healthy behaviors.
Behavioral treatment can be delivered in either an inpatient or outpatient setting and generally includes contingency management, individual and group therapy. This kind of therapy helps individuals to:
- Identify what is triggering their drug use
- Build effective coping skills to manage cravings
- Develop ways of dealing positively with relapse
- Recognize the issues that have the potential to cause emotional discomfort
Holistic Therapies and Treatments
Many heroin treatment centers offer holistic or complementary therapies, which have been shown to be highly effective in healing individuals with opioid use disorder. Holistic therapies work by treating the person as a whole in terms of mind, body, and spirit, which are each negatively affected by substance abuse. There is a wide variety of holistic treatments available for addiction including the following:
- Mindfulness practices such as meditation
- Experiential therapies including adventure therapy
- Yoga and deep breathing
- Acupuncture, Aromatherapy and holistic massage
The holistic approach to addiction is considered to be extremely effective when used in combination with other evidence-based therapies, such as CBT. Practices such as meditation and deep-breathing exercises can also be used as coping mechanisms in recovery.