Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid derived from morphine. This substance occurs naturally in the seed pods of various opium poppy plants.
Smoked, snorted, or injected, heroin can come as a white or brown powder, or it can be black and sticky (Mexican tar heroin).
Entering the brain quickly and binding to your opioid receptors, heroin is strongly habit-forming. Heroin addiction is an issue for over 600,000 Americans, according to the 2016 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health).
Heroin Addiction: Signs and Symptoms
After injecting heroin, the physical effects kick in almost instantaneously. An intense euphoria bathes users within seconds.
Smoking the drug doesn’t produce such strong effects as it takes longer to reach the brain than when injected intravenously.
If you suspect a loved one is using this debilitating drug, here are some of the most common signs of heroin addiction:
- Suddenly nodding off
- Continually dry mouth
- Constricted pupils
- Loss of self-control
- Nausea and vomiting
- Ongoing constipation
- Slowed breathing
- Poor personal hygiene
- Neglected responsibilities
- Track marks on arms
- Itching the skin constantly
- Confusion and disorientation
- Impaired decision-making
- Memory loss
- Dramatic and unintentional weight loss
- Runny nose and watering eyes
- Lethargy and extreme exhaustion
- Persistent flu-like symptoms
- Bruising and scabbing of the skin
- Shattered sleep patterns
- Damage to the liver and kidneys
- Hepatitis C
How To Identify Heroin Addiction
Although the drug is fiercely addictive, identifying a heroin addiction is not always initially straightforward. As the drug starts to consume more and more of the user’s life, though, it becomes easier to pinpoint.
The primary physical marker to watch out for is someone suddenly starting to wear long sleeves, even when it’s really hot. Injecting heroin leaves needle marks, commonly known as track marks. Many heroin addicts go out of their way to hide these scars.
As heroin use makes relating to friends and family awkward, heroin users frequently start withdrawing and isolating themselves. Look out for any changes in routine along these lines.
A general lack of attention to personal hygiene is a typical red flag for some form of drug addiction, especially when it’s completely out of character.
You can of course also identify a heroin addiction from the presence of obvious drug paraphernalia.
Now you have an overview of some of the common signs and symptoms of heroin addiction, we’ll explore some options at your disposal for heroin addiction treatment.
Heroin Addiction Treatment Options
Using heroin causes tolerance to build quite quickly. This means you’ll require increasingly more of the drug to achieve the same effects. Continuing to abuse heroin will almost certainly lead to addiction, ravaging both your physical and mental health.
As with all opioids and opiates, quitting heroin without assistance can be challenging. When you discontinue use, you’ll experience adverse withdrawal symptoms. From nausea and cramps through to severe cravings for heroin, even someone committed to giving up can easily relapse outside the proper professional and medical framework. Relapse perpetuates the vicious cycle of heroin addiction.
What is the best treatment for heroin addiction, then?
Well, there are many effective treatment options for heroin use disorder. These include pharmacological interventions (medication) or behavioral interventions (therapy).
Both of these approaches to treating heroin addiction help to recalibrate brain function along with behavior. Each type of treatment can work in isolation, but when the two modalities are combined, results are improved.
It is scientifically proven that the use of pharmacological treatment for opioid use disorder improves retention in rehab programs, while at the same time decreasing drug use. Importantly, MAT (medication-assisted treatment) can also help cut down on the transmission of infectious diseases and criminal activity.
After someone stops using heroin, the painful withdrawal symptoms can be eased using FDA-approved medications. Lofexidine is a non-opioid medication ideal for alleviating the symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
The medications intended to treat opioid use disorders harness the same opioid receptors in your brain as heroin does, but they are safer, and also less likely to trigger the harmful behaviors characterizing substance use disorder.
There are three main types of medications used for this purpose:
- Opioid agonists: These activate your opioid receptors
- Partial opioid agonists: These activate your opioid receptors, but to a lesser degree
- Opioid antagonists: These block opioid receptors and the euphoric effects of opioids
Here are some examples of these medications:
- Methadone: Methadone falls in the first category above. Taken orally, the medication takes some time to reach your brain. This dilutes any high that occurs with other routes of delivery such as injection. Used since the 1960s to effectively treat heroin use disorder, you can only get methadone via an approved outpatient program. The medication is dispensed daily.
- Buprenorphine: A partial opioid agonist, buprenorphine helps to stave off the intensity of cravings. Sold as Suboxone, this medication contains buprenorphine along with naloxone in a special formulation. If a user attempts to take heroin, they would experience withdrawal symptoms due to the naloxone. Approved by the FDA in 2002, buprenorphine is widely accessible, unlike methadone. The medication is now available in generic form. It is also available as a monthly injection, or as a six-monthly implant. This completely removes the obstacle of daily dosing.
- Naltrexone: Marketed as Vivitrol, naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids. Neither sedating nor addictive, naltrexone doesn’t result in physical dependence either. That said, compliance with treatment is often problematic, reducing its effectiveness. This might be mitigated somewhat with the FDA-approved monthly formulation.
Behavioral therapies for heroin use disorder can be applied in both inpatient and outpatient settings.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management are proven effective, especially if medications are also used.
With CBT, you’ll learn to identify the people, places, and things that trigger you to use heroin. You’ll discover how to counter cravings using healthier coping strategies.
Contingency management operates on a voucher-based system that incentivizes positive behaviors and negative drug tests.
Is Withdrawing From Heroin Dangerous?
If you feel a loved one is using heroin, it’s inadvisable to stand by without at least attempting to guide them toward the right treatment. A heroin addiction will worsen if left untreated with potentially deadly consequences.
The long-term abuse of heroin damages organs throughout the body. Liver, kidney, and heart disease are all commonplace among long-term heroin users. Heroin use also compromises the immune system and leads to frequent and persistent infections.
Heroin is cut with a range of additives that can clog your blood vessels, veins, and arteries. Strokes, heart attacks, and permanent organ damage can follow.
Street heroin is routinely cut with fentanyl and other potentially lethal substances, so users have no idea what they’re really putting into their bodies.
Heroin Addiction Treatment at Renaissance Recovery Center
If you need heroin addiction help, here at Renaissance Recovery, we can help you however severe your opioid use disorder.
We’ll use the treatment options outlined above personalized to your circumstances and the extent of your heroin addiction. Giving up won’t be easy, but we’ll make it as comfortable as possible and you’ll gain all the tools you need for lifelong sobriety.
To get things started, call the admissions team right now at 866.330.9449.