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Heroin and ways to heal in Recovery

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Heroin addiction disrupts families, workplaces, and schools across the US and causes billions of dollars in damages each year. Beyond the financial cost of heroin addiction, the drug also wreaks havoc on these environments.

Today, we’ll be looking at this highly addictive drug and exploring some of the best methods for heroin abuse treatment.

Before anything else, we need to investigate the basics of this powerful drug to better understand the vice-like grip it exerts on users.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is an illegal drug produced from morphine. This substance occurs naturally in the seed pods of opium poppies.

Pure heroin is a white powder that tastes bitter. Street level heroin is often off-white or brown in color.

Most heroin sold on the streets of America comes from South America or Southeast Asia. There’s also a robust market in the US for Mexican black tar heroin, particularly in the western states. This comes in the form of a sticky black paste that’s the result of the impurities left behind after crude processing.

As an opioid, heroin is strongly habit-forming. In addition to this potential for abuse, heroin addiction brings about medical and social consequences.

Heroin users are more prone to contracting HIV/AIDS, and they’re also more likely to get hepatitis. Heroin addiction often goes hand-in-glove with crime and violence.

Heroin addiction also impacts the next generation, both directly through fetal issues, and indirectly as children witness their parents’ lives unravelling as they plunge deeper into heroin addiction.

Why Are More People Using Heroin in 2021?

Well, the good news is that the overall number of heroin users in the US is actually falling. In the 2015 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), there were 948,000 heroin users in the United States. The number of users had been consistently increasing since 2007.

Reported heroin use had fallen to 886,000 Americans by 2017, and just 808,000 in 2018, according to the same source.

In spite of this positive trend, the number of deaths by overdose involving heroin is still over 7 times higher than in 1999. Almost one-third of all opioid deaths involve heroin. The more people we can get into heroin rehab the better.

Many new users come to heroin after first using opioid painkillers. This is one of the many unfortunate by-products of the opioid epidemic. Often, patient unable to refill prescriptions end up buying street heroin as an alternative before potentially ending up in a heroin addiction treatment center.

How Is Heroin Used?

Some people smoke heroin. This is known as chasing the dragon. You can also snort purer forms of heroin. For many new heroin users, smoking or snorting the drug removes the stigma attached to injecting heroin.

Most users choose to inject the drug intravenously for the quickest and most intense hit. This is called mainlining. Heroin injected into the bloodstream takes effect almost instantly. Injecting the drug is also the most dangerous way of using it. Not only is it easier to overdose, but you also run the risk of catching diseases like HIV or hepatitis if you share needles with other users.

Regardless of the delivery method, heroin hit the brain quickly. It’s also strongly addictive.

Immediately after taking heroin, you’ll experience a surge of euphoria and happiness. Over the following few hours, the world will feel like it’s slowing down. Your thought processes slow down, and you’re likely to walk slowly. Many users describe the state as dream-like.

How Does Heroin Work?

Heroin is an opioid and it works by activating the opioid receptors in your brain. Your body produces chemicals called neurotransmitters capable of binding to these receptors. The way this occurs controls the way you feel pain and well-being. 

If the mu-opioid receptors – MORs – in the brain are activated, dopamine is released. Heroin activates these receptors to varying degrees depending on how much is used, the purity, and the method of delivery.

Now, what can you expect from using heroin?

Heroin: Short-Term and Long-Term Effects

As an opioid,  and the central nervous system.

Opioids alter the levels of neurochemical activity in your brain stem. It’s here that standard core functions like breathing and heart rate are regulated.

Taking an opioid like heroin enhances feelings of pleasure and blocks pain.

The drug brings about a laundry list of side effects, both short-term and long-term.

Short-Term Effects of Heroin

Regardless of the method of delivery, heroin induces an immediate surge of euphoria. 

You can also expect the following short-term effects:

  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy arms and legs
  • Flushed skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Impaired mental function
  • Nodding out (slipping in and out of consciousness)

Long-Term Effects of Heroin

Using heroin long-term is inadvisable and can bring about many severe side effects, including:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Abscesses
  • Damage to the septum and nasal tissue
  • Constipation
  • Infected heart lining
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Lung disease
  • Insomnia
  • Pneumonia
  • Mental disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction in males
  • Stomach cramps 

Using heroin long-term also puts you at heightened risk of contracting hepatitis C (HCV) and HIV/AIDS, especially if you are injecting the drug. These diseases stem from contact with contaminated bodily fluids or blood. This can result from sharing drug paraphernalia, or from unprotected sex while under the influence of heroin. 


What Causes Heroin Addiction?

As an opioid, heroin is strongly addictive. It binds to the opioid receptors in your brain triggering a release of dopamine. This is only a temporary change, though, and leaves most users craving more of the same. 

When you use heroin habitually over the long-term, your brain stops producing dopamine like it used to. You’ll then be compelled to take more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect.

Many users arrive at heroin via prescription opioid painkillers. These legal drugs work in a similar way to heroin. Sometimes, if the person is unable to obtain their prescribed medication, they turn to heroin to meet the gap. This is not to say that everyone taking prescription painkillers will become addicted or move onto heroin. For some, though, this is a clear and present danger.

How can you tell, then, if heroin use is turning into dependence and addiction?

Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

In the early stages of opioid use disorder, the user may not reveal any particular signs or symptoms of drug addiction.

Even if the person is expertly hiding their growing habit, when heroin use becomes habitual, it’s hard to miss the warning signs. Some of these red flags for heroin addiction include:

  • Agitation
  • Drowsiness
  • Constricted pupils
  • Depression
  • Slurred speech
  • Track marks from needles
  • Memory problems
  • Runny nose or sore nose sore
  • Reduced sense of pain
  • Constipation

There are also some other common signs pointing to drug abuse:

  • Changes in appearance
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Money issues
  • Changes in behavior, such as secrecy or aggression
  • Risky behavior 

If a loved one is using heroin, recognizes that they have a problem, and still continues using the drug despite many negative consequences, this is normal. Don’t give up on your loved one. Instead, use this as an early opportunity to discuss the merits of finding the right heroin addiction center to get them back on track.

Heroin Overdose

In addition to the raft of side effects, short-term and long-term, that accompany heroin addiction, anyone using the drug also runs the risk of overdose. Heroin overdose can be fatal if untreated. 

When taken in large doses, heroin depresses your breathing and heart rate so much that you’ll need medical intervention to survive. The same occurs if heroin has been cut with fentanyl.

The most effective way of reversing the effects of an opioid overdose is to use Naloxone. This medication is an opioid antagonist that binds quickly to opioid receptors and stops heroin from activating these receptors.

Naloxone is typically injected by qualified medical professionals.

In 2014, though, the FDA approved an auto-pen (Evzio), and the following year a nasal spray (Narcan) giving you more options if you have a loved one using heroin. Both Evzio and Narcan can be administered by family members.

You should always call for immediate medical assistance if you suspect a heroin overdose.

Now, while heroin is a powerfully addictive drug, making a meaningful recovery is perfectly possible. You’ll need more than just willpower, though, and there’s no substitute for a formal heroin treatment program personalized to meet your needs head-on.

We’ll look next at what you can expect from heroin rehab so you know what you or a loved one addicted to heroin can expect.

Heroin Treatment: The Best Methods of Recovery

Most scientific research currently available suggests that treating opioid use disorder in general and heroin addiction specifically using medication carries some benefits while also reducing the dangers of heroin withdrawal.

In heroin treatment programs where medication is used alongside psychotherapy, retention rates improve. At the same time, seeking out drugs, engaging in criminal activity, and the transmission of infectious diseases are all reduced when pharmacological treatment is delivered.

Detoxing and withdrawing from a serious heroin habit is challenging and brings with it a host of side effects. Many of these withdrawal symptoms can be soothed with the right medication. Drugs to stop vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea can all ease your path through the early days of recovery when everything seems like an uphill struggle. Sleeping tablets can ensure you get the rest you need. Antidepressants can be effective if you have a cooccurring disorder in the form of an underlying mental health condition. Non-opioids can be used to mitigate some withdrawal symptoms.

Aside from these common medications, heroin addiction can be tackled head on with several medications. We’ll dive deeper into those now before outlining your best options for heroin rehab in Orange County.

Most Common Medications for Heroin Addiction

The medications utilized when dealing with OUD target the same opioid receptors in the brain that heroin works on. They can achieve the same result without the damaging effects of heroin, though. 

These medications fall into 3 main families:

  • Antagonists: Block your opioid receptors and obstruct the rewarding effects
  • Agonists: Activate your opioid receptors fully
  • Partial agonists: Activate your opioid receptors mildly

The type of medication used will vary depending on your needs.

The most frequently used medications are as follows:

  • Methadone: This slow-acting opioid agonist is taken orally. The super-slow delivery reduces any high. This medication has been used to treat heroin dependence since the 1960s. Methadone often works where other medications have failed. Methadone is always delivered in a controlled medical setting.
  • Buprenorphine: This partial opioid agonist serves to reduce the cravings of heroin withdrawal, but you don’t experience the high triggered by heroin. This is due to the naloxone in the buprenorphine. This medication was approved by the FDA back in 2002. A generic version gained FDA approval in 2013, which further improved access to the drug.
  • Naltrexone: This opioid antagonist blocks the action of opioids. Naltrexone is not addictive and it has no sedative properties. The injectable is FDA-approved and you now only need injections once a month.


Behavioral Therapies for Heroin Addiction

As should be clear by now, there are many treatments to streamline recovery from heroin addiction, and to maximize your chances of staying sober. 

Treatment programs can be delivered as an IOP (intensive outpatient program) or in a residential heroin rehab center. For most cases of heroin addiction, residential programs are better suited.

A combination of behavioral therapies like contingency management and CBT, and medication-assisted treatment is typically the most effective approach to conquering opioid use disorder.

The medications will be tailored to soothe symptoms of withdrawal from heroin.

CBT will help you to identify triggers for relapse while developing superior coping skills so you can resist the inevitable cravings you’ll experience to use heroin.

The rewards-based system of contingency management will encourage you to foster clean living habits with a demonstrable reward for achieving your goals.


Do you or a loved one need a heroin rehab center near you?

Whether you need some help with arranging an intervention for a heroin addict in your family, or you want some details on heroin rehab and what it involves, we’re here to help… 

Your first step on the path to heroin rehab is to contact our Orange County heroin addiction treatment center. You can initiate the admissions process online or over the phone.

The rehab coordinator will take down information from you, such as your name, medical history, mental health history, and drug use history. The coordinator will also ask you about your current situation, including what drugs you are using, how often, and how much. This will give them an idea about the severity of your situation.

Next, the coordinator will verify your insurance benefits by contacting your carrier for you. This usually helps expedite the process, and the rehab coordinator will know how to deal with the insurance provider to ensure you get the best coverage options. Insurance providers cannot deny you coverage outright, but they may not pay the entire part. The rehab coordinator will advise you about what part is covered under your plan.

Heroin Addiction Treatment Programs at Renaissance Recovery

Heroin is a hazardous drug with a high potential for addiction. If you or someone you care about are suffering from heroin addiction, admission into a heroin addiction treatment center in Orange County is the first step towards lasting heroin addiction recovery.

At Renaissance Recovery Center, we offer a range of addiction treatment programs and addiction therapy services in Orange County, CA. Upon your admission into our heroin addiction treatment center, the addiction treatment staff will conduct a mental health assessment to determine the unique underlying mental health conditions that contribute to your heroin addiction.

At our heroin addiction treatment center, you will learn valuable coping skills to avoid turning to heroin in times of distress, in addition to overcoming the physical symptoms of heroin addiction. 

Our addiction therapy services and heroin addiction treatment programs include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Holistic Therapy Program
  • Intensive Outpatient Rehab Program
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment Program
  • Mental Health Treatment
  • Outpatient Treatment Programs
  • Partial Hospitalization Program
  • Vocational Development Program

Life at a Heroin Addiction Treatment Center

Life at a heroin addiction treatment center consists of a structured schedule of daily addiction treatment programs and addiction therapies. This will help you develop the skills necessary to adjust to normal life after successful heroin addiction treatment. You’ll spend time with a certified professional therapist as well as in group therapy with peers determined to turn their life around by overcoming heroin addiction alongside you.

At Renaissance Recovery Center, our experienced therapists are ready to walk with you on this journey. Our goal is to get you to a healthy, happy future, and this starts at our heroin addiction treatment center in Orange County, CA.

For immediate help and effective, long-term heroin recovery, call us today at 866.330.9449. You don’t need to do this alone.866.330.9449

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Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country