As the most commonly abused illegal drug at the heart of America's opioid crisis, heroin can soon become lethal. In 2016, around 948,000 Americans reported using heroin during the last year. Although the number of high school students who take the drug has declined, the most common age category for heroin use is 18 to 25.
Although there was once a time when heroin use infiltrated only urban areas, it has become a commonly used drug in rural regions too. Heroin abuse sometimes follows opioid prescription drug abuse and is occasionally cut with lethal substances such as fentanyl.
Suspecting that someone you care about is suffering from a heroin addiction can feel devastating and scary. The drug has the power to destroy the addict's life, resulting in job losses, reduced academic attainment, and destroyed future prospects. For these reasons, it's important to understand the role that heroin addiction treatment can play in restoring a person's future. With the right medical support and ongoing therapies, you can help the person you care about to regain their life.
If you or someone you care about believe that heroin addiction treatment is necessary, the team here at Satori Recovery Center is here to help you learn more about it. This article is here to help you learn more about the drug itself, its effects, and how heroin addiction treatment works.
What is heroin?
Heroin is an illegal drug that originates from the seed pods of certain poppy plants. It isn't possible to make heroin from all poppy plants, so it's often imported from parts of South America or Afghanistan. In its purest form, it's like a white powder that the user can smoke or snort. However, most forms of heroin come in a black, tar-like substance. It looks like this due to the impurities that enter it while it's processed. Impure heroin is usually dissolved using liquids so it can be injected into the muscles or veins beneath the skin.
Heroin is classed as an opiate and its effects on the brain are profound. It induces a rush of endorphins and dopamine when the addict uses it, giving them pleasurable feelings that stem from their brain's reward center. These pleasurable feelings will far exceed anything they experience from normal, everyday events. Because of this, those who take heroin are often chasing the same high and so they'll repeatedly use it. This is how the addiction forms.
Substances that are frequently used to cut heroin
Like many illegal drugs, heroin doesn't always arrive in its purest form. In most cases, heroin has passed through several phases of the supply chain before reaching the user. It may have journeyed from South America and then sold several times over before it reaches the end dealer. To ensure they make money at each stage, those who buy and re-sell the heroin will mix it with other substances. This is called cutting the drug.
The substances dealers use to cut heroin vary. They can include:
- Fentanyl: as a potent drug used by anesthetists, fentanyl can easily lead to overdoses and is responsible for thousands of deaths among opiate addicts.
- Rat poison: this can act like a heroin adulterant that makes it feel more powerful than it is.
- Laundry detergent and talcum powder: both mimic the appearance of heroin and so they make it seem purer than it is while reducing costs for the dealer.
- Caffeine: This follows a trend that increases the euphoric rush someone may experience when taking heroin.
Looking at the list above, it may seem as though some substances are less dangerous than others. However, the medical community hasn't researched the effects of using laundry detergent, flour, and talcum powder as an injectable substance. They may clog inside the veins, which can increase a person's risk of stroke. Additionally, if they sheer the vein walls and cause damage to them, this triggers a cascade of events that also increases a person's stroke risk.
Can you become addicted to heroin the first time you use it?
Nobody becomes a heroin addict the first time they use it. However, the first time a person uses heroin is the gateway to an addiction forming.
Some people may use heroin for the first time and decide that they didn't enjoy the experience. Others may decide that they enjoyed it, but that they're not going to repeat it regularly. Many will experience a sense of relaxation and pleasure that comes with the drug and decide that it's preferable to have these feelings rather than enjoy everyday experiences. It's often the case that these people are struggling with other areas of their life. When they begin to rely too heavily on the escapism that comes with using heroin, steering away from it becomes almost impossible.
Heroin abuse statistics
It's difficult to appreciate the necessity of heroin addiction treatment without knowing more about some of the drug's key statistics:
- Around 3 in 4 heroin users report abusing prescription drugs before using heroin.
- In 2013, 9 in 10 people who reported using heroin also stated that they used at least one other drug.
- In 2015, 81,326 emergency department visits were made due to heroin use.
- In 2016, 170,000 people started using heroin for the first time.
- Heroin use is rising rapidly among 18 to 25-year-olds.
Why do people use heroin?
When you consider the dangers that come with using heroin, it's normal to wonder why someone may want to take the drug. However, if you're going to support someone through their heroin addiction treatment, learning more about it is essential.
Some of the reasons a person may choose to use heroin include:
- It helps them to feel relaxed and sleepy
- They enjoy the dopamine and endorphin release that comes with it
- It provides them with a temporary escape from life's problems
- Continuing to use it prevents them from experiencing the side-effects of withdrawal
- It can provide short-term relief from conditions such as anxiety and depression
How is heroin taken?
It's possible to take heroin using a range of modalities, including:
- Intravenous injections
- Swallowing heroin wrapped in cigarette papers
To make using heroin easier, the following paraphernalia is used:
- Syringes for injecting directly into the veins or muscles.
- Pipes for smoking heroin.
- Spoons for cooking the heroin into an injectable form.
- Cotton for filtering the heroin before injecting it.
- Aluminum foil for cooking the heroin.
Spotting the signs of heroin use
It's sometimes difficult to say with certainty that you believe someone is addicted to heroin. For that reason, it's helpful to understand some of the most common signs. They include:
- Flushed skin due to widening blood vessels
- Slow breathing, as heroin is a respiratory depressant
- Lethargy and unexplained tiredness
- Skin lesions and bruising at the injection sites
- Needle marks across the skin, especially the arms
- Behavioral changes, including anti-social behavior, not attending work, and missing key events
- Financial problems
- Getting into trouble with the law more often
- Unexplained mood swings
- Blackouts and memory losses
- Sleeping too much
- Paranoia and anxiety
What happens when someone overdoses on heroin?
The human brain contains lots of receptors that respond to opiates, and when the drug enters the body it's processed into morphine. Heroin can target these receptors and when it successfully reaches them, they generate the pleasurable feelings a user wants to experience. This happens between 15 and 30 minutes after taking the drug. Although the pleasurable effects of heroin may end rapidly, the body's morphine levels will remain high.
If a user continues to chase the pleasurable feelings by injecting, smoking, or snorting more heroin, it will add to the effects that the remaining morphine is causing. As morphine is a respiratory depressant, it slows down a user's rate of breathing to dangerous levels. During a heroin overdose, the user's breathing slows to a point that their brain and other vital organs are no longer receiving the correct amount of oxygen. When this reaches dangerous levels, it results in loss of consciousness and can lead to a cardiac arrest. If someone has taken so much heroin they're experiencing severe respiratory depression, they require Naloxone rapidly or they may not recover. Afterward, some may experience the lasting effects of oxygen starvation.
Some of the signs of heroin overdose include:
- Blue lips from a lack of oxygen
- Pinpoint pupils
- Tongue discoloration
- A dry mouth
- A slow pulse
Heroin addiction treatment
Heroin addiction treatment involves a combination of medical and psychological therapies. The most difficult part of the process is heroin detox, which is where the patient slowly withdraws from the drug. The patient may experience dramatic withdrawal symptoms that are virtually impossible to manage through self-restraint alone. Because of this, medically-assisted heroin addiction treatment is the way forward.
Medically-assisted heroin treatment
Medically-assisted heroin addiction treatment will begin with an evaluation process. It includes tests that allow doctors to assess the patient's baseline health, as well as monitoring throughout. To support the patient through the powerful side effects of withdrawal, doctors also use several medications.
Medications used for heroin withdrawal
Withdrawing from heroin produces severe physical side-effects, including the shakes, diarrhea, vomiting, and hallucinations. Fortunately, there are lots of medications that make heroin withdrawal safer and more comfortable. They include:
- Naloxone to rapidly reverse the effects of an overdose
- Methadone to reduce heroin cravings
- Suboxone, which contains buprenorphine and naloxone combined to support withdrawal and reverse overdose side effects
- Naltrexone to reduce future cravings in those who are clean
The type of drug a physician uses will depend on the state of the patient and the stage of the recovery they have reached.
The four stages of heroin addiction treatment
Heroin addiction treatment moves through four stages. Each one supports the patient and ensures they enjoy a safe recovery. They include:
During the evaluation phase, doctors will use tests to determine the patient's physical state. These tests allow them to monitor patients safely and reduce the risk of events such as kidney damage and cardiac arrest. It also allows them to monitor a patient's progress as they move through the program.
Medically-managed withdrawal involves the use of the drugs mentioned above, as well as other supportive medications. The type of drugs a patient receives depends on the symptoms they're experiencing. For example, if they're suffering from diarrhea they'll receive rehydration therapy. The medical phases of withdrawal are staged with psychological therapies and should also involve nutritional support.
When a patient has detoxed from heroin, their medical team will help to stabilize them. This phase of their recovery may include fitness programs, nutritional support, group therapies, and talking therapies. The overall aim is to fully bring them into a drug-free state of being.
During the maintenance phase, patients benefit from talking therapies and group therapies that prevent them from slipping back into a pattern of substance abuse. They will transition into their home community and maintain psychological therapies to reduce the risk of relapse.
Why choose Satori Recovery Center for heroin addiction treatment?
At Satori Recovery Center, we take a comprehensive approach to heroin addiction treatment that prioritizes our patients' safety and comfort. Our medically-managed program benefits from 24/7 support from doctors and it takes place in a comfortable inpatient setting. In addition to using drugs that offset the physical effects of heroin withdrawal, we provide emotional and psychological support. Our patients benefit from individual therapy sessions where they can discover the stressors that trigger their addiction and create coping mechanisms that don't involve drugs.
The Satori Recovery Center team also uses techniques such as EMDR to help patients. As a technique that resolves traumas that may be causing conditions such as PTSD, EMDR can help patients who have previously struggled with other therapeutic tactics. Our center also promotes group therapies, which prevents people from feeling alone during their battle with addiction.
Many of those who choose Satori Recovery Center for their heroin addiction treatment also require extensive nutritional support. Our experts create custom nutritional programs that help assist patients in returning to a thriving state of health.
Finally, we understand that using an addictive substance such as heroin often stems from a desire to escape from life's stresses. Because of this, we teach meditation and mindfulness therapies that help our patients approach their triggering stressors in different ways.
At Satori Recovery Center, we want to help you turn your life around. To arrange an appointment with us, call (949) 607-9717.