Heroin is one of the scariest illegal substances on the streets. It’s highly addictive and used by millions around the world. Heroin has caused a lot of grief in recent years because of its emergence in mid- to high-class neighborhoods. The prescription drug problem has fueled the epidemic because heroin is a cheaper and more readily available alternative.
If someone you love is addicted to heroin, you probably have a lot of questions. What is it? How do you help? Is recovery possible? We would like to answer your questions because we believe education is a powerful tool.
What is Heroin? How is it Used?
Heroin is made from the resin of poppy plants. It usually appears as a white or brown powder that is then “cut” with sugar, starch or powdered milk. It is snorted or smoked and has a lesser stigma because users don’t need to use needles. This type of heroin mainly comes from South America and Southeast Asia.
Heroin can also be a black, sticky substance, called “black tar.” Black tar heroin is injected into the veins, muscles or underneath the skin. It comes from Mexico and has a dark color due to the processing method.
What Effects Does it Have?
Heroin is a fast-acting drug regardless of how it is consumed. Once it enters the brain, it’s converted into morphine and binds quickly to opioid receptors. Users report that heroin makes them feel a rush of pleasure, or like they don’t have a care in the world.
Aside from the pleasurable effects, users may also feel the following symptoms:
- Dry mouth
- Warm flushing of the skin
- Heavy feeling in the extremities
After the initial effects wear off, users tend to feel drowsy, fatigued and mentally clouded.
How Addictive is Heroin?
Heroin is highly addictive. Repeated use changes the structure of the brain, causing long-term imbalances that are hard to reverse, even with treatment. Not only does heroin lead to imbalances in neurons and hormones, but also it causes the white matter in the brain to deteriorate.
Heroin causes physical dependence, and withdrawal symptoms can start as soon as a few hours after the last dose is taken. This means that addicts are in a constant state of highs and lows as they seek to feed their body’s addiction.
Lastly, repeated heroin use results in psychological addiction, which goes beyond the physical components of the disease. Once a person is addicted to heroin, it becomes their main priority in life. Unless they receive treatment for their underlying emotional issues, they are likely to continue the same destructive behavior.
Why is Heroin Linked to the Prescription Drug Problem?
Abuse rates of opioid medications have risen dramatically over the last decade. There are a number of reasons why, including the overprescribing of the drugs and the emergence of pill mills. Law enforcement has cracked down on these issues, which has helped to some degree. Yet as a result, prescription narcotics have gotten more expensive and harder to get.
There are several reasons why prescription pill abusers move on to heroin. First, the drug produces a similar effect since it is an opioid as well. Second, heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain. Third, addiction is grueling regardless of what a person is addicted to. An addict is just interested in satisfying their cravings, even if the next step is heroin.
Bottom line: Being addicted to prescription pain pills is the single greatest risk factor for heroin addiction.
What Makes Heroin So Deadly?
Heroin and morphine account for over half of the overdose deaths in the United States. A large dose of heroin depresses breathing and heart rate to the point that a person will not survive unless they receive medical help.
Aside from overdose, there are other life-altering effects that can occur such as the risk of infection, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Chronic users also have a higher risk of collapsed veins, infection, kidney or liver disease or pneumonia.
What Treatments are Available?
Heroin addiction is one of the more difficult addictions to treat because of its withdrawal symptoms and cravings. But effective treatments are available.
For example, behavioral and pharmacological therapies have been shown to restore normal brain function and behavior.
In general, a treatment program for heroin addiction will include the following components:
- Behavioral counseling
- Evaluation and treatment of co-occurring disorders
- Long-term follow-up to prevent relapse
How Does The River Source Help?
The River Source uses a holistic approach that incorporates behavioral, pharmacological and holistic therapies.
Our goal is to get our patients clean and sober and then involve them in our inpatient treatment program. Here, they explore the underlying reasons for the addiction and its prevalence in their life. After treatment has been completed, all patients leave with a continuing care plan.
If you would like to learn more about The River Source’s approach to treating heroin addiction, please contact us today. We are here for you.