Heroin Addiction and Treatment Options

Heroin has become commonly abused in the United States. It is easy to slip into tolerance and dependence when using heroin, making it one of the most dangerous illicit opioids and one of the hardest to treat. But with the right tools and resources, heroin addiction doesn’t have to be insurmountable.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid that is synthesized from morphine, which is itself derived from poppy plants. It’s manufactured as a white or brown powder or a sticky tar which can be snorted, smoked, or injected as a liquid solution. Heroin has a depressant effect on the nervous system where it acts on opioid receptors and increases the amount of dopamine in the brain. This results in pleasurable feelings of euphoria and reduced pain perception, which increases the likelihood of use.

Because it has no acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse, it is considered a Schedule I drug by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. It is known by street names such as H, smack, and horse. Since it is produced illicitly, it is often cut or mixed with other substances including drugs like fentanyl that can create a synergistic and dangerous effect.

How Addictive Is Heroin?

Due to the mechanism by which it works, heroin is extremely addictive. Opioid receptors regulate several important cognitive functions including the sensation of pain, release of hormones such as dopamine, and sensations of pleasure. The rush of pleasure users receive when using heroin reinforces continued use.

Regular use increases the potential for tolerance, whereby higher or more frequent doses are required to have the same effect. This is how heroin addiction can begin. Soon, a person may find that they’re spending more and more of their life using and recovering from heroin.

Once physical dependence has been established, breaking the cycle of addiction can be challenging. Severe withdrawal acts as a barrier, often keeping individuals hooked to avoid painful physical symptoms.

What Are the Signs of Heroin Addiction?

Individuals may exhibit many physical and behavioral signs of heroin addiction. To be diagnosed with heroin addiction, users must exhibit two or more of the following criteria:

  • Using heroin in larger amounts or more often
  • Failing to successfully quit using heroin even when attempting to do so
  • Spending increased time and effort obtaining, using, or recovering from heroin
  • Neglect of personal, professional, or household obligations due to heroin use
  • Continued heroin use even when it has serious consequences on one’s life
  • Giving up hobbies and similar activities to use heroin
  • Using heroin when it can pose a physical danger such as when driving
  • Continuing to use heroin even when it has exacerbated physical or mental health issues
  • Tolerance that requires taking increased doses to feel the same effects
  • Withdrawal symptoms when heroin use is reduced or eliminated
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Heroin Abuse?

Prolonged heroin use changes the structure and physiology of the brain, leading to numerous health problems. These include:

  • Deterioration of white matter in the brain, leading to impaired decision-making, stress response, and behavior regulation
  • Nasal tissue damage that can cause problems in the nasal septum as a result of snorting
  • Collapsed or clogged blood vessels because of frequent injections
  • Skin infections including abscesses
  • Bacterial infections in blood vessels or heart valves because of injecting
  • Insomnia
  • Mental health problems such as depression
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Altered menstrual cycles
  • Severe constipation

In addition to these direct long-term effects of heroin abuse, indirect injury or death could result from accidents or injury while using. Heroin users are also at higher risk of contracting HIV and other blood-transmitted diseases if they share needles with other users.

Heroin Overdose Dangers

Heroin has a depressive effect on the nervous system, so the danger of overdose is high. These symptoms can come on quickly, a mere minutes after ingesting the last dose. If a person takes too much, it can severely depress the nervous system in a way that affects basic functions like breathing and heart rate.

A person with depressed breathing may appear to be gasping for air, take shallow breaths, or look very pale with a blue tinge on the lips. Other indicators of overdose may include: nausea and vomiting, weak pulse, low blood pressure, extreme drowsiness, disorientation, and loss of consciousness.

Heroin overdose can be fatal, so immediate medical attention is required when these symptoms appear.

Heroin Withdrawal

Habitual use of heroin creates a physical dependence on the substance. This may cause unpleasant and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms when heroin use is reduced or discontinued as the body adjusts to the change in brain chemistry it has become accustomed to.

Withdrawal symptoms may include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, pain in muscles and bones, and chills. Since these symptoms can be so distressing, recovering users may be tempted to relapse in order to avoid them. This underscores the need for medically supervised detox.

Heroin Addiction Treatment and Detox

Heroin addiction treatment typically begins with medical detox. This supervised process helps individuals in recovery manage unpleasant symptoms in order to safely eliminate heroin from the body. Medical detox is usually undergone in an inpatient treatment center where individuals can receive round-the-clock care. In cases of long-term dependence, doctors may administer medications that help individuals taper off opioids, reducing the severity of withdrawal.

Detox and subsequent addiction treatment is tailored to the individual to address issues that motivate heroin use and to teach healthier coping mechanisms and relapse prevention strategies. Full heroin addiction treatment typically involves a combination of medical treatment, education, and therapies that may include behavioral counseling or peer support groups. Through these interventions, individuals learn to manage cravings and handle stress that could lead to heroin use.

FDA-Approved Medication Treatments for Heroin Addiction
Since opioids have such a profound effect on brain chemistry and can be so difficult to eliminate, the FDA has approved several treatments to treat heroin and other opioid addiction. These bind to opioid receptors, helping individuals taper off heroin and manage subsequent cravings.
Methadone for Heroin Addiction Treatment
Methadone is an opioid agonist that has a similar effect on the brain’s neurotransmitters as heroin without creating the addictive high. This way, individuals will see a reduction of withdrawal symptoms without the euphoric effects of heroin.
Buprenorphine for Heroin Addiction Treatment
Buprenorphine is a less intense opioid agonist that only partially activates opioid receptors, leading to a milder effect than medication like methadone. It may be prescribed alone or in conjunction with other treatments. Unlike methadone, which can only be administered in specialized treatment clinics, buprenorphine may be prescribed by any medical professional.
Naltrexone for Heroin Addiction Treatment
Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. Rather than directly activating opioid receptors, naltrexone blocks substances from binding to receptors, thereby preventing the effects of heroin from producing the intense euphoric high. This may be prescribed as a pill or as an injection in order to reduce the effects of heroin if someone relapses while in recovery.

Heroin Addiction FAQs

Heroin Addiction Treatment at Riverwalk Ranch
A Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area Addiction Treatment Center

At Riverwalk Ranch, we can assist you in treating heroin addiction as part of our comprehensive addiction treatment services. Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, our professionals use only scientifically-supported treatments to help you safely and comfortably begin your journey toward recovery. Our facilities provide an encouraging and safe haven to detox, surrounded by medical professionals, addiction specialists, and other like-minded individuals all working toward a healthier addiction-free life.

If you or a loved one is suffering from heroin addiction, don’t hesitate to contact our addiction treatment center today at (877) 863-3869. Timely intervention could mean the difference between life and death. Whether you live in Texas or you’re looking to begin your recovery journey in a new environment, Riverwalk Ranch can provide a therapeutic and supportive home for you. Everyone deserves a happy and healthy life free from addiction, and we are committed to helping you overcome heroin addiction in order to get you there.

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