Heroin is an illegal opioid drug that is highly addictive and life-threatening. Following heroin use, the person experiences a rush that is usually accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, a dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the extremities. Given the challenge of precisely calibrating the dosage of such a powerful narcotic, this initial rush can frequently be followed by nausea, vomiting, and severe itching. Heroin overdoses are common.
One of the mechanics behind the rising tolerance for heroin in chronic users is that the brain becomes less responsive to opioid stimulation over time. This is primarily why repeated blasts of heroin can’t duplicate the initial, novel experience of the drug. It is also the process by which the user is compelled to take more and more heroin because there are always a higher number of opiate receptors than there is heroin available.
Origins’ experts include physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed therapists, and 12-Step immersion who are skilled in collectively treating heroin addiction. Together, we address every aspect of wellness so that our patients and their families can heal: body, mind, and spirit.
Many people addicted to heroin start off taking prescription opioids or snorting powder heroin and then move on to injecting in order to try to achieve a more intense high. A person injecting heroin is also at high risk for the transmission of HIV and other diseases from sharing non-sterile needles.
Signs of use
Damage to thinking, decision-making, and behavior are the short-term mental effects of heroin use, but side effects can vary as the disease of addiction progresses. Other chemical dependencies may impact the presentation of complications and side effects of heroin use.
Short-term physical side effects of heroin use may include:
- Depressed/shallow respiration
- Clouded mental functioning
- Decreased pain from either physical conditions or emotional challenges
- Uncontrollable itching resulting in compulsive scratching or picking at skin
Heroin use and addiction can produce serious medical side effects. These effects may directly or indirectly result in the user’s death and include:
- Heart problems, including infection of the heart lining and valves
- Infectious diseases spread by shared needles (HIV and hepatitis B and C)
- Chronic pneumonia or other pulmonary diseases
- Blood clots or tissue death resulting from collapsed veins or impurities
- Bacterial infections
- Liver disease
- Arthritis and other rheumatologic problems
People addicted to heroin may avoid recovery because they fear the symptoms they may experience if they stop. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can start a few hours to one day after sustained use of the drug stops.
Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Intense heroin cravings
- Profuse sweating unrelated to the environment or physical activity
- Severe muscle and bone aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling of heaviness
- Intense cramping in limbs with involuntary kicking
- Cold sweats
- Runny nose
Someone experiencing withdrawal symptoms following long-term heroin dependence is at risk for serious medical complications, including death when other medical conditions are present, which is why professionally-supervised medical detox is always necessary.
Suddenly stopping long-term heroin use can cause dehydration and increase a person’s risk of relapse. Because the brain adjusts once the withdrawal process has begun, relapse can lead to overdose if the person uses the same amount as they did before detox. Supervised, medication-assisted medical detox with a licensed physician can help people with heroin addiction through a more comfortable withdrawal process.
Responsible Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Because addiction is very difficult to break, many people with heroin use disorders struggle to make it past the early days of recovery. Medical research definitively indicates that many people with opioid addiction benefit from some form of recovery-oriented medication during the treatment process. At Origins, we offer two types of MAT — both with very different uses.
Suboxone for Acute Withdrawal Symptoms
Over a decade ago, the FDA approved the use of an opioid-naloxone combination (a.k.a. buprenorphine or Suboxone) for the treatment of opioid dependence. This medication provides a partial block on opioid receptors in the brain and surpasses the urge to use. It also partially stimulates this receptor and helps relieve the excruciating withdrawal symptoms that can lead to relapse. Buprenorphine is offered to all heroin-addicted patients during the detox and withdrawal process.
Vivitrol for Recovery Support
Vivitrol is a non-narcotic extended-release version of the daily oral medication naltrexone. This opiate blocker that prevents opiates from connecting with receptors in the brain. When used tandem with other clinical and spiritual therapies, this medication combats the obsession to use and decreases the potential for a person to experience a high if they relapse. Until the person is able to heal, this medication can be used as non-addictive medical support during the delicate months of early recovery.
Treatment Modalities for Heroin Addiction
The constant bombarding of heroin on the brain’s receptors changes the structure of the brain itself, which in turn affects its neuronal and hormonal systems. These brain changes cannot be easily undone, which is why people seeking recovery need clinical and medical treatment that supports ongoing health and wellness.
Residential treatment can provide critical support during the early stages of recovery. Our doctors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and support staff are able to address heroin addiction through healing therapies that may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Medication-assisted therapy, such as naltrexone
- Wellness activities
- Case management
- Nutritional coaching
- 12-Step programming and support
Effects on the Brain
As the brain scrambles to handle the never-ending (and always-rising) influx of heroin, dopamine production also suffers. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is normally released as a response to experiences of pleasure and reward, priming the brain to seek out those experiences again. Heroin erases the brain’s ability to produce its own dopamine and instead takes over how the user perceives pleasure and satisfaction.
At Origins, we recognize that that human beings are not separate sets of independent parts (heart, lung, brain, etc.), but rather an incredible system made up of smaller, interdependent systems. Each of these systems is impacted by the rest, and though it often goes unnoticed, the brain is a key player in this process.
Contact Origins Behavioral HealthCare
We believe that sobriety is possible for everyone, especially through evidence-based interventions that restore mental, physical, and spiritual health. Origins provides effective, cutting-edge care that enacts real, lasting change for our patients by helping them lead healthier, more confident, and more purposeful lives.
Today is the day you break the cycle of addiction for good – start your journey to freedom and fulfillment by calling Origins Behavioral HealthCare at 561-841-1296.