Heroin Addiction

Heroin, or diacetylmorphine, is among the most dangerous and addictive illicit drugs known to man.  Produced from the morphine of poppy plants, heroin supplies an intense, warm, and relaxing high that many users compare to some of life's greatest pleasures. It is not just the high that keeps heroin addicts coming back, but also a physical dependence that can lead to grueling withdrawal symptoms when heroin use is ceased.  Whether it's from fear of withdrawal symptoms or a love of the high it provides, heroin addiction continues to devastate millions of people worldwide.    

Heroin, in its street form, is a white or beige powder, or a small, hard, dark brown chunk that usually contains other substances like glucose, talcum powder or even brick dust. Heroin is taken by users either by smoking off tin foil, snorted through the nasal cavity, or diluted with water and injected intravenously. Heroin use is most often associated with intravenous use because direct injection to the bloodstream is the fastest way to get high.  Most heroin addicts who do not get help will eventually begin to use intravenously, many times to avoid dope sickness.  Dope sick is a term used to describe the physical effects of withdrawal from opiates, and it is a grueling and very difficult process to endure.  A heroin addict will do anything to not be dope sick, and the fastest way for them to get relief is to take heroin intravenously.

Heroin Use and Addiction

Most heroin addicts never set out to become addicted, but heroin is not a drug that can be used recreationally or casually by most people. Its intense high is extremely addictive.  Although many users do not begin intravenously, once tolerance has grown to the point where previous doses aren't enough to stave off dope sickness, injecting heroin may be the only way an addict can get immediate relief. 
Although many substances can be used by some people without abuse or addiction (i.e. alcohol, coffee, marijuana), heroin is not one such substance.   Its effects on a user are just as addictive as they are intense.  Some of the immediate effects of heroin are:

  • Surge of euphoria
  • Heavy eyelids and exremities
  • Warming of the skin
  • Constricting of the pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Nodding Out -periods of being awake and sleep regardless of surroundings

All of the above effects are experienced or noticeable within a few minutes of taking one dose of heroin. If it is injected, that time reduces to a matter of seconds.  During this time, users are oblivious to their surroundings while their heart rate is slowed and breathing shallowed.  Taking a dose of heroin is walking a fine line between life and death.  An overdose can cause the user's heart to fail, leading to subsequent death.  As dangerous as it is, heroin addicts continue to use as their addiction progresses. Heroin addiction has long-term effects that can develop over a long or short period of time, depending on the frequency and severity of abuse. Its intense high is worth the risk of a worsening addiction for many users. In as short as one month, heroin use can quickly turn into an addiction, and send life spiraling out of control. Some of the negative effects of heroin addiction are:

  • Physical dependence - Heroin withdrawal is extremely arduous and often keeps addicts on the drug.
  • Altered brain chemistry - The degree of alteration depends on the individual and severity of the addiction.
  • Loss of income due to addiction (i.e. using at work, missing work to use or because of dope sickness, lack of productivity)
  • Unmanageable finances - For most without endless money to spend, addiction is very expensive. As tolerance grows, more heroin needs to be illegally purchased, which leads to arrests, robberies, and assaults - when added to the expense of the heroin itself, can be extremely costly.
  • Deteriorating relationships - As heroin addiction becomes more severe, addicts isolate themselves from people whom they perceive to be a threat to their continued use.
  • Failing health- Heroin addiction can cause some very serious medical threats like liver disease, infection of the heart, pulmonary problems, including some kinds of pneumonia, and for intravenous users, collapsed veins. There is also the deadly threat of overdose every time heroin is taken.
  • Legal troubles - Since heroin is not only addictive but also illegal, the possession of it alone will garner jail time. Many addicts also have run-ins with the law when they resort to illegal activity like drug sales, fraud, and prostitution in order to support their habit.

Effects like these can be devastating to many individuals and loved ones of the addict, yet heroin is among the drugs that maintain a strong grip on its addicts until treatment is introduced.

Heroin Addiction Treatment Resources

The best way to treat heroin addiction is to catch it and treat it early in development, however that can be tricky to do if a user is not always in view. Some tips on signs to check for heroin use are below:

  • Track marks on arms, feet, hands, and neck
  • Constricted pupils (even in dim lighting)
  • Lack of interest in previously exciting things
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Change of friends or associates
  • Unexplained absences or tardiness
  • Discovery of paraphernalia (i.e. tin foil sections, lighters, needles, spoons, baggies, straws, residue, etc.)

Because heroin is so potent and its effects are so intense, addiction can develop very quickly. No matter what stage of addiction an individual may be in, it is never too late for treatment, and addicts must be ready for a change in order for it to work.  Treatment for heroin addiction can work, but if the addict is not ready to receive it, the chances of successful abstinence are significantly diminished.  In some cases of heroin addiction, it may be necessary to stage an intervention with the loved ones of the addict to try to convince them to get help in changing their lives.  Interventions are meetings during which family members and close friends meet with the addict and try to point out  their life's unmanageability and convince them to accept treatment help.  One of the oldest and most commonly used forms of intervention is referred to as the Johnson method, in which the steps are clearly laid out:

  1. Express love and respect
  2. Express concern
  3. Offer help
  4. Explain consequences of refusing treatment
  5. Hold boundaries

Before staging any intervention, it is important to have a treatment plan already in place and ready to provide help to the addict when they agree to go. Wasting time looking for the right treatment program after an addict has agreed to go can result in a changed mind by the time treatment has been decided upon and is available.

Choosing Heroin Addiction Treatment Programs

Sifting through the numerous treatment programs for heroin addiction can be a daunting task, especially considering the fact that the right choice can offer life saving treatment while the wrong choice may be no more than a waste of time and money. After several decades of addiction treatment research, professionals have developed many different types of programs to meet specific conditions, lifestyles, and types of addictions. Below are some examples of programs for varying degrees of heroin addiction.

  • Long term residential treatment is specifically tailored to reshape the lives of addicts over a period of 60 days or longer, up to a year or longer.  Long-term addiction treatment programs are residential, where the addict lives in a rehab facility with other addicts and they learn over time, how to live happy lives and cope with difficulties without turning to drugs. Generally, long-term treatment is a step-down process with intensive care for the first 30 days, then stepping down in intensity as addicts move into a sober living phase where they are granted more freedoms while remaining in a safe and sober environment.  Long-term treatment is recommended for heroin addicts who have been addicted for a long enough time to need a complete overhaul on their way of life and thought processes.
  • Short term residential treatment is the most popular form of residential treatment for addiction. Typically lasting 30 days, this kind of treatment for heroin addiction is essentially the first 30 days of intense treatment that is offered in long-term programs. Many treatment centers offer both short and long-term programs for people struggling with addiction. Although this is the most common form of treatment, it is not generally the most recommended for most heroin addicts. Since heroin is so addictive and can cause massive changes in brain chemistry, treating heroin addiction in hopes of sustained sobriety often takes longer than 30 days.
  • Outpatient treatment is structured in a way that allows addicts in recovery to continue their treatment while carrying on with their normal lives, going to work, eating and sleeping with their families at home. The only change outpatient treatment brings to the lives of addicts are classes and counseling during a few hours in the day. Thera are varying degrees of outpatient treatment, but the important difference is that outpatient treatment allows personal time for addicts to make their own decisions about their drug use. For a heroin addict, outpatient treatment may not be the best choice. The cravings for heroin, even after detox has been completed are extremely intense and for someone new to sobriety from heroin addiction, the opportunities to relapse with the freedom of outpatient treatment can be too overwhelming to guarantee success.

Depending on the individual and severity of their heroin addiction, it is important to understand the various types potential addiction treatment programs to give heroin addicts the best chance at sustained recovery.  Once a decision has been made about the length and intensity of treatment necessary, it is then important to consider the specific kinds of treatment offered to be more relatable to the individual addict.  Addiction treatment is intended to provide group support for addicts, as they grow and heal with others who have stories and experiences similar to their own.  The goal is to make treatment as relatable for each addict in attendance as possible.  Treatment programs like those listed below have specific benefits to specific groups of people:

  • Gender Specific - This kind of heroin addiction treatment is intended to help men and women in recovery to further relate to their fellow addicts. An example of how this can be of benefit is if an addict has experienced a past trauma with someone of the opposite sex, they may be far less likely to share their stories and experiences with other members of that gender. With a support system made up of people from the same gender, there is more of a sense of togetherness and discussing shameful or embarrassing experiences can be much easier.
  • Adolescent - Teens addicted to heroin have unique challenges because their brains are still in developmental stages. Teens often seem hard-wired to avoid talking to their adult parents, and as such, there is no realistic expectation that treatment with a group of adults will produce a particularly open teen addict. Adolescent addiction treatment is vital for teens, as they have a great deal of life struggles and experiences that are unique to their age.
  • G.L.B.T. - The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community faces challenges simply as a result of their sexual orientation. When heroin addiction is added, the common fear of judgment and isolation can wreak havoc, and severely inhibit the treatment process. For this reason, an addiction treatment program specifically geared towards the G.B.L.T. community create the same kind of relatable environment as gender-specific or adolescent programs. The more heroin addicts share in common with those in treatment with them, the more open they tend to be in the healing process.
  • Chronic relapse prevention - When heroin addicts relapse over and over again, the situation can seem helpless to both the addict and his/her loved ones. Addicts who have been in treatment a number of times aren't going to have a particularly eye-opening experience hearing the same thing a dozen times. Chronic relapse prevention treatment is specifically for heroin addicts who have not been able to stay sober, even after multiple attempts in treatment programs. While the base of the program may be the same, it is altered so that addicts are hearing and learning about concepts and aspects of their addiction that may not be covered in most other programs.

Despite it's negative effects, heroin addiction can be successfully treated and addicts can move on from heroin to sober and happy lives. There is no cure for addiction, but there is effective treatment available. Millions of lives have been saved from heroin addiction trough determination, hard work, and the right choice in heroin addiction treatment centers. If you or someone you know is currently having a problem with heroin addiction, please call us at 1-800-610-4673 for a qualified and caring professional who will be happy to assist in finding the best addiction treatment program(s) for recovery. You may also fill out our free confidential assessment to have a caring counselor contact you. We are here to help.