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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

10-01-12 | By

Quitting Heroin – What to Expect

quitting-heroin

There is no better feeling than waking up in the morning to feel your body normal once again. Not having to curb the need for heroin or opiates just to feel normal? It’s amazing. I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to get my next bag of the day just to feel normal. When I was done, enough was enough. I no longer have to waste my money and all of my time to get my “dope.” I don’t have to lie, steal or cheat today.

If you are reading this and struggling with a heroin addiction, it’s time to put this thing behind you once and for all. Once you quit heroin, you can begin to turn your life around like never before. You can start to focus on the more important things like family, school, your dreams, your health and life itself. If you can manage to quit heroin, I assure you, you can accomplish anything in life.

If you are trying to quit heroin, you can. And no matter how many times you’ve tried and failed before, you’re going to have to just get back in there and try and try again or else nothing will change. But this time, if you really want to make it, then you’re going to have to fight with all your heart, all your might, and all your soul, as if your life depended on it, and it does.

Overview

Heroin is a powerful opiate, known for its intense effects with rapid onset and dangerous potential for addiction. It gives users a surge or “rush” of euphoria initially, followed by a feeling of warmth, calmness, heaviness, and often sleepiness that’s known as “nodding out.”

As a member of the opioid drug class—along with prescription painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin—heroin can cause physical dependence and is extremely addictive. It’s made from morphine, a naturally-occurring substance that’s extracted from the seed pods of the Asian opium poppy plant.

Sometimes called “Smack,” or generally referred to as “Dope,” heroin is typically sold as a white or brown powder that is “cut” (or diluted to reduce its purity) with agents such as sugars, starch, powdered milk, fentanyl, cocaine, or quinine.

In general, there are two different types of heroin that are available for purchase by users. Pure heroin is a white powder that has a bitter taste which comes from South America and Southeast Asia. Black-tar heroin, is sticky – much like roofing tar, and primarily produced in Mexico. Black tar heroin is dark in color due to impurities left behind from crude production methods used to produce the drug. It can be snorted or smoked, but most commonly users dissolve the drug in water and inject it into their veins or muscles. Injecting heroin creates additional risks for the user, who also face the danger of AIDS and other infection on top of the pain of addiction. Most users report abusing prescription painkillers before starting to use heroin. Heroin is extremely addictive by any given route.

America’s Heroin Epidemic

According to the UN’s World Drug Report for 2016, heroin is currently the deadliest drug worldwide. Heroin is an extremely popular and deadly drug of abuse in the United States. As of 2014, there were about 1 million heroin users in the U.S.—nearly three times the number just 10 years earlier.

More than half of those users had a heroin use disorder, meaning they became physically dependent upon the drug and continued heroin use despite serious consequences in their lives. Heroin addiction affects people of all ages and in all socioeconomic groups. It’s grip on a user can be debilitating.

Not only problematic in terms of maintaining employment, finances, and personal relationships, but heroin addiction also causes people serious harm mentally and physically. The main reasons of the drug’s increase in popularity is due to the increased market for opiates (especially prescription painkillers) and an influx of less expensive heroin from Latin America. Most troubling is the very real risk of death: more people in the U.S. die each year from drug overdoses than car crashes, in which heroin plays a huge role.

cdc-od-deaths_infographic

The Danger of Overdose

Overdose is a serious risk for heroin users and can cause a host of complications, including heart failure, shallow breathing, loss of consciousness, coma, permanent brain damage, and death.

For chronic users, overdose becomes extremely likely as they seek out higher doses. Although the drug Naloxone, or Narcan, can help to reverse the effects of an overdose, some street heroin today is too powerful for it.

The most common trend in the U.S. is that dealers are now lacing bags of heroin with more powerful opioids like fentanyl—which is about 80 times more potent than heroin—but users are often unaware of this deadly mixture. Often, users inject a “normal” dose similar to what they usually take and can accidentally overdose.

Most troubling for the street-heroin user is the recent appearance of carfentanil in bags of heroin—a synthetic opioid that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and is meant only for use as an elephant tranquilizer. Because of carfentanil’s potency, the effects on the human body and brain are very rapid. Even in elephants, the sedative effects are especially rapid. A single dose of carfentanil safely administered to sedate a wild adult male African elephant, which can weigh over 1 ton, is only 13 mg. It’s caused the most deadly series of drug overdoses in U.S. history, and has been a threat spreading across the nation.

Heroin overdose can more likely to occur in those who have had a brief period of sobriety and relapse on heroin. This happens because taking heroin regularly results in tolerance to the drug; meaning more is required to achieve previous effects.

Overdose symptoms may include:

  • Slowed breathing or no breathing
  • Bluish nails or lips
  • Very small or pinpoint pupils in the eyes
  • Slow heartbeats
  • Extreme drowsiness – particularly if you are unable to wake the person from sleep.

A majority of states have laws that provide protection from arrest for possession of illegal drugs or paraphernalia is emergency help is sought for overdose. Do not hesitate to get help for fear of legal consequences.

If you feel that a friend or a loved one is suffering from a heroin overdose, call 911. 

Heroin’s Effects on the Body

Heroin has several immediate effects after use:

  • surge of euphoric feeling (particularly when injected)
  • dry mouth
  • nausea, vomiting
  • itching
  • warm flush on the skin
  • feeling of heaviness
  • foggy mental state
  • “nodding out,” between wakefulness and sleep
  • slowed breathing and heart rate

Heroin also has a host of long-term health risks:

  • constipation
  • needle marks and bruising
  • skin problems, such as abscesses or infections
  • collapsed veins
  • heart problems
  • disease in the liver or kidneys
  • infectious diseases (spread through dirty needles)
    • HIV, hepatitis C

Heroin’s Effects on the Brain

Heroin enters the brain and binds to its opioid receptors, which creates a pain-killing effect. These receptors are also involved in the brain’s reward system, causing a heroin user to become caught in a cycle similar to that of a cocaine user—seeking higher doses to feel the same pleasure, and losing sight of basic needs like food and sleep.

Opioid receptors are located in the brain stem, which controls automatic functions of the body like breathing and blood pressure. This is makes high doses extremely dangerous. Breathing becomes suppressed, and this can limit the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. This condition, known as hypoxia, can lead to coma and even permanent brain damage.

Because it’s so powerful, heroin abuse has complications:

  • Tolerance—user needs larger doses, greater purity, or a more rapid form of delivery to achieve the desired results.
  • Dependence—the body needs heroin in order to feel normal, or else a user endures serious withdrawal symptoms without the drug.

Building up tolerance causes many “recreational users” to quickly cross over the line into addiction. Buying one bag quickly turns into several. A user who only snorted heroin may start to inject the drug. Some users begin to abuse heroin alongside other prescription pills or alcohol. Most commonly, users need larger doses and seek out more intense highs.

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Similar to withdrawal from narcotic pain medications, a regular heroin user can experience physical withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug:

  • watery eyes, runny nose
  • sweating, chills, goosebumps
  • itching, burning, and numbness of skin
  • muscle twitching, pain, or spasms
  • abdominal cramping, diarrhea
  • nausea, vomiting
  • insomnia, restlessness
  • feelings of “pins and needles”
  • a “creepy-crawly” feeling of the skin
  • “jumpy” legs.

The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on each person and their usage habits. In general, withdrawal symptoms appear about 6-12 hours after last use of the drug. Symptoms peak at about 1-3 days, and will subside after about 5-7 days.

Physical dependence and the pain of withdrawal can make quitting heroin feel impossible—but addiction treatment offers hope.

Questions To Ask Yourself

Do you feel like you can’t live with heroin and can’t live without it? Is it causing damage to your life but you still desire it’s effects? If you are still on the fence about making the decision to quit heroin, there are a few different questions you may want to ask yourself. It is not easy to answer these questions honestly. As addicts, we don’t want to deal with our emotions. Ask and answer these questions as honestly as you are able. Write your answers on a sheet of paper and write them somewhere you can look back:

  • What have I lost as a result of my heroin addiction?
  • Am I truly happy on heroin?
  • How would my life improved if I stopped using?
  • What do I really want to do with my life? How is heroin keeping me from that?
  • Do I lie, steal or cheat in order to get my next high?
  • How has heroin impacted my life in negative ways?
  • What will happen to me if I continue to use?

How to Quit Heroin

If you or a loved one is trying to quit heroin, it’s not going to be easy—but it is possible. A five-minute phone call can make all the difference. Call 1 866 317-7050

For most heroin users, it is do or die. Unless you make the effort to quit for good, there may be no clear future ahead. Otherwise, you will continue to be a slave to heroin.

If a heroin addict has the desire to quit, checking into a detox center is the safest and most effective way to begin the recovery process. Although many people attempt to quit heroin on their own, this often leads to severe illness, relapse, or accidental overdose. A user will be more safe and comfortable during the withdrawal process under medical supervision with a fully trained staff.

Medical Detoxification

Medical detoxification is a safe way to eliminate the body of toxins. The resources at a detox facility will also make the process of withdrawal more tolerable than trying to quit “cold turkey.”

There are a variety of medications that might be used to help treat the withdrawal symptoms of quitting heroin:

  • Clonidine—reduces muscle aches, sweating, cramping, and runny nose; alleviates anxiety and agitation.
  • Buprenorphine—helps to stop withdrawal symptoms and eliminate pain; often considered to be the safest drug to use.
  • Methadone—can reduce physical pain; can be used while pregnant.
  • Suboxone—also reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

There are others, but these are some of the most common.

**Help for other addictions like prescription painkillers, meth, or cocaine may also require medical detoxification.**

The Importance of Rehab

Physically quitting and removing the body of substances isn’t enough—recovery has to be supplemented with therapy and support. In most cases, heroin addicts will check into a rehab facility after detox, where they can begin to learn methods of coping with their addiction. There are many different types of programs, including inpatient and outpatient rehabs.

Most treatment facilities offer addiction therapy in both group and individual sessions. They’ll teach skills that help an addict manage cravings, cope with thoughts and feelings, and avoid relapse. Underlying issues like trauma, mental illness, behavioral disorders, or family problems will be addressed alongside qualified therapists. They may also offer holistic therapy like massage or acupuncture.

Rehab programs often last anywhere from 30 days to 3 months, but longer stays in rehab have produced better results in achieving long-term sobriety. Many programs use a 12-step program (usually AA or NA), though there are many non-12-step treatment options. Long-term involvement in counseling and participation in recovery support groups (12-step or otherwise) after treatment is encouraged.

Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS)

For up to two years after quitting heroin, a user can experience PAWS symptoms:

  • difficulty thinking clearly
  • problems managing emotions and stress
  • irregular sleep patterns
  • poor physical coordination
  • foggy memory

PAWS symptoms can be managed with continued addiction treatment beyond an inpatient or outpatient rehab program, and through the individual’s best efforts to live a healthy, balanced life.  It can feel like a “rollercoaster” of symptoms, which come and go unexpectedly. Each episode of PAWS can last for a few days, and these can continue cyclically for up to two years. After-care is an essential component of long-term recovery, which can include regular counseling and therapy, staying at a sober-living facility, or case-monitoring to maintain motivation and growth in recovery. Although these symptoms are not very positive, recovery is worth it. 

Tips for Quitting Heroin

If you do decide to enter a treatment facility to recover from your heroin addiction, there are a few helpful tips beforehand that you can do to help make a smooth transition back into the real world:

  • Delete your dealer’s number – This can be a temptation when you get out of treatment, so do yourself a favor and disconnect from dealers and friend’s who user heroin.
  • Change your phone number – By doing this, your dealer and old friends won’t be able to contact you when you transition to a new way of life.
  • Get rid of your paraphernalia – That cotton you have hiding in your drawer? Those empty bags you never threw away. Get rid of it. Throw out anything that reminds you of using.
  • Support is key – Finding friends that are on the same path as you make’s a world of difference in the recovery process. Make sure they are supportive and encouraging.

You Can Quit Heroin

Each person will have different experiences with quitting heroin, but knowing what to expect can help. No matter what struggles you’ve faced, how many times you’ve tried to quit in the past, or how strong the grip of heroin feels on your life, you absolutely can recover. The first step is asking for help. Don’t wait any longer—the risks are too great. Anything is possible once you quit heroin, stay clean and turn your life around. Don’t give up. Never give up. Keep on trying.

Utilize Online Support

Addiction is a progressive disease, and if heroin addiction is not treated will ultimately become fatal. In order to fully recover from its devastating effects you need to understand all your available options. As the leading provider of information regarding addiction and treatment on the internet, the experienced staff at Sober Nation are able to provide you with the information and support you need to break the cycle of your heroin addiction. Regardless of where you live, how much money you have, or how severe your addiction is, there is a treatment center that can help you recover. Don’t wait another day. Contact Sober Nation today.

With guidance from professionals, a strong recovery support network, and a genuine desire to change, you or your loved one can persevere and build a new life—free from heroin.

Reach us on 24 hour confidential hotline at 866-317-7050

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