Heroin, an opioid drug, is one of the most addictive and dangerous of all street drugs that are commonly abused. Heroin addiction has become an epidemic in the United States, with usage rates having more than doubled among young adults in the past decade. As the number of heroin users has increased, so have accidental overdoses. This has become such a large and widespread issue that drug overdose has become the leading cause of accidental death for adults in America. Here are the top six most important issues in the field of heroin-dependency treatment.
Why is Heroin So Addictive?
Heroin is in a class of drugs known as opiates. Other drugs that are similar to heroin include many prescription drugs such as:
In fact, many current heroin users first became dependent upon opiates from abusing prescription medications. 1 in 15 of all opiate painkiller consumers eventually move on to abuse heroin, due to its easier access and cheaper price.
Heroin is very addictive because it activates and stimulates the pleasure and reward centers in the brain. After heroin is either smoked, snorted or injected, it quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier and binds to opioid receptors in the brain to create an intense rush and high of euphoria. However, after prolonged use, the brain adapts to the presence of heroin and the user must ingest increasing amounts of the drug to get high and avoid withdrawals. Heroin withdrawals occur when an addict becomes so physically dependent upon the drug that, without regular use, the body becomes sick due to lack of the drug.
What are the Dangers of Heroin?
Aside from the very real risk of death by overdose, continued use of heroin is fraught with many other dangers. Users who inject the drug may experience bruised and scarred veins, serious infections at the injection site and risk contracting blood-borne illnesses such as HIV, AIDS or hepatitis. Sharing dirty needles is common among many addicts and is the primary reason for outbreaks of these diseases among groups of addicts.
Heroin is very toxic, and it can also damage the kidneys, lungs and liver. Since heroin is a street drug, it is mixed with random and unknown substances that could potentially cause blood clots. The respiratory system is very vulnerable to the ravages of heroin, and the depressed respiration rate that is caused by this drug can lead to pneumonia, tuberculosis or other infections of the lungs.
How Does One Successfully Detox from Heroin?
Detoxing from heroin is very painful, and medical supervision at an inpatient rehab facility is recommended for both the comfort and safety of a recovering addict. Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Bone and muscle pain
- Fever and chills
- Muscle cramps
Acute withdrawal symptoms generally last for one to three days, with the symptoms tapering off within about a week’s time. However, treating heroin addiction doesn’t end with successfully weathering the physical withdrawals. Addicts need to establish new coping mechanisms to deal with cravings, attend therapy and support groups and have a plan set up to deal with preventing a possible relapse once they have completed a detox and treatment program.
Is Inpatient Treatment the Best Hope for Treating Heroin Addiction?
Addiction is a complicated issue that is rooted in many causes, such as social, emotional, familial, genetic and socioeconomic challenges. Inpatient detox and rehab is a modality of treatment that requires an addict to be in a supervised residential facility, 24 hours a day over an extended period of time. People who suffer from drug addiction have a 40 to 60 percent chance of relapsing, so an intensive regimen of varied treatment is necessary to help improve the chances of successful and permanent recovery.
What are the Benefits of Heroin Inpatient Recovery Programs?
Successfully treating heroin addiction often requires treating an individual for mental illness at the same time. Referred to in the treatment field as co-morbidity or a dual diagnosis, drug addicts are twice as likely to suffer from mental illness than the general population. Some people may self-medicate to relieve symptoms of their mental illness, or drug abuse itself may be the cause of their mental or emotional illness. Either way, addressing these two related problems is a crucial component of successful recovery in an inpatient facility. Other benefits of attending such a program include:
- A safe environment that is drug and alcohol-free
- Medical supervision
- Individual and group therapy to address underlying mental health issues
- Outpatient support after discharge
Is Long Term Sobriety from Heroin Possible?
Addiction is categorized as a long-term and chronic illness, so continuity of care is essential for anyone who is hoping to maintain sobriety after detox and treatment. Heroin addiction ruins communities, families and individuals. It is responsible for thousands of deaths each year, so it is clear that longer-term preventative care for this disease is important for the health and well-being of a recovered heroin addict. Components that are integrative to a sustainable recovery include:
- Continuity of therapeutic care
- Pharmaceutical therapy, as ordered by a supervising doctor
- Attending peer support groups
- Building and maintaining social and family connections
- Individual enrichment, either through career or hobbies
Treating heroin addiction with the goal of long-term, sustainable and permanent recovery is an achievable goal, and one that increasing numbers of people are realizing through expanded community rehab programs and facilities. Treating the multifaceted problems and issues that underlie and cause addiction helps individuals to recover from drug addiction with the hope for a brighter, healthier and drug-free future.