Heroin and opioid addiction affect the lives of millions every year. Long-term addiction increases risk of overdose, especially when abusing opioids with other substances. The most effective treatment for heroin and opioid addiction can be found at an inpatient rehab center with an integrated approach involving medication-assisted treatment, supervised detox, and a variety of other modalities.
Heroin And Opioid Addiction
All across our nation, people struggle with heroin and opioid addiction. Thousands are prescribed opioid medications every day, and while some can take them—and stop taking them—with no problem, many fall into abuse of these drugs. Heroin is sold on the streets daily and has claimed the lives of many because once you start it’s nearly impossible to quit without help.
It’s true that heroin and opioid addiction have grown to epidemic proportions in the U.S. What’s also true is that treatment is available for these addictions, and hope in healing can help those struggling overcome addiction.
Unfortunately, so few ever receive help for opioid abuse, and many suffer from overdose, which can be fatal. The U.S. Food And Drug Administration (FDA) and other government entities have taken measures to monitor the amounts of opioids prescribed and reduce incidents of abuse, efforts aimed at decreasing opioid addiction and overdose rates.
But the other major things we need to decrease heroin and opioid addiction is treatment and access to resources. It’s important to know what heroin and opioids are, what are the signs of addiction, the consequences of abuse, how they affect you and others, and what treatments are available. With the right resources, and access to excellent treatment, we can fight heroin and opioid addiction.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is an illicit (illegal) drug that’s derived from morphine, which is taken from the poppy plant. It can appear in a white or brown powder form, or a black, sticky substance known as black tar heroin. People use heroin in different ways. You can snort the powder, smoke a solid form of it, or inject it in soluble form.
Heroin belongs to the opioid class of drugs. It works like other opioids by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and altering the person’s perception of pain and response to pleasure.
When heroin first enters your body, it causes an immediate “rush,” a feeling of euphoria, calm, and well-being. After the rush wears off, you usually experience an extended “high” of pleasurable feelings for thirty minutes up to a few hours. It’s these feelings that keep people coming back to heroin again and again.
Other effects of heroin abuse include:
- Confusion, or trouble concentrating
- Dry mouth
- Experiencing extreme itching
- Flushed feeling of the skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slipping in and out of consciousness (going “on the nod”)
- Weighted feeling in arms and legs
The first high is typically quite intense.With time, though, these highs gradually wane, especially if you begin abusing heroin more and more. You may even develop tolerance, which means you won’t feel the effects of heroin at all when you take it. It’s this effect that puts you in danger of overdose; as you chase the highly sought-after high, your body gains an excess of heroin in the body until it can take no more.
You’re particularly at risk for overdose if you’ve formed dependence or addiction to it. Once you become addicted to heroin, you may start feeling physical effects when you don’t take it or aren’t able access it. This process is known as dependence, and can cause terrible withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- Bone and muscle pain
- Diarrhea and/or vomiting
- Cold flashes and goose bumps
- Restless leg syndrome
- Severe cravings
- Sleep troubles
Withdrawal can begin as early as a few hours after the last time you took heroin, and may get more severe with time, especially if you’re struggling with long-term abuse.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids refers to the entire class of opioid drugs, both natural, synthetic, and semisynthetic, including heroin. In this context, we use the term to refer to prescription opioids which may lead to problems of abuse.
Prescription opioids are usually used to relieve pain, but not just any pain. Moderate to severe pain, chronic pain, and pain due to terminal or long-term diseases are all conditions for which opioids are prescribed.
In many cases, these medications are administered under the care of a doctor, and people suffer far less risk of abuse that way. For some, though, especially those with chronic pain, long-term pain, or with a terminal disease, opioids become their main source of relief from pain.
While this can be a great comfort to these people, it can also present risk of misuse, which may eventually turn into addiction. Quitting abuse of opioids is very hard to do on your own, partly because of the physical withdrawal symptoms you’ll likely experience (similar to that of heroin), tolerance that keeps you taking more, and dependence that pushes you to take opioids or seek alternatives long after you realize you have a problem.
The side effects of opioid abuse are quite similar to those of heroin abuse, but people abusing prescription opioids may also experience:
- Chronic constipation
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Reduced pupil size
- Reduced sex drive
- Shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
Commonly Prescribed Opioids
Some of the most commonly abused opioid prescriptions are:
Most of these are used for the different treatments of pain, but some are used for other purposes. Methadone and buprenorphine are used largely in the treatment of opioid addiction. When taken with careful monitoring, they typically don’t result in addiction. It’s when the drugs are abused that they come with greater risk of addiction.
The effects and potency level of these drugs vary greatly, from mild to extreme. For instance, drug recommendations warn against even touching hydromorphone, but codeine is commonly taken for severe coughs in addition to moderate pain. Many of these drugs can cause severe trouble breathing when abused.
An important fact about many of these medications is that a lot of them are available most in extended-release form, which means they are meant to release slowly over time. When people abuse the medications, they tend to want to skip this waiting period, hence the crushing and snorting for faster results.
Yet forcing a quick release of a drug that is supposed to mete out only a small amount of chemicals over time is dangerous, and doing it too many times can be disastrous.
Opioid Addiction In The U.S.
Perhaps you’re reading this and wondering how common opioid addiction actually is, or you’re reading this on behalf of a loved one you want to help and wondering how many other people struggle with this problem. The truth is millions of people have suffered with prescription opioid and heroin addiction, and millions continue to suffer every day.
Data from the 2015 report by the American Society Of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) shows that two million U.S. adults had an opioid substance use disorder. In the same year, more than 20,000 people died of an overdose related to prescription opioids.
We have problems of too many prescriptions being written, misuse of drugs that are distributed, prescriptions being given out or stolen and sold on the streets, and, when addiction follows, often overdose increases or increases in crimes related to obtaining these drugs.
Because these prescriptions have to be given by a doctor, if you become addicted to opioids and run out of the drug, you may try to obtain them through other means. This could involve “doctor shopping,” or bouncing from one doctor to the next until you find one who will write you a new prescription. It could also involve getting the drugs illegally from a friend or even a stranger, by word of mouth or on the streets, usually at incredibly inflated prices.
Many teens who begin abusing prescription opioids first got them from a friend or family member. You may think, but why would anyone do that? Sadly, not all are aware of the risks associated with opioid medications. People may not realize that instead of helping their loved ones they could actually be giving them a drug that could do more harm than good.
It’s estimated that about 23 percent of people who use heroin will develop addiction to it, according to the ASAM. Of those people new to abusing heroin, four out of five began with abuse of prescription opioids.
In other words, if you’ve abused prescription opioids, you’re quite likely to begin abusing heroin. Why is this? As mentioned before, you only have access to your medications for so long. In fact, many opioids are only prescribed for a period of a few days.
If you abused that small prescription, got another, and fell into addiction, when you can no longer access an opioid you’ll probably be looking for an alternative. Heroin is the cheap, easily obtained alternative to opioid pain relievers. Neither addiction is worse than the other, but suffice it to say abuse of heroin and opioids put you in harm’s way more than you ever want to be.
Heroin abuse increases your risk of sexually transmitted diseases due to risky sexual decisions as a result of the drug’s mind-altering effects. It also increases your chance of contracting infectious diseases from using dirty needles, and lack of immune system from poor nutrition and health care.
With long-term abuse, effects of heroin may include:
- Chronic constipation and stomach cramps
- Collapsed veins
- Damaged nasal tissue
- Development of mental health conditions, like anxiety or depression
- Effects to lungs, such as pneumonia
- Infection in heart lining and/or valves
- Liver or kidney disease
- Problems with menstruation in women
- Sexual dysfunction in men
- Swollen, pus-filled tissues (abscesses)
Signs Of An Opioid Addiction
There are a few signs of opioid addiction that can’t be ignored. If you’re trying to decide if a loved one has become addicted to opioids, consider if the person seems to have lost control.
The National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) characterizes this stage with actions like reporting lost or stolen medications in order to obtain more, trying to get early refills of prescriptions or getting the meds some other way, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
In addition to withdrawal, you may experience strong cravings, or urges to seek the drugs or use them, even if you already realize you have a problem. Withdrawal symptoms due to physical dependence aren’t always life-threatening, but can be pretty uncomfortable and intense as time wears on.
Finally, one of the telltale signs of addiction is action despite consequences. If you know that buying opioids or heroin is illegal, and do it anyway, you’re most likely addicted. If you know the harm addiction can cause you, yet continue to abuse the drugs, you’re probably addicted.
As the ASAM states, “addiction is a primary, chronic and relapsing brain disease characterized by an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.” Simply put, addiction affects your mind, physical health, and spiritual well-being.
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What Happens When You’re Addicted To Opioids?
So, what are the consequences? While addiction affects everyone differently, one thing is certain: addiction will negatively affect your life in ways you probably couldn’t have predicted.
Opioid addiction can cause vast effects to your health, some of which include:
- getting an infectious disease from sharing needles
- contracting a sexually transmitted disease
- collapsed veins
- development of liver or kidney disease
- trouble breathing
Of course, the worst possible effect is probably overdose, which affects millions of people every year and can be fatal.
If all the direct side effects weren’t bad enough, there are residual ones to worry about as well:
- poor nutrition
- lack of sleep
- weakened immune system
- weakened mental health
- changes to behavior and mood
These are all aspects of your life that, when changed, aren’t easily reversed without help.
Externally, addiction can alter your life in ways you hate. When you first become addicted, it may be fairly easy to hide the problem for a while. With time, it will become obvious to those around you that you’re struggling, and they’ll likely be frustrated with you and want you to get help.
Addiction also increases your risk of gaining permanent stains to your record from drug-related incidents, like auto accidents and crime. Before your life becomes altered in ways that you never wanted it to be, know that there is help for opioid addiction. Even if you’ve already suffered major consequences, there is hope for healing and growth when you have the right support in treatment.
Signs Of Opioid Overdose
Overdose from opioids is the unfortunate possibility no one wants to see. However, it’s a good idea to know the signs if you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction.
Opioid overdose is a considered a medical emergency, so if you suspect someone is suffering from an overdose, seek emergency medical help right away. The following are signs to look for:
- Lack of response to stimulation
- Loss of consciousness
- Pinpoint pupils
- Respiratory depression
- Slowed or stopped breathing
Combining opioids with other substances, like benzodiazepines or alcohol, greatly increases the risk of overdose occurrence. If you get treated for an overdose, especially if you’ve lost consciousness, you may be given the overdose reversal drug, Naloxone. With successful recovery from an overdose, seeking treatment right away is of utmost importance and detoxification may be the first step.
You may have heard the word “detoxification” before, and wondered what it was and if it’s a necessary part of treatment. For many people addicted to opioids, detoxification will be the first part of treatment.
So, when is it necessary? For those who have formed a physical dependence to opioids or heroin, and who experience intense withdrawal symptoms when not taking it, they will likely need detoxification.
This process allows the person to flush out harmful toxins built up from substance abuse, leaving the body ready for treatment and healing. Detox from opioids, and especially from heroin, must be medically supervised to monitor vital functions.
Withdrawal can cause dangerously slowed breathing levels, and medical supervision during detox helps ensure your breathing and heart rates stay safe during this time. Medically supervised detox also means if you need medication to help ease withdrawal symptoms, you’ll be able to get it.
In short, detoxification is the first hurdle in addiction treatment for many opioid-addicted individuals. Once you make it past that necessary milestone, you can cross over into healing and treatment.
Inpatient Rehab For Opioid Addiction
Is it really necessary to attend inpatient rehab for opioid addiction treatment? The choice is up to you, but there are some definitive aspects about this type of treatment that could help you make this decision.
First, treatment outcomes are far more successful with inpatient rehab. The NIDA states, “most people who get into and remain in treatment stop using drugs, decrease their criminal activity, and improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning.”
The NIDA cites three main aspects that affect treatment outcomes:
- the nature and extent of addiction for each individual
- the adequacy of treatment and services for those problems
- the quality of relationship among patients and staff/clinicians
The best drug rehabs will provide excellent treatment for various types of addiction. Each person enters treatment with issues unique to him or her, and each of these must be properly addressed in order to heal. For example, some people suffer with abuse of more than one substance, while some struggle with a mental health disorder as well as addiction.
Others may have suffered trauma that contributed to addiction, or are dealing with other factors in their lives that keep them going back to addiction. A good inpatient rehab centers provides a full clinical assessment before treatment to determine all your healing needs.
Inpatient rehab also fosters a great relationship between clinicians and staff and the individuals they treat. Trust is so important when you’re recovering from opioid addiction, and our rehab centers recognize this and work toward a strong relationship between treatment professionals and recovering persons.
Whichever inpatient rehab you choose, you’ll want to make sure it offers a superb quality of care, multidisciplinary treatment methods, and licensed, professional staff who are known for excellent service. Having outstanding quality in care can be the difference between receiving treatment and getting the most out of your treatment experience.
Multidisciplinary methods means a multitude of treatment options. Why is this necessary if you’re going in specifically for opioid abuse? Addiction affects all aspects of your health, and treatment has to be comprehensive, addressing each aspect in turn.
Yet you have to work to heal these components of your health together; it’s the best way to ensure the greatest success in treatment outcomes.Having various methods will best help you accomplish this task.
Finally, inpatient rehab centers are removed from your environment of abuse, often at remote, serene locations surrounded by natural landscapes or luxurious settings. Getting out of the norm of your addiction-laden life, and seeking hope and healing somewhere new allows you to focus on the most important thing: letting go of addiction and learning ways to rebuild your life.
Medication-Assisted Therapy For Heroin And Opioid Addiction
Maybe you’ve heard that treating heroin or opioid addictions with medications like Buprenorphine or Methadone is simply “replacing addiction with another addiction,” but this is simply not the case. Here’s why: medication-assisted therapy allows the addicted individual to slowly and safely taper off use of opioids until they are ready to move on with treatment.
With our medication-assisted therapy programs, individuals are closely monitored, not just for safe vital functioning but for use of medications. Buprenorphine is indeed an opioid, but it is a partial agonist opioid (others are full agonists).
What this means is that buprenorphine produces effects similar to other opioids, which helps those in treatment to avoid serious cravings and intense withdrawal symptoms, but it doesn’t produce the same rush or high feelings of euphoria and bliss. When used in treatment, buprenorphine doses are slowly meted out, with dosages slowly decreasing until an individual can taper off use of it.
Methadone, in contrast, is a full agonist that works by blocking the brain from receiving a high feeling while reducing cravings and helping to ease withdrawal. Both medications have shown effective outcomes in helping people stop use of opioids.
Medication-assisted therapy involves not just medication and medically supervised detox, but also a multitude of other treatment methods as needed. Our rehabs build custom, individualized programs to address your unique needs.
Some of the evidence-supported, most effective methods we use include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
- Group counseling
- Family counseling
- Full clinical assessments
- Motivational interviewing
- Treatment specific to men
- Treatment specific to women
- Adventure therapy
- Wilderness therapy
- Mental health treatment
- Dual Diagnosis treatment
- Stress management techniques
- Exercise guidance
- Skill building
- Aftercare support
Find Treatment For Heroin And Opioid Addiction
Are you ready to take back your life? Are you tired of trying to hide your addiction, or live with the consequences of it? We’d like to help you take control of your life, and learn ways to prevent relapse and build the skills and confidence to live a substance-free life.
Your call today will be confidential, and we’re here to help any time of day. Contact us at DrugRehab.org.
American Society Of Addiction Medicine—Opioid Addiction 2016: Facts And Figures
Centers For Disease Control And Prevention—Opioid Overdose
National Center For Biotechnology Information—Drug Misuse: Opioid Detoxification
National Institute On Drug Abuse—DrugFacts: Heroin, How Effective Is Drug Addiction Treatment?, Overdose Death Rates, Recognizing Opioid Abuse
U.S. Food And Drug Administration—Information By Drug Class: Opioid Medications
U.S. National Library Of Medicine—Heroin
World Health Organization—Information Sheet On Opioid Overdose